The Sun-Sentinel has published an editorial that makes two points: (1) That Qur'an-burning Gainesville pastor Terry Jones bears no responsibility for the recent murders of U.N. workers and civilians in Afghanistan, and (2) that Jones' Qur'an-burning is "appalling."
Wrongo, Sentinel. You can't have it both ways.
If Terry Jones' Qur'an-burning (read about it here) led to no murders, or could reasonably have been expected to lead to no murders, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's not as if there's not another copy lying around. In isolation, Qur'an-burning is a far less heinous act than, say, Moby Dick-burning, for at least Moby Dick's well-written and doesn't try to convince inattentive readers that they'll spend eternity in Jahannam.
Would the Sentinel's editorialists think it equally "appalling" if a critic of, say, Rhonda Byrne's The Secret decided to torch one of that lucky lady's DVDs? And if not, why? Both The Secret and the Qur'an promulgate ridiculous, easily falsifiable views of reality, and both are likely to screw mightily with a gullible audient's sense of ethics. Difference is, the Qur'an tries to convince us that those who don't take it very, very seriously are pissing off the creator of the universe: the inventor of gravity, light, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, space, and time. That's a considerable offense. The Secret just tells doubters they'll be fat and poor.
If you must burn a book, I can't think of a better one than the Qur'an. I've even facilitated a Qur'anic desecration or three myself, when I helped promote the first International Blasphemy Day by putting that noble event's coordinator, Lance Bush, in touch with magician Penn Jillette, who proceeded to stump for the holiday on YouTube.
International Blasphemy Day caused no riots, although the event that inspired it did. That event was the publication of 12 cartoons depicting Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Many death threats resulted from the publication of those cartoons, though I can think of no actual deaths. Nor do I think Jyllands-Posten's decision to publish the Mohammed cartoons is in any way similar to the actions of Terry Jones. As the editors of that publication explained:
The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting upon special recognition of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where one must be willing to put up with insults, mockery, and ridicule. It is certainly not always attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is of minor importance in the present context...
Later, the publication's culture editor -- who, unlike Terry Jones, has been the target of actual attacks from extremists -- would tell the Washington Post:
The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point. We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of society, not strangers.
Contrast that sentiment with the one expressed in the title of Terry Jones' book, Islam Is of the Devil.
The Sentinel is quite right in calling Jones' Qur'an burning "appalling," but only because it accomplished precisely what Terry Jones meant it to. Mr. Jones believes he has a direct line to the Almighty, and that the Almighty has decreed Islam devilish and Jones' own religion correct. (What a coincidence!) A celebration of free speech, such as Blasphemy Day or the publication of the Danish cartoons, is far less readily whipped into hysterical propaganda by a warmongering imam than Jones' desecration, which was read -- correctly -- as an act of aggression in a religious war.
Terry Jones understands that the West ("Christendom?") is engaged in a clash of civilizations, but he and our military disagree on the terms of that struggle. Jones sees it not as a clash between reason and barbarism, or between modernity and atavism, or between freedom and slavery. Jones sees it as a struggle between Jesus and Mohammed. His actions were, by his own admission, an attempt to rebrand the nation's war effort as a struggle between religions.
He is wrong to do so. The United States' foreign wars are about many things, not one of which is or should be the primacy of Christianity over Islam. This is a difficult truth for some of our enemies to accept, and so we are engaged in a propaganda war as well as a martial one, endeavoring to convince crazy god junkies that we mean well for them and their coreligionists. To undermine that propaganda effort is unpatriotic, if not actively treasonous. Our military's reception in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been very different if our stated intentions were to "kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity," as Ann Coulter once put it.
Terry Jones is free to disagree with all of this, of course. What a lucky man is Terry Jones, living in a country where he may rebrand war efforts and burn books with abandon. And it seems he has been civilized by that luck. He believes, as do almost all Americans, that you may say what you will, but mustn't harm even those with other views. As Jones himself has written: "We are not against Muslims. They are welcome to be in America and worship freely." How magnanimous.
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Those who insist that Jones bears no responsibility for the murders in Afghanistan often recall this fact: That Terry Jones has directly killed no one, unlike those Afghans who responded so poorly to Jones' literary critique. This is relevant, of course. It takes one kind of man to recklessly endanger strangers a world away; it takes a very different kind of man to bring the knife down on a stranger's throat.
But Jones and the radical Islamists who hate him have something in common far more profound than any of their differences. Both they and he woke up on a day last month intending to do something. They knew that if they did this thing, innocents would almost certainly die. They also knew -- knew -- that they were in the embrace of a just deity and that should innocent blood be spilled, the deity would sort it out. It is this serene faith that makes Jones' actions "appalling" and that allows death and destruction to rage endlessly across the Middle East. To that conflagration, the Qur'an is just kindling.
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