Burning Books & Building Mosques

Front of the Quran
Image via Wikipedia

9/11 marks the anniversary of the most destructive terrorist attack on America.  While this date is often marked with solemn events in memory of the dead, a pastor in my adopted state of Florida (I’m from Maine) has planned to hold a Quaran burning on this day. Oddly enough, he has also claimed that only the radicals would be against burning the Quran.

Government and military officials in the United States have tried to encourage the pastor to cancel his event. The main reasons are that this action will harm America’s relationship with Muslims and that it will put American forces in danger. Of course, the officials do agree that the pastor has the right to take this action on the basis of the right to free expression.

Not surprisingly, the people who are opposed to the mosque that is supposed to be constructed near ground zero were quick to argue that the two situations are analogous. The gist of the analogy is that while people have a right to build a mosque near ground zero (just as they have a right to burn the Quran), they should not do so (just as people should not burn the Quran).  This does have a certain appeal. After all, if the fact that burning the Quran will antagonize Muslims means that it should not be burned, then it would seem to also be the case that the mosque should not be built because it will antagonize people. Some might even go so far as to say that the mosque should not be built so as to avoid violence against Muslims (just as the Quran should not be burned to avoid an increase in violence against American soldiers).

Perhaps the two situations are analogous and both fall under a single principle: actions should not be taken that will damage relations and lead to increased violence. In the case of burning the Quran, this would certainly seem to damage relations with Muslims and also incite some Muslims to seek vengeance by attacking people (most likely those who have no significant connection to those burning the books). In the case of the mosque, its construction will damage relations between some Americans and Muslims and might well lead to violence against Muslims. As such, if the Quran should not be burned, then the mosque should not be built near ground zero (and vice versa).

Of course, accepting a principle that we should be, in effect, hostage to those who are willing to engage in violence in response to what they do not like does not seem very appealing (whether the violence is in response to a book burning or a mosque building).

However, perhaps the two situations are different in a key way that breaks the analogy. In both cases, people are (or will be) very angry. In both cases, people wish to act on the basis of established freedoms (religion in one case, expression in the other). However, there seems to be an important distinction between building a mosque and burning the Quran. To be specific, building the mosque does not seem to be intended as an insult against the victims of 9/11 (some of whom were Muslim). After all, the Pentagon has a non-denominational chapel (dedicated to those killed at the Pentagon and on the plane that hit it) where Muslims hold prayer services and this was never taken as an insult. As such, it seems odd to take the mosque as an intentional insult against those who feel insulted. In contrast, burning the Quran as part of a 9/11 event can really only be taken as an insult and an attack on the faith. It would also be especially insulting to the Muslims who were murdered in the attack.

It might be replied that the builders of the mosque secretly intend to insult those who are insulted by its construction. However, this claim would seem to be based on equally secret evidence. Obviously enough, the fact that some people feel insulted by it hardly counts as evidence for such an intention on the part of those who plan to build the mosque. Until evidence of such intent is forthcoming, it seems reasonable to accept that the builders did not intend to insult anyone.

There is also the question of who the mosque is supposed to be insulting. After all, it probably cannot be an insult against the Muslims who were murdered by their fellow Muslims. It also cannot be an insult against the victims who believed in freedom of religion. Overall, it seems mainly to be an insult against those who see themselves as insulted by it. However, they seem to have little right to be insulted by this mosque.

Thus, there seems to be a possible relevant difference between the two situations. In the case of the mosque, those behind the project seem to have no intent to insult anyone and these seems to be no clearly defined victim of the alleged insult, other than those who see themselves as insulted. In the case of the book burning, that seems to involve a clear intent to attack the faith and it seems reasonable for people to consider such an action as an insult and an attack. This does not, however, mean that they would be justified in responding with violence.

To use another analogy, the mosque situation seems to be like a case in which someone is rationally talking about a subject that some might take issue with (such as arguing for or against same sex marriage) and the Quran burning situation seems to be like a white person repeatedly saying the N-word to African Americans. While both are covered by the freedom expression, it is unreasonable to take offense with the first situation but quite reasonable to take offense in the second. It also seems reasonable to think that people should not say racist things, even though they have the right to do so.

If this line of reasoning is plausible, then the mosque should be allowed while the Pastor should not engage in his book burning (despite having the right to do so).

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49 Comments.

