Back when Terry Jones first showed up in the news I remarked that he had an eerie resemblance to, another self-styled man of the cloth who caused more than a small share of mischief, John Brown. If you don’t know who John Brown is, shame on you. But here’s a quick primer. John Brown was an abolitionist believed in his cause ferociously. So much so that he and his sons and followers killed others for their cause in Kansas. His raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 was intended to spark a rebellion that would lead to the end of slavery. The raid failed. He was captured and later executed and many, including myself think he was the spark that let the final fuse that led to the American Civil War. Unless you’re a barbarian you can’t question the rightness Brown’s beliefs about slavery, although judging his actions is another matter for debate. I did just that in a play I wrote about that called Robert E. Lee and John Brown: Lighting the Fuse and to tell you the truth, the questioning and the debating makes the word truth a tough concept to grasp. That’s inconvenient I know, but we just don’t like complexity.
As Terry Jones enters the stage again, this time carrying through with his plans to burn a Koran, we’ve seen that his actions have led to a violent reaction in Afghanistan in which some were killed. Jones so far remains unrepentant about his actions and doesn’t think he’s responsible for the violence and the deaths. His steadfastness and self anointed righteousness reminds me a lot of John Brown’s. Perhaps even more so than his physical countenance. He looks a lot like John Brown before the beard.
That’s a scary prospect because Brown’s actions prove just how far someone who has convinced himself that he is doing God’s work can carry himself and those that follow him. Of course in Brown’s case he’s acting out against those that are equally obsessive about how they must carry out God’s wishes.
I’m guessing here that this latest episode sparked by Terry Jones won’t just come to a fade out ending. I’m hoping that he doesn’t become as historically infamous as Brown did for whatever he thinks he’s doing, but we may have already past that point. Curiously, John Brown and his actions are often glossed over when it comes to American history. I believe strongly that we do so because we don’t want to believe that his violent acts are an integral part of our collective American character. But then along comes a Terry Jones and we’re forced to see that part of ourselves again.