Koran Burning

Koran

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Last year Terry Jones gained international attention by threatening to burn the Koran. The situation seemed to have been resolved with Jones’ decision not to burn any books. However, he and some of his fellows went through with the burning on March 20, 2011. While most of the world did not react to this event, some people in Afghanistan and Pakistan reacted quite strongly. In the case of Afghanistan, the burning led to riots. The first of these resulted in the deaths of seven U.N. workers (none of whom were Americans) and four demonstrators. More deaths have followed and it seems likely that even more people will die before the event plays out.

One aspect of this incident is that some of the rioters are obviously willing to murder people who have no connection whatsoever to the burning of the Koran. As such, it seems rather difficult for them to claim that they are acting on the basis of any meaningful concept of justice. After all, justice seems to require distinguishing between those who are accountable and those who are not accountable. There is, of course, also the rather important matter of whether or not the burning of a book warrants death.

Interestingly enough, an unwillingness (or inability) to distinguish between people is something that is often seen among Americans who are hostile to Islam and regard all Muslims as terrorists (or potential terrorists). This unwillingness to make such distinctions seems to be a significant factor in the mindsets of such people. Whether this is an effect of their hatred or a contributory cause (or both) is something that remains to be determined.

Rather than focus on this matter, however, I will instead focus on the American reaction to the incidents and its repercussions.

On view, put forth by Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, is that while the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and religion, Americans should exercise these rights responsibly.

This view seems to be quite reasonable. After all, the constitution is rather clear about the legal rights presented in the First Amendment and the rulings of the Supreme Court have been consistently in favor of free speech, even when such speech does have negative consequences.

An obvious response to this view is that not all speech is protected nor should it be. To use the classic example, people do not have the legal (or moral) right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. This is because their speech would cause direct harm under reasonable legal and moral views of causation (sine qua non and proximate causation).

In the case of Jones’ burning the Koran, his expression seems to have caused Afghans to attack and kill people. Given this sort of harm, Jones’ actions should not be considered legally protected and should also be regarded as morally unacceptable. After all, his actions would seem to have caused needless and wrongful harm to others.

The easy and obvious reply to this is that there is a relevant difference between the theater example and the Koran burning. In the case of the person yelling fire, the action is a deceit (there is no fire) and it is reasonable to expect people to try to escape a building that is supposed to be on fire. It is also reasonable to expect that people could be injured during the escape attempt. As such, there seems to be a rather direct link between the yelling of “fire”and the harm that would result.

In the case of burning the Koran, the link seems to be more indirect. The book is burned, people learn about it, they become angry, they riot, they go looking for Americans to kill, they do not find Americans so they attack U.N. workers and kill them. In this scenario, the causal link seems to be such that Jones’ moral and legal culpability is very limited. In fact, he seems to have no legal culpability whatsoever.

To use an analogy, if I were to criticize the views of a British colleague in a spiteful manner and burn their book and they responded by going and punching a Canadian philosopher, then I would hardly be responsible for those actions. Even if I knew that they were hot tempered and likely to do this, I cannot be held accountable for their lack of self control.

It might be replied that if someone knows that other people will do harmful things if provoked by such words or deeds, then they should not take that action. However, this makes free expression a hostage to whoever is willing to respond with violent or destructive actions when they hear of things they do not like. This will clearly not do.

Naturally, there can be pragmatic grounds for engaging in some common sense restraint and moral arguments can be made as to why, on the basis of the consequences, people should not say or do certain things that might provoke people to irrational acts of murder and destruction. As a friend of mine has said, “it is sometimes best not to provoke the crazy people.”

A second view is that although the constitution is rather clear about the matter of freedom of expression, exceptions can be made in times of war. This view was put forth by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who spoke on Face the Nation.

“I wish we could find some way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we are in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy. So, burning the Quran is a terrible thing, but it doesn’t justify killing someone. Burning a Bible would be a terrible thing, but it doesn’t justify murder.”

I will begin by agreeing with the second part of Graham’s remarks: burning a religious book does not justify killing people. However, I do have some concerns about the first part of his remarks.

He begins by noting that while free speech is a great idea (something people always say before going on to say that it needs to be limited), the fact that we are at war justifies restricting it. He notes that this was practiced in WWII and he presumably thinks that a similar approach should be taken today.