  1. I loved this….
    Brilliant

  2. It’s not a mosque, but an Islamic cultural center.

    Maybe I’m opening myself up to charges of nitpicking here, but I don’t think it’s a trivial point that the whole purpose of the project is outreach to non-Muslims. In other words, it’s not only not equivalent to burning Korans; it’s the opposite of burning Korans.

  3. Surprise, the pastor has called off the burning. The pastor cites divine intervention as the reason for his sudden turn around. Is this an example of public reason in action?

  4. There is no “right” to “free” expression.

    A right is not granted toward making an expression.

    A right is granted toward assistance from that situation which the expression points to.

  5. Ned,

    No, that is a relevant point. A community outreach center does differ in relevant ways from a structure dedicated to one faith.

  6. Perhaps. Or public (or official) pressure.

  7. John,

    What does that mean?

  8. This sort of argument is typical of what passes for “philosophy”. Things are analogous up to the point that they are unpalatable, then we look for differences. How about the difference between building a physical structure, that many people who were the victims and families of the victims will have to pass by every day, vs. the actions of some idiot BF leader of an idiot BF church in the middle of nowhere (well, relative to where most muslims live), making a symbolic statement that could easily be ignored IF THEY WANTED TO ignore it? I seriously doubt that Islam is such a weak idea that it can be harmed in any measureable way by this (proposed) action. And btw, forget the mosque. Islamic radicals insult and defame other religions constantly. Where were all these protesters when the Taliban was blowing up Buddhist statues? What, pray tell, happens to the Bibles that are confiscated in various places in the Islamic world? For Islamists, possibly the most intolerant of all religious followers of note today, to threaten to kill innocent people because of the insignificant intolerant actions of an exceptionally small group of people is nonsense on stilts.

    “To be specific, building the mosque does not seem to be intended as an insult against the victims of 9/11 (some of whom were Muslim)”, etc. Well some people don’t see it that way. Do you suppose you could stand on your head, close one eye, and squint well enough to see this? You seem to have made the effort elsewhere. I won’t go into the various other points you make in this article that haughtily dismiss other differing perspectives.

    I could go into further detail, but that would require much more time than I have available here at work. You see I have been previously “banned” from commenting on this site when accessing from my home IP address (stick that and a page from the Koran in your analogy pipe and smoke it). Part of what led to my banning was based on observations that there is little philosophy going on here…that is unless you count sophistry.

    The lack of any serious disagreement in the comment postings here, in spite of the significant holes in the argument presented, just reinforces my perspective.

    And spare me any BS about this just being about the mosque vs. the burnings. Before you conclude “the Pastor should not engage in his book burning”, you have quite a few other issues to examine.

  9. “the Pentagon has a non-denominational chapel (dedicated to those killed at the Pentagon and on the plane that hit it) where Muslims hold prayer services and this was never taken as an insult.”

    Thank you so much for this bit of information.

    And, for what it’s worth, my two cents:

    Burning a book is:
    not a prayer for knowledge
    not a prayer for enlightenment
    not a prayer for healing
    not a prayer for comfort
    not a prayer for mourning
    not a prayer for forgiveness
    not a prayer for harmony
    not a prayer for peace

    Burning a book is essentially negative–essentially a curse.

    Burning a book builds nothing; it destroys.

  10. While Tesserid makes some very valid points, I might also point out that burning **A** book destroys nothing but paper. As for what it builds, it certainly has provoked discussion. Kind of like putting a crucifix in a bottle of urine.

    There is another analogy that is implied in this debate, though rarely stated outright, that is that what this “pastor” is doing equates to what the Nazis and other oppressive societies have done. If one was so inclined, one could point out that unlike the actions of those societies, there was no attempt to burn ALL Korans. Nor, to my knowledge, was any property (Korans) taken from anyone to whom it did not belong. Burning these books is more akin to burning a flag. Or stomping/standing on one. In fact, all of Tesser’s points could apply to that form of expression.

  11. It appears that Mike is correct in that the Muslim center in New York is not meant to offend anyone, while burning one copy of the Koran is intended to offend Muslims.

    It might be wise for those who are constructing a Muslim center in New York near the ex-World Trade Center to reconsider their decision if that decisions offends
    a lot of people, given that there are many other sites in New York City where a Muslim center could be located.

    However, there seems to be a huge ethical difference between intentionally offending someone and offending someone without intention. I think that that difference is Mike’s point.

