(I have sent the following editorial to the NY Times in opposition to the planned burning of the Islamic sacred text and to the rampant media attention.)
Gainesville, Florida is used to being in the news–for football. At other times of the year, we are barely on the map. We are small Southern city that is otherwise overlooked, largely because we have no coastline and we don’t build synthetic tourist attractions. Most of the time, we sit here in North Central Florida without attracting attention or intrigue.
As we approach the eve of the planned “International Burn a Koran Day,” I would like to take this opportunity to introduce Gainesville to the readers of The Times.
Gainesville is two cities in one. It is both a university and a city, each with a progressive political bent. Prior to the furor over the actions of the Dove World Outreach Center, the main topics of controversy have centered on homelessness and also on the planned construction of a biomass plant. As one might expect, these topics occasionally become heated. Other than this, the most heat we take is from our uncomfortably muggy summer weather.
We are not accustomed to taking heat as intense as that which has been brought upon us by the national media and by the misapprehension of Gainesville as a hotbed of religious intolerance and hatred that is representative of America as a whole. We are a liberal city that celebrates culture through various means of positive expression and message, and at our center is a strong artistic core. Many of us grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and might be affectionately called “old hippies” in our desires to further peaceful doctrines. Gainesville is a place where hatred is an anomaly.
Thanks to our small size and our university and medical centers, a Gainesville resident will find himself part of many different social and professional circles. This is an important and enriching part of life here. The pace of life is slow enough that people know your name while respecting your right to privacy and to self-expression. Our city commission seems genuinely concerned about our quality of life and encourages our citizens to openly air their views. Both former mayor Pegeen Hanrahan and her successor, Craig Lowe, have been visible and active in the community in what nearly approaches neighborliness.
Gainesville is home to a large number of creative types who find mutiple platforms on which to showcase their talents. Music is such an integral part of this city that one is never at a loss for a concert; from the city’s Free Fridays Concert Series to the abundance of clubs music has become a unifying force. One of our premier events last year was a Woodstock tribute concert that filled the Bo Diddley Community Plaza with tie-dye, bubbles, and incense: It was the feel-good event of the year.
Our students come from all over the world and through internships in exciting programs learn valuable skills from experts in their fields. Since we are not a large city, such professional relationships carry a different weight and reward; students have an expanded opportunity to pitch in as they would in the real business world.
I feel confident in speaking for the majority of Gainesville residents in saying that we are horrified to find our city under the international magnifying glass for the deleterious actions of a sole agent of intemperance. We are a welcoming community, not one that casts off and condemns. We are proud of our values, our culture, and our contributions to social good. We embrace our fellow man and share a message of peace with the world.