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Forgive us, good people of Gainesville

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GainesvilleBy Nick Spicer 

And the sky darkened as we came, like a cloud of locusts, come to eat every last shred of your town’s reputation, we journalists and producers and cameramen of the world’s media.

And we lied in waiting outside the church of a man who would compare himself to Abraham (on the "Today Show," in fact): no less than the father of the three monotheistic religions.

And we kneeled before him as if to worship (but really to get out of the camera shot) and mostly asked him easy questions about if and when and how he would burn Quran (a project he has abandoned, he says, forever).

And we showed the world this political "prophet" as if he had something to say, although he had not actually read, he said, the book he was to burn. Ever. And for this I ask forgiveness from the people of Gainesville, Florida.

You are not a moustachioed man running a small cult who, when asked by this reporter how he really knew God was talking to him when the whole world was begging him to stop, had nothing to say.

Pastor Jones only takes calls from the Almighty.

No, Gainesville, you are people like the Methodist minister up the road, Dr. Dan Johnson, at Trinity United Methodist Church, who has been reaching out to Muslims for over a year now, because he feared Pastor Jones was making this town unwelcoming to them, with hateful antics that went from bizarre to deranged faster than you can say "Amen": "We wanted to show a different face to our faith to what he was proposing,” Johnson told us at a joyous September 10th gathering with local Muslims and Jews in his much, much bigger, church nearby. Jones runs his out of a former warehouse.

I apologise because you are not a hotbed of intolerance, Gainesville. You are people like Mayor Craig Lowe, who welcomed us with no less than two copies of the Quran on his desk (reading and study purposes only). Lowe won office a few months back without bothering to hide his homosexuality – since so few people would have cared here anyway.

"We are embarrassed by these people on the fringe. That’s not what this town is about. We don’t judge anyone on the basis of race, or religion or gender. We want Gainesville to be a place where people can contribute to the community and help make the world a better place."

I am sorry, Gainesville residents, because I am not sure the world knows you have happy Muslims in your midst, attending the university there, such as politics student Hakeem Hasan: "I am a Palestinian American. For 67 years my people have wanted freedom of speech. My parents came here precisely for that reason. Free speech is protected by the Constitution. But the Constitution also provides for freedom of religion. So it is really quite difficult."

Sorry Gainesville, if the world does not recognize that it is you, in fact, who are like Abraham in this. He was ordered by God to do something hid not want to do (sacrifice his son Isaac) just as you knew it was your Constitutional duty, however abhorrent, to support Pastor Jones’ Quran-burning "free-speech".

As for almost all Americans, abiding by the word of your political charter is akin to living a saintly life, even if it pushes you into corners where your must live with a painful paradox only medieval martyrs, perhaps, could really appreciate.

And now we, the world’s media, have flown away, good people of Gainesville. We covered your "story" in the same collective fit of absence of mind that created the O.J. Simpson spectacle, the Monica Lewinski story, the "Summer of the Shark", the balloon boy hoax and others it is too shameful to remember now.

So it is time to turn the cameras to dark, and atone.

Nick Spicer has over 15 years of international reporting experience.


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