By Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times:
"A minister in Gainesville, Fla., has created an international uproar by vowing to burn the Koran on Sept. 11. This is under the theory that the best way to honor Americans who died at the hands of religious extremists is to do something that is both religious and extreme.
"I am not going to mention his name, since he’s already been rewarded with way too many TV interviews for a person whose seminal career achievement has been building a thriving congregation of about 50 people.
"The Koran-burning has been equated, in some circles, with the fabled ground zero mosque. This is under the theory that both are constitutionally protected bad ideas. In fact, they’re very different. Muslims building a community center in their neighborhood on one hand. Deliberate attempt to insult a religion that is dear to about 1.5 billion souls around the globe on the other.
"This week, New York City was visited by another minister, with the depressing title of 'Internet evangelist' who announced plans to build a '9/11 Christian center at ground zero' in response to 'the lies of Islam.' This guy, who is from Tampa, drew an estimated crowd of 60 people. Does that make him more popular than the minister from Gainesville? Plus, is there something in the water in Florida?
"When this sort of thing happens, it is important to remember that about 5 percent of our population is and always will be totally crazy. I don’t mean mentally ill. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 26 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. So, basically, that’s just normal life. I mean crazy in the sense of 'Thinks it is a good plan to joke with the flight attendant about seeing a bomb in the restroom.' ”
"There is nothing you can do about the crazy 5 percent except ask the police to keep an eye on them during large public events, where they sometimes appear carrying machine guns just to make a political point about the Second Amendment. And, in situations like a Koran-burning, make it clear that the rest of us disagree.
"So far, the people lining up to denounce the burning of the Koran include the pope, Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, Haley Barbour, theMississippi governor and would-be presidential contender, stepped up to the plate. “I don’t think there is any excuse for it,” said Barbour at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
"Unfortunately, Barbour followed up his bow to tolerance by suggesting that the public’s confusion over Barack Obama’s religion is because of the fact that 'this is a president that we know less about than any other president in history.' The governor claimed that Americans had been particularly deprived of information on Obama’s youth, while they knew a great deal about the formative years of the other chief executives all the way back to the way the youthful George Washington 'chopped down a cherry tree.'
"Let us reconsider the above paragraph in light of the fact that while Obama wrote an entire book about his childhood, Washington never chopped down the cherry tree.
"But I digress. While a pope, a general and a cabinet member are speaking out, the candidates running in this year’s elections seem to be superquiet about the Koran-burning. However, quite a few have been racing to bash the Muslim community center for Lower Manhattan. In Florida, the gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott has an ad railing against a mosque 'just yards away' from ground zero, which is semiaccurate only if you believe 'city blocks' and 'yards' are the same thing. And in New York, the Republican candidates for governor appear to be running for the Mosque Removal slot on the ballot.
“ 'Just before the primary, we had candidates who thought they might gain more votes by bashing Islam,' said Saleh Sbenaty, a leader of the Muslim families in Murfreesboro, Tenn., whose community center construction site has been vandalized twice in recent weeks. 'We had a rough, rough time during the primary.'
"My memories of Sept. 11, 2001, are still intense, and they are mainly about the outpouring of concern from the rest of the country. The piles of donated clothes and food piled up, unused but not necessarily unwanted since each bit was a token of someone’s good will toward the city. Helping us achieve that state of public grace is the highest possible duty of every elected official.
"But, lately, they’ve abdicated or worse. And the fight for public sanity has fallen to average citizens, like Professor Sbenaty, who is still trying to explain to the rest of the world what happened in his community. 'Let me say first,' he told an interviewer on NPR, 'there are crazy people in every society.' ”