The big political kerfuffle this week ended, as kerfuffles often do, not with a bang, but a whimper. We speak, of course, of Florida pastor Terry Jones’ plans to join the great American tradition of expressing intolerance through book burning — in this instance, a planned burning of copies of the Quran. Jones eventually decided against it — for the moment at least — after no less than the U.S. defense secretary called him and told him he might be putting U.S. troops’ lives at stake. Many are, after all, stationed in Muslim countries where the popular anti-U.S. propaganda has this country at war with Islam itself, and for Americans to start burning Korans … well, Obama himself called it a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida.”
And, for once, viewpoints in this country seem unified. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose as-yet-undeclared presidential campaign against Obama has revolved around Pawlenty making the case that Obama is wrong about everything, agrees with the president on this one. As Minnesota Public Radio’s Tim Pugmire reports, Pawlenty produced a not-especially forceful “I don’t think it’s a helpful or needed thing. It’s not something that’s a wise act on his part.” This is the sort of mild condemnation that could be applied to almost anything that’s somewhat foolish — toilet papering someone’s yard, for example, or learning to play a polka on a tuba. Nonetheless, as unforceful as Pawlenty’s comment was, it puts him in agreement with Obama, and that’s news.
A clearer voice of opposition to the Quran burning came from Rep. Michele Bachmann, herself no friend to Obama, or, for that matter, especially a fan of Islam — she notoriously responded to a question about Muslims rioting in France in 1995 by saying, “[N]ot all cultures are equal, not all values are equal.” Nonetheless, as WCCO’s Esme Muprhy tweets, on WCCO Radio Bachmann responded to the Florida pastor with one unequivocal word: “Reprehensible.”
Andy Birkey elaborates on her answer at Minnesota Independent: Bachmann further said that “[t]his could put our troops in harm’s way and I think it’s an absolutely terrible move and I would call on the pastor to please not to do anything like that that would put our troops in harms way.”
Rep. Keith Ellison likewise joined in the condemnation, which is no surprise; he also directed some of his comments to the Muslim community. MPR’s Tom Crann and Madeleine Baran quote him as saying, “Don’t take the bait. Don’t take the bait. Do not bite … This is a deliberate provocation.” Ellison added: “He is trying to get a rise and he’s hoping that perhaps some Muslims will break some windows or knock over some garbage cans, get a rowdy protest march going, maybe get a bunch of people arrested so that he can stand back and say, ‘See, that’s how they are.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Don’t take it. Do not reward this provocative act with a negative response.’ That’s actually my first thought.”
We might hear all this again — Terry Jones has merely suspended his planned book burning upon hearing that there were plans to move the proposed Ground Zero mosque, which is sort of a triple play of misinformation. First, because the proposed building is a community center, not a mosque; second, because it’s not at Ground Zero, and would not be visible from the site; and third, because there are no plans to move it. So there’s a bit of a sword of Damocles hanging over this issue, and more’s the pity, as previously the name Terry Jones had been associated with Monty Python, and it’s about time the Welsh comedian got his name back.
In local news: It’s been Tasermania lately, which has produced a series of unfortunate puns from City Pages. Reporting on the tasing of one Brian Dziubak, who allegedly assaulted his wife, left his pants in a gas station bathroom, stole a can of soda and went running half-naked down the street, CP writer Hart Van Denburg called his behavior “shocking” and described his arrest as “highly charged,” making the article sound written by the Roger Moore-era James Bond. CP writer Jessica Lussenhop went one better in describing a Tasing at the State Fair of a shirtless man, saying, “Combine St. Paul’s two latest tazing recipients and you’ve got yourself a fully clothed man.”
Of course, it seems likely that that fellow in the later incident is mentally ill, and so there is only so much fun that can be had at his expense. City Pages has yet to tackle the latest Tasering story, and it will be interesting to see how much sport they have with it, if any: As the Associated Press reports, police Tased a man at the Minneapolis YMCA when he resisted their attempt to remove him. He then experienced a medical emergency and had to be hospitalized. That’s the trouble with crime stories, and with Taser stories — you can camp it up a little when relating them, but they’re tales of real people and real pain, and sometimes they just stop being funny on you. Of course, it could have been worse — when the story first came out about the Tasing at the YMCA, the report was that the fellow was dead.
This is not intended as a criticism of City Pages. As one interview subject from the forthcoming (and locally lensed) documentary “Of Dolls and Murder” says, “The question is not whether or not murder is entertainment — it is entertainment.” It’s awfully hard not to be fascinated by misbehavior, whether politically motivated, as with pastor Terry Jones, or motivated by mental illness, as with at least one of the Tasing incidents, or by simple human cruelty. And there is often an element of unintentional comedy to it — few criminals are Professor Moriartys, and so they often bungle their crimes in astonishing ways. But some crimes are just sordid and unhappy, and it’s worth remembering that the events of the crime were ghastly to those who experienced them, even as we revisit them with wide-eyed fascinating.
Take the case of Iqbal Ahmed. The bare details are summarized by The Charley Project website, which documents missing person cold cases; in this instance, the missing person Ahmed’s wife’s sister Sophia, who has been missing from Rochester since 1999. It’s a bad bit of business — her sister and her son were found in a ditch, decapitated; in one final, grotesque detail, their heads were never recovered. Ahmed had recently purchased a hand ax and fled the country before the remains were found. At the time the website was written, Ahmed was doing time in Bangladesh for two unrelated murders, and was unlikely to be extradited, as there is no extradition treaty with Bangladesh. According to the Associated Press, Ahmed is reported to have died in prison. This doesn’t close the case, however, as Sophia is still missing. As the AP points out, “investigators have no idea what happened to her.”
In arts: The Daily Planet’s Jay Gabler peeks in at the Walker Art Center’s exhibition of newly acquired work, titled “A Shot in the Dark.” One of the pieces is titled “Deeparture,” and features a deer and a wolf filmed together in a blank white room, which can be seen, in part, on YouTube, and does not look like an experience either of the participants is enjoying very much.
In sports: ESPN made a menacing-looking poster for the Vikings return to New Orleans Superdome, showing Brett Favre on what looks to be Royal Street in the French Quarter looking up at a stormy sky; above him hang the words “Last time, it didn’t end so well.” This time either: As Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press reports, the Vikings lost 14-9.