  12. Mike,

    There is no need to have a right to express anything. We just express it.

    Rights come in when we make a committment to help people when, for example, they express a need for help –

    - but we don’t help the expression, we offer help toward the situation that gave rise to the expression.

  13. Uncle Jed,

    I appreciate the acknowledgment.

    And, I agree with the point about this not being an attempt to burn all Korans. But, I do fear that there are those who would pursue such destruction if they had the power.

    I think for most of us this will appear as a burning in effigy. However, we cannot forget that this particular artifact is recognized as a sacred object by a religious culture that makes the desecration of certain symbols a capital crime. And, this shouldn’t be too outside our realm of experience, as there are many in this part of the World who believe that a bit of baked goods is supernaturally transformed into the body of Christ as it’s swallowed. The symbolic value of the object, however superstitious, is far greater than it’s material value.

    After I wrote my comment I felt some doubt about the amount of emotion I put into it, and I must admit that my choice to use the word prayer was meant as an appeal to what may now be a very divided religious community (though I may be reaching with this supposition). But, the symbolic nature of prayer is very much in keeping with the symbolic nature of the issue at hand. Burning the Koran in effigy is symbolic, and the issue of where to build a religious meeting place is also symbolic.

    It is in the symbolic nature of the burning that is meant to antagonize and is clearly intended to provoke a response.

    I think we should pose the question: what response was the pastor intending to incite, and is his plan an effective one for achieving that result? Along with this, we should ask: are the risks too great to justify this plan?

  14. The Nazis were also into non-Christian book burning in a big way.

    Let’s face it when you can’t define a clear enemy (what nationality were the 9/11 plane hijackers again?) you have to create one. That’s what the Nazis used the Jews for. This is what Americans like Pastor Jones are using the Muslims for.

  15. Non-Christian? Interesting how you draw you Venn Diagrams there Peter. I think you would be a bit more accurate though if you referred to them as “Un-German” books. Such was the Nazi’s point.

    Interesting parallel, though. Did perhaps any of those who’s books were burned issue death threats to those Nazis? Do you think they should have?

  16. Mike: “It might be replied that the builders of the mosque secretly intend to insult those who are insulted by its construction. However, this claim would seem to be based on equally secret evidence. … Until evidence of such intent is forthcoming, it seems reasonable to accept that the builders did not intend to insult anyone.”

    But the builders of this Islamic centre must now surely be aware than many Americans (the majority, in some polls) think that the site is inappropriate and that the centre should be built somewhere further away.

    Given this, it is then reasonable to wonder why they insist that it should be built in that particular location and why they do not consider alternatives which would meet with less disapproval.

    People who really were interested in ‘outreach’ would realise that this objective is not likely to be enhanced by doing something that a significant proportion of the population thinks is, at the least, inappropriate, if not insulting or offensive.

    The rational response would be to choose another location…unless there really was some other reason for insisting on using that particular spot.

  17. I agree with Keith’s point about outreach, and I would have thought that outreach would have been the right direction to go.

    Now, I worry that some Christian factions are headed in a direction that will lead us in the the same kind of mutual animosity that exists between Israel and Islam. And, I suspect that due to the nature of this kind of animosity it won’t, as one might suspect, bring Christians and Jews together. Instead, it will simply lead to further spiritual/political balkanization.

    Unfortunately, many of those involved are the sort who would say: “If your not with us, you’re against us.” And, that kind of reasoning isn’t particularly conducive to diplomatic relations.

    This is why I liked the point about the Muslims praying at the non-denominational chapel. It’s exactly the sort of thing that I would like to see more widely acknowledged and encouraged. And, I think it would be wonderful if Christians and Muslims (and others) could jointly organize pray vigils focused on healing the spiritual wounds inflicted by terrorism.

  18. Please, let’s get our facts straight.

    A permit was issued by the city of New York granting official permission for the muslim cultural center to be built.

    No one is insiting on building the thing on the previous twin tower site. The builders said months ago they have no problem building it elsewhere.

    The build site was never at the spot of the previous twin towers. It was something like seven blocks away.

    The hijackers were not Iraqis.

    And the US president is not a Muslim.

  19. Richard,

    Yes, the Nazis burned all sorts of books. My point was that they also burned non-Christian books.

