Posts Tagged ‘Koran burning’

Free speech and burning Korans

May 17, 2011

The Rev. Terry Jones, an obscure Florida pastor with 50-odd followers and a cigarette lighter, has made himself into a world figure by burning a Koran.  He was denounced by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General David Petreaus, not to mention Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai.  They blame him for Muslim riots from Pakistan to Dearborn, Mich., and they say he puts American lives at risk.

Rev. Terry Jones

Jones is a malicious fool, and the image of burning books is offensive to anybody who believes in freedom and reason.  Book burning conjures up images of Nazi Germany, with its bonfires of “un-German” books, or the former Roman Catholic Inquisition, which burned books (including Korans) as well as people.

But here’s the thing.  Jones has not killed anyone.  He has not threatened to kill anyone.  He has merely exercised his Constitutional right of free speech, the same Constitution that protects American Muslims against religious persecution, in an unwise way.  There is no “Muslim rage” exception to the First Amendment.

If some Christian or Jewish Americans attacked some random Muslims because of their rage over the 9/11 attacks, their rage would not be an excuse for their crime.  No matter how angry you get, you are still legally and morally responsible for your own actions.  In the same way Muslims who attack random Americans or Christians are morally responsible for their actions.  Many of us Americans are angered at the burning of the American flag, but we refrain from going on murderous rampages.

If the Rev. Terry Jones poked a bear with a stick or threw a stone into a wasps’ nest, he would be responsible for what happened next.  Bears and wasps are not morally responsible for their actions. Human beings are.  They have a choice as to how to react.  The best way to deal with people like him would be to ignore him – to deprive him of the attention he craves.

But as long as we’re talking about doing things that enrage people, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus between them are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Muslim noncombatants, as a predictable byproduct of war operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  In my opinion, their actions have done more to enrage Muslims than all the fundamentalist Protestant Christian preachers in the world put together.

Think about it.  What would be more likely to send you into a rage – (1) the reduction of your home town or city to rubble by a foreign occupying army, (2) the killing of loved ones by a misguided missile or by a nervous trooper at a roadblock, (3) the disappearance of somebody you know into a secret prison for no known reason, or (4) a YouTube video of the desecration of a sacred symbol of your religion by somebody on the other side of the world?