On the one hand, I can see the appeal of this approach. After all, in times of war it does make sense to limit what people can say. For example, it seems acceptable to prevent citizens from freely talking about secret military plans or revealing the names and locations of agents in enemy territory. However, these sorts of things seem to be already covered by existing laws and it seems easy enough to make moral arguments against acts that would seem to be cases of potential treason.

On the other hand, this approach does have some problems. First, we now seem to always be at war with no clear end (or even a clear definition of what would count as an end) in sight. As such, it seems like a less than great idea to use the war justification. After all, since being always at war is the new normal, this would seem to mean that such limits would be in place for the foreseeable future. Second, while we are at war, the war (three of them, actually) seem to be rather different from WWII in ways that might have justified restrictions in WWII but do not justify them now. Third, there is also the obvious question as to whether such limits were justified during WWII. After all, if they are being used to justify limits now, it must be shown that they justified limits then. Fourth, there seems to be the rather obvious problem that restricting expression that provokes “the enemy” would seem to justify imposing a broad range of restrictions. Under this approach, if the announcement that the United States was going to take an action in the Middle East led to a violent response, then the persons or persons making the announcement (perhaps the president or his press secretary) would have to be held accountable. Or, to use another example, if some people rioted in Afghanistan and said it was because American women are allowed to express opinions in public, then American women would need to be held accountable. This seems to be clearly absurd.

In light of the above, while I believe that Jones’ should not have burned the Koran, I also hold that there should be no legal restrictions placed on such actions.

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75 Comments.

  1. Justin Holder

    Thanks for the post Dr LaBossiere; it’s on an issue that I’m interested in.

    One issue I’d like to bring up is the conditions which truly caused the Afghan rioting. It seems to me that most Western commentators account for the rioters’ reactions without carefully looking at the conditions from which they arise. Certainly, none of the rioters were living unconcerned, easygoing lives until they heard that some American burned a Qur’an, so they went to kill someone. One must remember that they are living under foreign occupation, and take into account the psychological repercussions which come with that.

    Imagine: your country has been invaded by a foreign power. There is constant fighting between this power and insurgents. Your society is in shambles. All the while, this foreign power constantly promises that it is on your side and looking out for your interests. Then, you hear news that one of “them” has defiled the most important thing in the world to you; sacredness itself; the one thing that brings you peace and guidance. And the government – which is asking you to trust it with your life – has done nothing about this.

    Now remove the first person and project that scenario on an Afghan who sees Western occupation as not only political, but cultural invasion. Who sees the West as without virtue or rightness of purpose, because he believes that these things necessarily come from Islam alone. For him, hearing about the burning of the Qur’an, and the passivity of the American government, is proof of the moral backwardness and perversion of the body which is forcefully controlling his society.

    What I am getting at is that I think it is inappropriate to judge the rioters’ actions in light of ONLY the Qur’an burning – in effect treating them as un-situated, disengaged rational agents in relation to that isolated event. Rather we need to look at the effect of such an action on the psychological landscape of war-torn Afghanistan.

    Given these conditions it might be worth taking another view at the “we’re at war” argument. One thing I constantly argue is that the most important objective America has in Afghanistan is to win the trust of the civilians. In fact, one could argue that that is the entire war in a nutshell. That being the case, it’s hardly much of a stretch for me to consider an American who would purposefully cause the most deep offense possible to Afghan citizens a traitor in the full sense of the word. By broadcasting such a method, he is severely undermining America’s most important objective.

    Of course there can be objections along the lines of the ones you’ve presented (is Lady Gaga a traitor since her videos are probably considered immoral by many Afghans?) but I don’t think such objections are very forceful. I see quite a clear distinction between purposely lashing out at the heart of a society, and offense taken by happenstance.

    In light of all the above, I believe that it would be justifiable to take legal action against a Qur’an-burner on the basis of tending the turbulent and critically important relationship between Americans and all Muslims, especially in occupied territory. However, don’t think it would be a good way to go in practise, considering the assured political backlash and the high possibility of knee-jerk Qur’an burning as a protest if the limiting of free speech, a la “Draw Muhammad Day”.