    There certainly were non-Nazis, including German non-Nazis, who issued death threats to those Nazis. What’s your point?

  20. Peter: ‘No one is insiting on building the thing on the previous twin tower site. The builders said months ago they have no problem building it elsewhere.’

    The objections are to the site that was chosen. It is this site where they (seem) to be insisting that the centre should be built.

    The nationality of the attackers is irrelevant as is the religion of the American President.

  21. ‘the mosque situation seems to be like a case in which someone is rationally talking about a subject that some might take issue with (such as arguing for or against same sex marriage) and the Quran burning situation seems to be like a white person repeatedly saying the N-word to African Americans. While both are covered by the freedom expression, it is unreasonable to take offense with the first situation but quite reasonable to take offense in the second. It also seems reasonable to think that people should not say racist things, even though they have the right to do so.’
    This seems a very reasonable summing up.
    However, there is an assumption we are implicitly making- viz. that the gradient of power flows downwards from us and that the ‘war on terrorism’ was essentially a success.
    What if that is not the commonly held perception for people like the Pastor? What if, the use of ‘heckler’s veto’, so to speak, becomes a method of mobilizing around what we might call a ‘strategically essentialist’ identity or agenda?

    American military power appeared to guarantee that Terrorism could be defeated- the good guys could track down the bad guys using their mobile phones and ‘surgical strikes’ by unmanned drones would deal with the problem hygienically.
    But, what if that strategy has failed? Are there not already discernible signs that people who previously thought of themselves as part of the majority- the main-stream, the ‘haves’ as opposed to the ‘have nots’- now feel themselves marginalized and without an effective voice?

    My fear is that Terrorism may come to be viewed as a successful strategy to mobilize young people and by-pass existing social and political formations which (at a time of economic crisis) may appear ineffective or out of touch.

  22. When I read the comments here and think about the whole business I just “thank God” that I do not have a religion. I feel sure life must be so much easier without having to make constant reference to a system of beliefs which are incoherent, dubious, and no more than a human construct one purpose of which was to gain control over others. The fallacy of Argumentum ad Baculum ( which no doubt Mike La Bossiere will readily recognise) holds sway over most of religion.
    A politician on the radio today suggested that President Obama rather than involving himself so deeply in the matter should have been dismissive of the bookburner as a Nutter who is best ignored. by all. In this connection I am reminded of the words of Heinrich Heine,
    “-where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”
    All that said, it seems we are stuck with religion, and all the nonsense, heartbreak, and evil it generates.

  23. I had an electronic copy of the Koran in my “My Documents” folder, and just now pressed the “delete” key.

    Does that offend anyone?

    I submit that the book burning in Fla. is functionally identical, save for the media coverage of it.

  24. Reggie,
    I was thinking the same thing about loading the Koran on a web page. When you close the browser and/or shut down your machine, you effectively do the same. Of course one difference is intent. In your “heart” did you delete that copy out of malice, apparently like our pastor here? And of course there is the in-your-face aspect. But then, who would know? To what extent did the pastor publicize his efforts? If you delete that copy off of your hard drive and tell one person, and that person broadcasts your actions to the world, is that the same as if you personally went to a jihadi website and informed them of your actions? Either way, who is responsible for the resulting violence, you, those who publicize what you did, or those who are taking violent action?

    Also I was amused by a picture in our paper today protesters outside the pastor’s church, one carrying a sign reading “Love your neighbor”, with a caption stating that the protesters were chanting “Pastor Jones, you’re a clown. We don’t want you in our town”.

    Peter,
    For the record, the point I was trying to make was that in 1933, long before the war, when these Nazi book burnings were going on, no one (to my knowledge, tough perhaps you can cite a specific example?) was issuing death threats to these Nazis for burning the books. Would such an action have been right or wrong? Judging from your later posts here, I doubt you are interested in a discussion along these lines, so feel free to ignore me. I would like to hear from others who are interested in a discussion about that question.

  25. Richard, and all, it would seem as if the moment the act changes (or extends) from the physical destruction to the spiritual or expressional form, it changes its nature. I may not have stated that precisely, but again to the point of “deleting the bits” or, burning a piece of a tree that his some ink on it in a coherent pattern. When does it become offensive, and becomes a separate, or coincident act?

    Consider the proper disposal of a worn-out, damaged/torn, U.S. Flag. It is burned, in a respectful fashion, right? How is this different from doing it in a non-respectful way?

