The first of these two topics is the recent phenomenon of the Phelps family. Led by Fred Phelps, the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, this group comprises approximately 13 of Mr. Phelps' children, 54 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. Their unique hobby: going around to the funerals of soldiers who have been killed in action in Iraq and disrupting, heckling and otherwise making a mockery of the funerals. Their goal: to spread the word about how these soldiers are fighting an unjust war because they believe homosexuals have caused the destruction of America and, therefore, any soldier fighting for the US Army is contributing, apparently, to that destruction.
A pair of signs that Phelps and his family frequently break out at these protests are "God Loves Dead Soldiers" and "Thank God for IED's."
Not to be outdone, a group of men hearing about these frequent funeral protests opted to take matters into their own hands. Since there were no state or federal laws prohibiting people from making political statements at funerals, this other group assembled itself and became known as the "Patriot Guard Riders." They're a bunch of guys on motorcycles whose sole purpose was to buffer the protesters and the funeral(s).
What kind of pastor -- a man who professes to preach the word of God -- would even consider mocking the funeral of a man who was killed for his country? What disturbs me is that Mr. Phelps and his family deem this as a righteous, proper way to share their political and/or religious beliefs. As Mr. Phelps himself was quoted in an article at CNN.com, "You can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God." Somehow, I don't think he's aware that his actions are more hateful, repulsive and disgusting than anything and anyone against which or whom he's protesting.
***The other, equally disturbing piece of news comes courtesy of of the UNC campus at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where a 22-year-old Iranian graduate student named Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar decided to demonstrate the will of Allah by driving an SUV into a crowded pedestrian area and through a crowded campus meeting spot, sending nine students to the hospital and himself to prison. Taheri-azar, who authorities suspect has lived in the US for most of his life, graduated from UNC in December. When asked why he did it afterwards, he said his goal was to "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world." I'm not sure where Mr. Taheri-azar's family is from, I don't know where they're living, and I don't know if they supported his actions. However, my response to this incident is to deport his entire family and lock him up for 18 years in a North Carolina prison and then deport him to wherever and whatever place will have him.
Later, Taheri-azar said he was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah." Perhaps it's just me, but it seems to me that either modern Muslims are, for the most part, really angry, unhappy, disgusting human beings, or they are correctly interpreting the teachings of Allah and are simply carrying out the suicidal, violent desires of an angry, repulsive entity. My guess, based on what I've read and what I see, is that the former is true. The Muslim community -- including teachers, scholars and spiritual leaders -- have taken a generation or two of impressionable, angry young Muslim men and formed them into weapons. A young man of 22 who will spend at least the next 15-20 years in prison -- if he lives that long -- is what they have created. I'm not sure whether this hate will die out or only intensify, but it seems to me that the short and long of it is that we ought to expect more of the same, whether or not the teaching, the sloganeering, the finger-pointing and the hate continue.
Despite the fact that these two individuals -- Fred Phelps and Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar -- are seemingly as different as two members of the same species can be, it's fairly clear that both represent simple-minded, hate-filled morons. Whether desecrating the funeral services of a fellow American, or simply trying to kill people around him in a blunt, empty gesture of stupidity, it seems to me that both of these men have allowed religion to replace common sense and free thought as their respective guides. I'm not sure what will happen to either of these individuals, but I hope both -- with their selfish, holier-than-thou mentalities and foolish, self-serving beliefs about what God wants or thinks -- demonstrate to others that extremist hate, even in the vapid, empty support of God -- is as bad if not moreso than the causes which they have forsworn themselves against.
Ed. Note: The image problems have been cleared up; all relevant images courtesy Patriot Guard Riders. Sorry for the issue.