  2. It’s not clear to me that Jones’s action has caused harm to others in any substantial sense. All he did was burn some books. It’s a tasteless and stupid act, and it is contributing in its own way to intolerance of Muslims in America. But it is certainly not a catalyst.

    Recall Bernard Williams’s case of Jim vs. the Natives. In that case, a villain forces a bystander Jim to make a choice: either he can kill one innocent man, or he can let 20 innocents die. Williams says this: if Jim lets the 20 innocent people die, then there is no sense in which Jim has brought about the outcome, even if Jim might still be *responsible* for the outcome. Whether or not you agree with Williams, I think there’s something powerful in his critique.

    So, recall I posted a while back about the Arizona shooting. In that post, I said that ignorant loudmouth right-wing zealots were contributing to a culture of vigilantism, that they were responsible for that culture, and that there might be a causal link between the culture and the deranged assassination attempt.

    That model might be unwarranted when applied to that case — there are still too many questions unanswered about J.L. Loughner — but it’s an effective model, and I would continue to apply it here. There is no doubt that Terry Jones contributes to a culture of militant American fundamentalism, and that he is responsible for his contribution. But then people react to the militant fundamentalist culture in their own ways, which the man Jones is not responsible for, and has not caused (in any substantial sense).

  3. s. wallerstein (ex amos)

    Whether Jones is morally responsible for causing the deaths in Afghanistan is a complex philosophical issue, as is the question of moral responsibility in general. I honestly don’t know what “moral responsibility” means.

    I’m not a lawyer and not even a U.S. resident, so I’ll not opine over whether what Jones did is illegal or not.

    Hence, for me the central issue is whether Jones burning a Koran led to UN workers and others being killed in Afghanistan, and I would say “yes”, whether Jones is morally responsible or not.

    Since Koran burning seems to lead some irrational and fanatical persons to commit murders, it seems prudent to stop playing with matches. Jones should be convinced or dissuaded from burning more Korans and perhaps should be asked to make a public apology.

    Governments generally have means to convince or dissuade citizens from commiting acts which are not technically illegal. A personal phone call from the president generally is very convincing.

    An audit of one’s tax returns for the past two decades is often a good way of dissuading people.

  4. s. wallerstein (ex amos)

    email follow-up

  5. Michael A. Lyle

    There is no doubt in my mind that Islam has the capacity for tolerance. After all, tolerance is a main component and both the strength and weakness of religion ~ any religion.
    Those spiritual leaders who are responsible for inciting the rioting and carnage of their followers should be brought to the light, exposed and dealt with. In no way can murder for the burning of a Quran be justified! In no way does the infantile and turbulent destructiveness of His followers bring glory to Allah!
    It’s shameful, it’s despicable to be caught in the world eye behaving the way so many of these poor people in the Mideast are being depicted in media. Such behavior should be designated criminal, and those in leadership whipping up such frenzy prosecuted for all which results, including the murder of innocents!
    And those sincere and sincerely ignorant personality worshippers who are guilty of unabatedly expressing such vile impulses brought once again back to the basic principles of a tolerant religion.

  6. “Since Koran burning seems to lead some irrational and fanatical persons to commit murders, it seems prudent to stop playing with matches. Jones should be convinced or dissuaded from burning more Korans and perhaps should be asked to make a public apology.”

    Mike clearly articulated the problem with this approach: “However, this makes free expression a hostage to whoever is willing to respond with violent or destructive actions when they hear of things they do not like.”

    As he said: “This will clearly not do.”

    The more that violent and fanatical people are allowed to limit the free speech of others, the more they will attempt to do so.

  7. There are two problems:
    1) Is Burning of Koran acceptable?
    2) Is Terry Jones responsible for the killings of U.N. workers?

    Terry Jones may not be responsible for the killings but I think another debate is needed to understand whether burning Koran falls under freedom of speech and expression or not.

    One’s freedom of speech may hurt others’ feelings. How to draw a line?

  8. s. wallerstein (ex amos)

    But if Jones is not stopped, we will be hostage to all the nuts who play with matches and Korans, which will create an increasingly tense situation with Islam.