  26. Re:- I had an electronic copy of the Koran in my “My Documents” folder, and just now pressed the “delete” key.
    Does that offend anyone?

    I would say it depends on the spirit in which it is done.

    Would any body in their right mind, object to the burning of a copy of the Koran, which had somehow been contaminated with with the most deadly form of Anthrax?

  27. Richard,

    What I think you’re trying to establish is who the bad guys are in any book burning situation. According to our perspective, when the Nazis burned books the Nazis were the bad guys (except to other Nazis). If Pastor Jones burns the Koran, is he a bad guy or a good guy? I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

    Many of the posts on this subject seem to suggest that it is the “attitude” or the “intent” with which the act is committed that determines the “badness” of the act. SO what was Jones’ attitude or intent?

  28. Anyone who burns a book is a bad guy, even someone who burns Mein Kampf (and I’m Jewish).

    Books are going to be replaced by the horrors of Kindle Readers soon, so let’s treasure all the books we have, even the stupid or the evil ones.

    Burning books adds to global warming and pollution.

    As to deleting the Koran in your computer, if you publicized it, intentionally or accidentally on purpose offending the sensibilities of Muslims, as did the fellow in Florida, yes, it would be wrong.

    If you did it to save space in your hard disk, without telling anyone (except those who understand your gesture) about it, it would be the same as deleting any other document to save space in your hard disk.

  29. The Masons require that only a fellow Mason wear a Masonic ring. When my dad died, I inherited his ring, although I am not a Mason. Am I allowed to wear it? I submit that their rules do not apply to me, and I am free to wear it if I feel like it.

    Legally, this is true. Morally, it may have something to do with respect for my dad’s memory, perhaps.

    The Masons would probably be upset about it, even offended.

    And I believe they would be offended in the same way that Muslims would be offended if someone burned the Koran. Their rules, their beliefs, and their retribution.

    Part of the problem here is the legal aspect of it, that is, whether someone has “freedom of [x]” to do something. I feel that it would be like asking if the local sheriff would come out and forcefully take my dad’s Masonic ring off my finger.

    I will admit that I am over-simplifying the issue, but for what it’s worth, the part about the ring and my dad is true. I don’t wear his ring because it doesn’t fit.

  30. Are all Muslims offended by Jones and his threatened book burning? Would all Christians be offended by a Bible burning?

  31. OK, Amos, (everyone else fasten your seat belts as this is bound to get real silly) so if you have to delete a file to save space and your choices are a copy of the Koran or any of dozens of other documents, and you choose to delete the Koran and someone finds out about it and is offended, is this your bad? What if you make a copy of it on a USB drive, but then you OMG! loose the USB drive because you nonchalantly dropped it in a toilet? I suppose it’s OK if no one finds out.

    Look, what someone chooses to do with their own personal property is their own damn business. People who claim to have been hurt by all this nonsense are hurt because, one way or another, they choose to be hurt.

    How about this: Anyone who chooses to threaten the life of anyone who does what they choose with their own personal property is a really, really bad guy.

    This argument that has had so many people up in arms is absolutely ridiculous. As I understand it, Fred Phelps burned a Koran yesterday and nobody covered it, no one seems to care. Now was this because no one wants to give that dirtbag any more publicity or was it because he also burned an American flag along with it, and those opposed to Jones need time to get their stories straight?

    Oh horrors! Kindle readers! You can live in fear or do something about it. It’s your choice.

  32. Richard: I’m not sure to what degree people “choose” to be hurt or to be offfended, but this isn’t a discussion about free will or choice, so I’ll accept your statement that people choose to be offended.

    I don’t agree with you that what one does with their private property is their own business. Property confers rights and duties towards others. There is no space here to list the duties involved with property.

    However, I would include trying not to offend others, even if others choose in some sense to be offended, as one duty that involved in having property.

    You would do not see that as a duty that comes with having property. I don’t see what else there is to say to you on the subject.

  33. It turns out we actually have rules regarding the deleting of certain kinds of digital content. Of course, most of that has more to do with business and legal accountability. We also have laws limiting the copying of digital content, which might be likened to laws restricting the portrayal of Mohamed. And, I expect that in a Muslim theocracy, creating an electronic image of Mohamed would be treated much the same as creating a physical image. But, we are far from being settled on the laws regarding digital content. I expect that ultimately, intent and symbolic value will still play a role.

