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Apr 05 2011

Quran Burning

So, a Christian extremist in Florida burned a Quran after “passing judgement” on it, and in response we have  the violent murder of 12 people by a mob of Muslim extremists in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif,  nine more dead in Kandahar, and violence and protests across Afghanistan.

My first response was, “Seriously? The lone actions of a backwater hick of a pastor from the United States didn’t respect a different religion’s holy book, and that justifies the storming of a UN-held building and the taking of human life in Afghanistan? And people wonder why I reject organized religion!”

But as was pointed out in Psychology Today and Salon.com, just writing this off as a spat between two different religious groups is simplistic; there are geopolitical, social, cultural and economic issues that, along with religious differences, probably contributed to the loss of life.

In fact, when some of these other factors are removed from the picture, that may be why moderate Muslims in the United States were able to have a more moderate response to this tragedy:

The Muslim community in the United States has declined to respond to such an act by Jones and his small group of followers.

“Terry Jones had his 15 minutes of fame and we’re not going to help him get another few minutes,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In the US we have the idea that you don’t get to tell me what to do with my Quran (if I owned one). This mass-produced item that I can pick up at any number of different bookstores is NOT holy; it is ink on paper which becomes my personal property when I purchase it. It is a replica of a holy item. I can dog ear it, highlight it, copy pages of it and throw those copies in the garbage when I’m done with them. And if my replica Quran gets water damaged or otherwise becomes unusable, I can throw it out or destroy it, run down to Barnes and Noble and pick up a new copy. Perhaps we -  and Terry Jones – see the burning of this Quran as a small symbolic gesture, that the Quran he burned was just one copy of millions out there. 

The angry Afgahni mobs probably didn’t go out and kill people just because Pastor Jones was a dick who destoryed a copy of the Quran - that would be ridiculous, right? We in the United States know that Terry Jones is a lone dinkus who doesn’t speak for the majority of us in Western World, but perhaps the Afghanis responsible for the rioting believe that enough of us in the Western world are complicit, that we as a whole – including our leaders - allowed this to Quran burning to happen because we are contemptuous of the Afghani people as a whole, and that we see their nation only as a resource to be exploited.

I don’t claim to understand what really drove one group of human beings to violently attack and brutally injure and slaughter other human beings in Afghanistan. I think it is right to be outraged and offended by the incitement to violence by Jones and the violence and loss of life by Afghani mobs. However, I don’t think the correct response is to simply write off the whole situation as a Christianity vs. Islam problem.

Regarding free speech aka “should we burn Jones at the stake for inciting this violence?”: The first amendment lets me be an asshole – I can burn an American flag, a Bible, a Quran or my bra and not be legally persecuted in this country for doing so. Don’t give me that “we’re in a war” crap. Go see Glenn Greenwald’s The most uncounted cost of Endless War and  Brendan O’Neill’s article Pastor Terry Jones is no more to blame for the Afghan violence than Martin Scorsese was for the shooting of Ronald Reagan for their thoughts on free speech in relation to this case.

2 comments

1 ping

  1. 1
    Paula Bilyeu

    Actually, the first amendment does not allow you to be a contemptuous asshole who disregards the effect of “shouting fire in a crowded theater” which is analogous to doing what Jones did by burning the Quran. He knew from the last time that he threatened to do this sacrilegious desecration that he could expect a violent response. I see his act as a hate crime.

    Just because we as a secular nation see the copy of the book as a nothing more than a mass-produced symbol does not mean that everyone in the world believes as we do. Yes this is our country, but to dismiss Jones as being unaware of its world-wide implications is shortsighted. We are facing a choice here: either we become global and learn to respect the ideas of others, where we learn appropriate ways of protest, or we close up shop and stay within our borders and ignore everyone.

    1. 1.1
      Brianne Bilyeu

      I worked really hard to keep the majority of this blog post away from the “should Jones have done it? and “now that he has, should he held accountable?” issues. To clarify: I wanted to explore how we in the US should process/understand the violent response from Afghani mobs. It’s something with which I have been struggling, and I don’t know that I adequately captured that question herein.

      But to your points:

      In the case of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater – people have to act immediately on that information; the human stampede is an instaneous, fight or flight response that is driven by self-preservation.

      Hearing that someone burned a Quran, gathering a mob and weapons, marching down to a UN building and slaughtering innocent people who had nothing to do with the offensive act is a pre-meditated, retaliatory response. “If you do x, we shall do y. You knew the consequences and now we will punish you.” I say NO, you will not blame me for “forcing your hand”. You do not get to blame the victim for your actions.

      Next, there are state and federal vagaries about what is and isn’t a “hate crime”, but I don’t think Jones’s burning of the Quran would pass muster with any court, as the property that was damaged was done so with the (rabid) consent of the owner. I mean (old joke), I hated it, but that doesn’t make it a hate *crime*. Speech and voicing one’s opinions shouldn’t be considered criminal.

      Recently the supreme court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church had a first amendment right to protest and hold provocative, anti-gay, hate-filled signs at military funerals. (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Supreme_Court/supreme-court-westboro-protests-military-funerals/story?id=13037219) If you’re at a brother/sister/father/mother/friend’s funeral and you punch a WBC protester in the face for screaming hateful things about your dead relative, *your* ass is getting sued. “But, they provoked me!”, you say. Too bad, you’re an adult – learn some self control.

      Yes, just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Yes, we are a global consciousness now and we should be culturally sensitive if we hope to prosper as a race and as a world. But the onus to behave in a humanistic manner isn’t just on us – we must hold others to acceptable behavior as well.

  1. 2
    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” « The Communicator

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