  9. I am not sure if freedom of speech is what really troubles me so much. There are different values in the Western civilization, and “freedom” of “everything” is pretty much the corner stone of the Western approach. However, Islam, especially radical Islam, does not tolerate many of those freedoms.

    This Koran burning has proved it once again. One could have burned almost any other book(including the Bible), and that would not have caused that much noise. However, with Koran, Afghan president has already demanded apologies from the USA(there are radicals, but, then, there is a president. That’s different). That’s just a book, after all..

    What really bothers me is that I don’t quite understand what drives Islam followers. So, when I see them on the streets around me in the Western cities, it is somewhat concerning since I seriously doubt they share Western values that much. What has happened with the UN workers in Afghanistan has not dismissed those concerns at all.

    From this standpoint, the right question would be what should Western world do about its relationships with Islam? It’s not a matter of the freedom of speech in general.

    PS. Don’t take me wrong. I am an atheist, so I don’t follow any particular religion. Most of the other religions are peaceful, though..

  10. Mike and some commentators seem to be taking the press reports of the “riots” and killings at face value. You have to bear in mind that there is a war on (as people used to say) and (as they also used to say) “truth is the first casualty in war.” The time to reflect might be when the facts are established – albeit that, as a result, when philosophy paints its grey in grey… as Hegel put it.

  11. Justin,

    Excellent points. As you argue, Jone’s actions can be regarded as directly undermining the war effort in Afghanistan. As such, I suspect that a case could be made as to why such actions should be restricted by creating a new law (or applying an existing one that might fit) based on the necessities of war. However, this would seem to be (as you note) a bad idea overall.

  12. Hemant,

    Good questions.

    In regards to 1, I would say “yes.” Burning a book is an act of expression and the moral limits of expression seem to allow it, provided that the expression does not create direct harm.

    In regards to 2, I would say that his role in the killings is not enough to legally or morally establish responsibility in a significant sense. After all, the fact that people overreacted to his actions is not his fault.

  13. Alex,

    While some Muslims have reacted violently to the burnings, most have not. As such, it is not so much a matter of what drives all followers of Islam, but a matter of what drives specific people to specific acts.

    My experience has been that most Muslims react to Koran burnings the way most Christians would react to bible burnings: they prefer that people would not do that sort of thing, but are not going to run out and kill anyone over it.

    As you note, the West does have to consider its relationships with countries that do not share Western values regarding such matters as freedom of expression.

  14. Stephen,

    Is there evidence that the reports are mistaken?

  15. Maybe we should all ask the nearest muslim before we do anything.

    Burn a Koran innocent people die. Draw a cartoon of mohhamed innocent people die. A girl gets raped she is executed.
    Anyone that believe that Jesus is the Son of God should be put to death. Believe that the Holy Bible is the Word of God is also a death sentence. All or any of these are against Islam and can be used as an excuse to kill.

  16. Mike,

    I really meant the relationships with Islam(people, countries, religion), not with Muslim countries.

    Every time something like this happens(remember that cartoon, indeed), the West has to apologize(or almost has to). Why? It was an immoral action, and we should definitely condemn Jones for burning the Koran, but our reaction is not supposed to become stronger than that, and it will not. However, radical Muslim followers will burst into the outrage every time, and their less radical governments will demand apologies/explanations from the Western countries. What’s worse is that we will usually bring the apologies as if we were guilty of something.

    It’s almost like we were at the state of religious war which we were loosing.. but we just don’t want to admit it.

    And, then, getting back to the people.. For instance, Canada is boasting multiculturalism. USA is not, but it does not mean there is no multiculturalism there. What concerns me is that you can’t blend fire and water. If the cultures are that different when it comes to the basic values, it might be better to stay somewhat apart.

  17. Mike,

    In regards to your answer to my question 2, I completely agree with you.

    But I am not clear about your answer to my question 1. The confusion arises because of the term – direct harm. How do you define “direct harm”?

    Obviously, the answer to above question would be based on one’s values. But still, what is a morally reasonable definition of “direct harm”?

  18. I have read the article and the responses to it. I have the following questions to the professor.

    First, isn’t that true that one of the causes of occupation given by the Americans was the destruction of Buddha statues in Bamyan in Afghanistan. Even though none of the Buddhists around the world asked the US government to invade, it was one of reasons given, as Mr. Bush put it aptly “religious intolerance”.