    I suppose we should also compare the rules that many voluntarily conform to regarding the handling of the flag, and we know that there are many who choose to make their point by disrespecting those laws. I personally choose not to engage in such a practice, though I still support the right to do so. I guess this means that I support putting rights in the hands of evil people, at least until the point when such evil people commit a crime.

  34. Let me now address any serious questions that have come my way that I may have missed:
    If Pastor Jones burns the Koran (which, let’s be honest, he didn’t do and now says he won’t do) he is a “bad” guy. He does not, however, warrant this level of attention, and even still, such is not the point. He has a right to do as he pleases with his property. He has a right to make whatever statement he wishes without having his life threatened. His rights, like everyone else’s, should be respected.

    In response to Peter, ALL muslims are not threatened by such an act. Neither are most Christians. A major difference is, the volume and veracity of the death threats (which are wrong in both situations) are much greater, and more importantly, taken more seriously when issued by Muslims. Why do you suppose that is?

    Now let me restate points that I have raised that go unaddressed:
    Re the comparison to Jones and Nazi book burning:
    Did perhaps any of those who’s books were burned issue death threats to those Nazis? Do you think they should have? Would it have been justifiable for those whose books were burned by the Nazis back in 1933 to issue death threats to said Nazis? Remember, a rational response must keep in context the world of 1933.

    How is the Koran burning any different from the Piss Christ by Andres Serrano? if the Koran burning was presented as performance art, should it receive the same level of consideration for NEA funding as Mr. Serrano’s effort?

    Much focus here on the attitude or intent, but I keep coming back to what makes this different from flag desecration or “art” such as Piss Christ, and so far no one wishes to address the fact that violence across the globe has been threatened in response to Jone’s act while many of the same people who condemn Jones barely raised a peep, if not actually cheered on, the actions of Serrano, Ayers, etc.

    Re Reggie, My father also was a Mason, and like you, I am not. I don’t wear my father’s Masonic ring because it would be wrong. You could get your father’s ring resized if you so desired. I suspect you really have no desire to wear it, however. You’re just afraid to admit it. No offense, just my guess as we likely share some very similar values. As to your question left unanswered above about respectful burning of the US flag, that is the difference, the respect. That the flag has been passed on to those who burn it with the understanding that it will be treated respectfully is also important. But even if one acquired a US flag by honest means, burned it in a dishonorable manner, or maybe had their picture taken while standing on it a la Bill Ayers, threatening the life of someone for doing so is by far more outrageous and offensive than the act itself.

  35. Richard Mobby states:-

    “He has a right to do as he pleases with his property. He has a right to make whatever statement he wishes without having his life threatened. His rights, like everyone else’s, should be respected.”

    As Amos stated earlier “Property confers rights and duties towards others.”

    I have a car the possession of which does not give me the right to drive it everywhere in reverse.

    If someone makes a statement of intent such that he will destroy me and all my family and possessions I shall certainly threaten his own life should he attempt to carry out the intent contained in his statement. In fact I might in certain circumstances, be prepared to make the first move.

  36. Weak arguments there Mr. Bird:
    “I have a car the possession of which does not give me the right to drive it everywhere in reverse.”

    You do on YOUR property. Go out on the public roads, different story.

    “If someone makes a statement of intent such that he will destroy me and all my family and possessions I shall certainly threaten his own life should he attempt to carry out the intent contained in his statement. In fact I might in certain circumstances, be prepared to make the first move.”

    Who is making the overt threats against life and property? Not Mr. Jones. Much bigger mobs than his have, however.

    I thought the rule was to address the stronger points of a philosophical argument and not nit-pick with such silliness.

    Does anyone care to address the stronger points stated above?

  37. The pastor in Florida who was going to burn the Koran was doing it publicly, so Don Bird’s example of not driving recklessly on a public road seems appropriate.

    In fact, burning the Koran with publicity is a reckless gesture, which would have endangered the lives of U.S. soldiers and civilians, as General P pointed out, not to mention the lives of civilians in Muslim countries who are manipulated by demagogues.

    Just as one does not have the right to drive recklessly on a public road, one does not have the right to burn a book, if that act will recklessly endanger the lives and well-being of others.