    Second, as one of the commentators has quite correctly put, that if someone exercises his right of free speech in a crowded theater and people get harmed as a result, then if he can be held accountable, then why not the guy who struck terror with his acts and caused harm in the hearts and minds of so many people.

    Third, how do some of the commentators deduce that Islam is more intolerant than other religions. Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris are routinely killed by western, Israeli and Indian forces daily and yet no one accuses them of spreading terror, hate and being intolerant. Will any western nation accept the killings of its citizens on the pretext of being perceived terrorists? And yet these killings happen by dozens including women and children on a daily basis on which no one has ever been punished.

    The US government had a moral responsibility as the occupier to insure that none of the people under its control betrayed / harmed the rights of another. It clearly failed. Who should have been punished by the Afghans is another matter, since the issue of sovereignty is vague at the moment over their land. It should not have been the UN people, nor did the UN guards have the right to shoot Afghans in the first place.

    Every freedom has limits. It does not allow people to roam naked on the streets, then how come it allows hurting the feelings of over a quarter of world’s population. Freedom means that it has to be exercised sensibly otherwise it becomes another form of barbarism.

  19. Mike,

    My only reasons for doubt are general: the implausibility of the behaviour as reported and the fact that there is a war on, so normal journalistic practice is likely to be constrained – eyewitnesses fearful and distraught after a gunfight, the official line available, widely accepted and difficult to check. Is there evidence that the reports are accurate? You name no reporters. Who are they and what is their track record?

  20. Looking around the more reliable sources on the internet (the BBC), I find:
    “Witnesses said the protest in Mazar-e Sharif, which began outside the central Blue Mosque after Friday prayers, began peacefully but suddenly turned violent. […] The protests began in Mazar-e Sharif on Friday, when protesters marched on the UN compound. Several demonstrators were killed by guards at the compound, who were then overpowered by the mob.” (3 April)
    This would suggest a peaceful protest with troops who overreacted, no doubt under stress.

  21. There are some disturbing images, but here is the link:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12949262

  22. I think Saleem has got it mostly right with his post. That having been said, I strongly disagree with his conclusion. Human beings have a will of their own, the ability to make decisions for themselves. Nobody — ever, ever, ever — has a moral right to not have their feelings hurt.

    Is it unjustifiable to burn a book? It’s in poor taste, like roaming naked in the streets. But if a sect of people on one continent started a riot because somebody roamed naked in the streets on another continent, then why would we blame the nudist instead of the sect? That just seems preposterous.

    True, we do have a moral duty not to unnecessarily hurt others — there is a strong duty to be empathetic. Also, it’s true that there is a sense in which the perceived consequences of the action determine the goodness or badness of the action.

    But when you, the instigator, are considering social consequences for some action, you morally only have to think about the scope of the options that are open to the affected actors (so long as we think that the options are open to rational deliberation). In some cases, an instigator (A) may be responsible for limiting the scope of the options that others (B) have, and they may be responsible for the outcome of whatever choice (B) makes. But if all you have done is burn a book, or run naked through the streets, it is hard to see you as having restricted anyone else’s choices to the point where we think that the choice of “Murder Rampage” naturally sits at the top of the list of (B)’s available options.

  23. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Ben:

    I don’t think that Pastor Jones is morally irresponsible either. He seems too childish or stupid to understand what forces are in play in this situation, and understanding seems to me to be a necessary condition for moral responsibility.

    The rioters in Afghanistan also seem too childish, too ignorant, too hysterical, to understand what’s going on.

    However, we (you and I) both do understand what forces are at play in this situation, and I think that it is our moral responsibility to try to dissuade Jones or rather to convince the competent authorities to dissuade him and other pastors with matches before more innocent people die.

  24. Sure, we can discourage Jones in various ways; i.e., by trying to show him that he is doing a shitty thing. But once he makes his choice, then that’s the end of the discussion. We can’t engage the government to do anything.

    Do you say the same thing about publishing pictures of Mohammed in newspapers and books? That we should not do it, just in case someone crazy does something crazy? If the threat of retaliation were the only ethical consideration, then I would say that we all have obligations to burn Korans, every day, all the time. That’s simply because the Forces of Crazy do not get to have a say in how I live my life, or (hopefully) how you live yours, or how we live together. They just don’t.

    We have to consider the fact that Jones is a red herring, as Saleem suggests. Consider: state-supported psychopaths butcher these people in our name, in uniforms supplied by us, with weaponry we made. (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-kill-team-20110327?page=1) The sole surviving witness to the UN massacre testifies that the riot was started in response to the burning of the Koran, but I don’t think we should be surprised if we find out that the outrage had deeper roots.

  25. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Ben:

    I agree with you that the outrage most probably has deeper roots.

    Is there a prohibition in Islam against pictures of Mohammed? I thought that the problem was with cartoons mocking him.

    I agree that cartoons mocking Mohammed are examples of free expression and should be protected, as evidently should be literary works such as the Satanic Verses.

    However, I note that in the U.S. free expression is very broadly interpreted and that in many democratic countries, burning a Koran (or the flag) would not be considered an act of free expression and/or speech.

    So while I would be willing to defend, if not to my death, at least with typing on this keyboard your right to publish cartoons about Muhammed, I do not see burning Korans as necessarily an instance of free speech.

    If Pastor Jones were to publish a long Islamophobic treatise, his right to publish it should be defended.

    Finally, unfortunately, the Forces of Crazy do decide how we live our lives at times. That is another topic and calls for a more lengthy debate, which you might post on, if you wish.

  26. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Article on the some of the reasons for Afghan and Pakistani outrage.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13001640

  27. Islam prohibits depictions of the Prophet Muhammad altogether Amos yes.

    Burning the US flag, the Koran, the Bible, or indeed crosses are all protected forms of expression in the USA. If you would support free speech (which in the US extends to hate speech and holocaust denial) and Ben’s right to publish cartoons that ridicule the Prophet Muhammad why would you restrict Jones’ freedom to burn a Koran? Jones is hard to sympathize with, so how about the right of an oppressed woman who has turned her back on the Islamic religion to burn a Koran as an expression of her ‘liberation’ from that faith?

  28. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Curious:

    Your question about the oppressed woman is a very good one.

    Of course, I sympathize with her.

    However, my sympathies are not the issue here.

    The issue here, as I see it, is how “we” deal with radicalized elements of the world’s fastest growing religion, Islam, a faith which includes roughly a quarter of the world’s population.

    We must learn to live and let live with it, since we are not omnipotent and often not even competent when we try to “reform” or “democratize” other cultures.

    I’m far from an expert on Islam, so I’ll not opine on how far Islam, if Islam can be considered as a unitary phenomenon (which I doubt), is willing to live and let live with me, me being all the vices of the Western world, skepticism, hedonism, rejection of tradition, anti-authoritarianism, a tendency to mock received wisdom, moral relativism.

    However, in answer to your question, yes, I would try to explain to that woman why it is not a good idea to burn Korans, that her rage might find a more rational outlet: writing a book or articles, feminist or human rights activism, etc.

    If she did not heed my prudent advice, would I defend her right to burn Korans? Yes, probably so.

    From your post, it is clear that you see the difference between Pastor Jones and the hypothetical woman, so there is no need to belabour the nuances between Jones burning a Koran and her burning one.

  29. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Curious:

    In answer to your other question, since I don’t share the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of flag burning and Koran burning as forms of speech, I feel no need to defend either of them on free speech grounds.

    However, as I noted above, I just might defend the recently liberated woman’s Koran burning, not as an instance of free speech, but as blowback from an oppressed person.

  30. Hi Amos

    I’m not unsympathetic to your concerns. Offending people for the sake of it is not something I approve of and we should indeed counsel people to respect the feelings of others and pay heed to the possible consequences of their actions.

    But I do struggle to see the important distinction between freedom of expression and freedom of speech. If you can say whatever you choose in words, however false and offensive, why can’t you express whatever feelings or thoughts you want through art or gesture? Why is it okay for ugly people to express ugly ideas on paper and incite anger amongst religious believers that way but not okay for them to do it by way of desecrating books? It seems to me you should restrict both or neither.

  31. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Curious:

    Restricting both or neither seems a bit extreme.