    It may be that there are people who burn Korans, Bibles, the complete works of Richard Dawkins and Ayn Rand every day, but since they do it secretly, without publicity, they cause no harm, except contributing to global warming and air pollution.
    What they spend on books, which they burn, may increase the profits of Amazon.Com, and the well-being of the owners of Amazon.

  38. Uncle Jed – You’re sailing close to the wind with this sort of thing:

    I thought the rule was to address the stronger points of a philosophical argument and not nit-pick with such silliness.

    Be nice, be respectful, be charitable. These are non-negotiable rules for this blog (albeit they’re not implemented consistently because I’m not (quite) and all-seeing deity).

    Update: Uncle Jed is the pseudonym of someone who has been banned from here before. He’s now banned again.

  39. Guess who I follow…
    War is in the very genes of our life pattern and may not be expunged. Even the sea anemonies wage war. It is distasteful and necessary. Among men, it is how we resolve irreconcilable differences.

  40. Jeremy,

    I know not whether you will read this comment or instead be forever unaware of it, however I feel I must put in a word for Uncle Jed. It is my considered opinion that you acted a little harshly.
    Whilst our friend might have been directing comments towards Don Bird which could be considered insulting, they were not obvious abuse and he had previously left comments approving of Don Bird’s arguments. A nice warning: ‘sailing clost to the wind’, that is perfect. There was no need for a ban. Though Uncle Jed may have been banned before under an alias and now returned, the behaviour of he who posts as ‘Uncle Jed’ has not been sufficiently obnoxious to warrant yet another ban.

    Why not give ‘im a second chance?

    Also, I don’t know a great deal about the issue, but are not Christians supposed to be against unecessary violence, provoking violence and all that? So why is the Pastor burning books? As far as we know, Jesus preferred working with others to solve differances. He did not fight alongside the violent Zealots.
    [Sorry if I've repeated anything stated above.]

  41. Sleuth

    I have a pretty strict policy not to comment on moderating decisions. But I’ll do this once and once only.

    “Uncle Jed” had already been banned from this forum. He should not have been posting here. That, in and of itself, would have been reason enough for me to have prevented him from posting (had I noticed him earlier).

    Moreover, his behaviour since he reappeared – under a pseudonym – was a long way from being acceptable. In particular, his actions on the “Israel Piracy” thread, where he made a number of derogatory remarks about the standard of the debate, and then explicitly encouraged people to leave this board so that they could discuss things on his blog, was completely out of order.

    Also, you should declare an interest here. You’re a regular on his blog. It doesn’t seem to me your testimony on his behalf is impartial.

    If you want to comment on the rights and wrongs of deleting posts, banning users, and so on, then it would most usefully occur on the new post that Mike has written.

  42. It seems obvious that there would be some link between I and he considering that we both commented on the ‘Israeli Piracy’ article and I was one of those invited to visit another site. However, my only intention in this case is to see that justice is served.

    Yes, he may have made what some might call ‘derogatory remarks’ about the standard of the ‘Israeli Piracy’ debate, but I am not convinced that such behaviour is sufficiently ‘out of line’ to warrant a ban. You did not choose to warn ‘Uncle Jed’ at that point in any case, which surely you should have done if you believed his behaviour to be so unacceptable. Once ‘Uncle Jed’ claimed to be a previously banned blogger ‘WTP’, you took interest.

    Though he may have been banned before, I suggest that the behaviour of ‘Uncle Jed’ was not sufficient to warrant a ban. ‘WTP’ is another matter. And, from your actions so far, you would seem to agree that ‘Uncle Jed’ should not be banned: you did not comment against him on Israeli Piracy and you did not comment against him on this discussion until well after he claimed to have been ‘WTP’.

    If ‘Uncle Jed’ was behaving ‘in line’ with regulations, surely the past does not matter. If you are so dissatisfied with the current behaviour of ‘Uncle Jed’, the first line of defence should be only a warning; he was not crying out ‘F***!’ and ‘C***!’, after all.

    Relating to his avertising of another site, I thought that the argument on this site was a bit fragmented. ‘Uncle Jed’ wished to provide a location for a more concentrated debate where each participant would be interested in answering fully the arguments of other participants. His intent was purely philosophical and noble in nature. He was not posting irrelvant spam.

    I have read Mike’s post on moderation, but I belived it better to take up this matter here, as we refer to part of this debate.