    Let’s put it this way. Free speech should be protected as far as possible, but it is not an absolute value. At times, other concerns trump free speech, and it is a fact that democratic countries limit free speech in war-time, as did the U.S. during World War 2, when the press was controlled.

    The line between free speech and free expression may be artificial, as you claim, but there are moments when the line must be drawn to safeguard other values or concerns.

    Prudence, practical wisdom or phronesis is what dictates where the law is drawn at any given moment. There is no abstract rule which can dictate that.

    As I’ve said above, I feel no need to let what I say be governed by U.S. jurisprudence.

    This is an interesting conversation, but family matters call my attention. Hasta mañana.

  32. Amos,

    I don’t think ‘both or neither’ is ‘extreme’ – I simply think it is what consistency requires.

    I feel no need to let what I say be governed by U.S. jurisprudence either. I do not think it is a good thing for people to have the right to burn books or flags because the Supreme Court calls it “speech”. I’m happy to call it ‘expression.’

    You say free speech should be protected as far as possible, but it is not an absolute value. I agree. I say free expression should be protected as far as possible, but also concede it is not an absolute value. So it seems we both think both must be restricted. I agree that there are moments when a line must be drawn to safeguard other values or concerns but I don’t think the line to draw is between free speech and free expression but between permissible speech & expression and impermissible speech & expression.

    On the grounds that they are forms of “speech” you grant more liberty to those who would distribute an Islamophobic treatise or a cartoon that mocks Muhammad than some. Whilst I would defend the right of the artist, political activist, veil escapee or indeed the bigoted pastor to burn whatever flag or book they please – not because it is “speech” – but because people have a right to express themselves however they choose, however noble or ugly their motives.

    I simply fail to see how the right to distribute an Islamphobic treatise or a cartoon that mocks Muhammad is a thing that is more important to protect than the right to burn a Koran, whether you call the latter “speech” or not.

  33. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Curious:

    Why distinguish between free speech and free “expression”?

    Free speech is the essence of a democratic polis, which exists only through an open dialogue of ideas, ideas being expressed in speech or at least in words.

    Without an open dialogue of ideas, there is no democratic polis. On certain occasions, it is necessary to restrict the open dialogue of ideas: for example, it would have been wise to have shut up Hitler before the Nazis came to power, but those moments are infrequent. I for one do not think that laws against Holocaust denial at present are a good idea.

    “Expression” is an extremely broad term: all human actions express or communicate something. When I fire a gun, I certainly do communicate something.

    Thus, it is evident that certain forms of expression will be curtailed in any sane society: firing guns, honking horns in front of hospitals, playing loud rock music at 5AM in an apartment building, etc.

    Now, at times, people try to express ideas through non-verbal means: Pastor Jones undoubtedly is trying to “say something” with his act of burning a Koran.

    However, we would understand his message more clearly if he were to put his message in words. That is why in a elementary school classroom we teach children to put their thoughts into organized paragraphs and complete sentences. We teach children to express their ideas in sentence form, in organized discourse, because many of us value rational discourse over matches and because
    we want to educate citizens with the ability to engage in rational discussion for the future of the democratic polis.

    Here we are in a philosophy forum, trying to communicate our ideas as clearly as possible. It seems that the fact that we both have chosen to use this medium to express ourselves, instead of burning books or honking horns, indicates the value that we both put on an open dialogue of ideas.

    Now, it would be nice if circumstances allowed everyone to express themselves, verbally or non-verbally, in the form that they wish, but I think that the protection of verbal forms are a priority, as I have briefly outlined above.

  34. Hi Amos,

    I’m not convinced laws prohibiting holocaust denial are a good thing either (unlike much of Europe we don’t have them in the UK). What we do have in the UK is laws that prohibit people from pronouncing hate speech: expressions of hatred toward someone on account of that person’s color, race, ethnic origin, religion, or sexual orientation are forbidden under a number of statutes. And unlike the USA the fact that your hatred is supposedly justified by some religious text does not provide you full protection. Thus we can use public order legislation to stop people standing with placards at funerals that say ‘God hates Fags’ and so on. Personally I think this is a good thing. Not what John Stuart Mill would want, but the type of thing outside the USA that most functioning societies deem necessary and desirable.