    However, I must apologise for continuing this here, as I have written quite a lot which is off the book-burning, mosque-building topic. I would gladly continue this in un autre location.

  43. Sleuth

    1. It’s not your role to see that justice is served;

    2. I didn’t warn “Uncle Jed” about Israeli Piracy because I didn’t see it. Had I seen it, I would have warned him;

    3. It doesn’t matter whether “Uncle Jed” warrants a ban – and he does (for his behaviour on the “Israeli Piracy” thread) – WTP had already been banned, and they are one and the same person;

    4. I don’t care whether his intentions are “noble”. On this discussion board, you don’t tell people participating in a discussion that what they’re doing is no good, and then invite a select few to go elsewhere.

    This discussion is now closed. Uncle Jed/WTP are banned and they will remain banned.

  44. Some people have mentioned here that a person does not have a right to do something publicly if others who witness this action might decide of their own accord to commit atrocities and then blame it on this first persons actions. Is this not the very definition of kowtowing and placating? Is it not the rejection of this type of philosophy that convinces us that we shouldn’t bow before terrorist demands? If someone decides to express an idea non-violently (and I know combustion is involved with book burning, but it seems non-violent to me) but is met with violent action against him, he should not be blamed for both.

    Yes, burning the Koran publicly might, in a sense, be reckless, but only because we know there’s a lot of wacko people out there who might blow stuff up because of it. The expression of ideas being met with violence should not be a reason to not express ideas. I have the right (I think) to express, non-violently, anything I can think of, and this most certainly does not justify violent action against me.

  45. Maybe I am reaching a little here, but I find the activities in this conversation to have similarities with the subject under discussion.

    On the one hand, someone said “don’t burn our holy book, because it offends me.” Another person said “screw you, I will burn it any way because I have the right to do [etc.]” And the first guy says “if you do, I will kill [whoever]“.

    In this discussion about that discussion, there is someone who said “don’t post certain kinds of things on my blog because it offends me.” Another person posted those very things, and the first person banned him. The second person functionally said “screw you, I have the right to post anywhere I want and under any name I want [etc.]”

    In fact, in the second case illustrated, there really are nothing more than binary electrical pulses involved, and it takes an action on my part even to see these words being posted, by either party. In the first case, there is a physical destruction of a book which could be likened to the tree from which the book was made, being burned down by a forest fire before the tree was even harvested.

    And yes, I do have a point: in both cases, and specifically in the case of the Koran burning, the physical act of burning a book is not really, after all, what is offensive. It is the thought that drives the physical activity that offends, and we are thus at an impasse. Religion, I think, is the only arena where a higher power “knows” what you are thinking, other than maybe Santa Claus, who sees you when you’re sleeping / he knows when you’re awake.

    And so because this god, speaking through his representatives here on earth, is pissed off that you burned a book, the representative will kill you and your family as reprisal. When you piss of Santa Claus, all that happens is that you get coal in your stocking.

    The offense is the same, but the consequences are different.

    Ultimately, it gets back to good manners and bad manners. I don’t eat peas with a knife because my mom told me not to. I still know how to, but I don’t, out of respect. I don’t burn books because, probably, the same reason. Call me Oedipus, but she also told me it’s anti-social to fly planes into occupied buildings. I don’t recall religion having anything to do with it. It’s just anti-social, and humans are social creatures.

    I would like to say here that while I am being a little flippant, I hope that you will look past that and do consider my underlying thoughts — thanks.

  46. I have found it odd that some of the people who vigorously supported the printing (and reprinting) of the Mohamed cartoons have suddenly come down self righteously on the other side of this one. Perhaps because this time they disagree with the philosophical person doing it.

    In any case, the distinction in the blog article is not, as I see it, significant. Rights of expression do not depend on whether offense was intended. Indeed sometimes speech or expressive action is intended to offend as a legitimate goal. This happened during the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement.

    And there is something profoundly disturbing about letting violent individuals (and their sympathizers) control the issue.

  47. This conversation reminds me of someone who suggested explaining what a “dirty word” was to a martian.

    It would be nearly impossible to effectively do that, because the idea itself is preposterous.

    Likewise, try explaining why burning a book that is ink on paper that describes a mythical story with promises of life after death, will cause someone to end the life of another.

    And the answer is simple! Martians don’t exist.

  48. Oh, Martians get dirty words just fine. Plutonians, on the other tentacle…

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