    I think communication of ideas – through art, music, non-verbal satirical cartoons, and other acts of non-verbal expression requires rigorous if not absolute protection. I don’t think these things can always, if ever, be replaced by verbal communication – Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ couldn’t be replaced by an anti-war treatise for example. I think you are right to say that in practice more acts of ‘expression’ must be restricted than acts of speech but, I think the criteria we must use is exactly the same: when we want to restrict liberty, harm is the reasonable rationale not hurt feelings or offense. I still fail to see any good reason why you should be granted the liberty to hold offensive placards that cast offensive aspersions on the character of the Prophet or the nature of Allah that are likely to encourage hate of Muslims and public disturbance in Islamic countries but I should be denied the liberty to burn a Koran or an American flag. I fear you would grant too much freedom to hateful speakers but not enough to artists or those who wish to make a non-verbal political statement, but here, I guess, we must agree to differ.

    Sadly the forum offers little scope to express ourselves through non-verbal forms, but not everything can be expressed in words.

  35. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Curious:

    I’m sympathetic to what you say about art.

    However, these days (I sound like my grandfather) you can find an art critic who will swear that
    someone going to the bathroom on my front door is art and that preventing him from doing so is an attack on creativity.

    So I’ll stick to my original distinction between verbal and non-verbal expression.

    Laws about hate speech are complicated. Sure, I’d ban “God hates fags”, but what about hate speech from torture victims towards torturers (“God hates torturers”)?

    Before Pinochet died, human rights marchers used to chant “ni olvido ni perdón, Pinochet al paredón”.

    That is, neither forget nor pardon. firing squad for Pinochet”. That is very hateful, and I never chanted it, also because I’m against capital punishment, but I would not have prohibited that expression of hate.

    If we permit “firing squad for Pinochet,” then I suppose we must permit “firing squad for fags”.

  36. Greetings Amos,

    Instinctively I don’t place a great deal of artistic value on much modern art either. Still I don’t imagine whatever aesthetic value individual artworks may have depends on my estimation of them. I welcome the fact that there are people breaking taboos and challenging preconceptions through art. As is the case with youth culture, I have very little clue what much of it is about (and intuitively feel things used to be done better), still I’m glad these folk feel free to express themselves as they want.

    Speaking generally, I don’t think granting the right of victims of torture to call for a dictator to receive the death sentence necessarily commits you to allowing people to call for the murder of all homosexuals. Calling for the execution of a mass murderer seems a different thing from inciting hatred or advocating violence against a group of people because of their sexual orientation, race or religion. I would associate ‘hate speech’ with bigotry and prejudice rather than hateful speech prompted by actual harms committed by morally repugnant criminals. I certainly wouldn’t prohibit all expressions of hate. But yes, I freely grant that questions about hate speech are complicated – certainly I think they are more complicated than the US Supreme Court or John Stuart Mill could ever acknowledge. Laws against hate speech may be a bad idea but I don’t think they are *obviously* a bad idea.

  37. s. wallerstein (x amos)

    Curious:

    Maybe I should have specified that there is no capital punishment in Chile, so that calling for a firing squad for Pinochet means calling for his execution without trial.

    I looked up the U.K. hate speech laws in Wikipedia and they prohibit saying hateful things about all the categories of people who are politically incorrect to hate. I’m politically correct myself, but still….

    It’s illegal to say hateful things about anyone else based on their sexual orientation.

    Does that include child abusers and rapists? I suppose that one could argue that being a rapist isn’t a sexual orientation, but is anyone sure about that? Being a child abuser certainly seems like a sexual orientation.

    I’m not comparing gays to child abusers in ethical terms. Still, not saying hateful things about people based on sexual orientation seems to lead us into problems: can’t we allow victims of child abuse to scream that God hates child abusers?

    Some of the things we are not supposed to say hateful things about are chosen (religion, for example), although most are not, for example, race, nationality and sexual orientation.

    However, what if a religion or a religous doctrine foments evil things? Couldn’t a religion be the moral equivalent of the SS?

    Yet we are allowed, according to UK law (Wikipedia version), to say hateful things about the SS, but not about the Talibans.

    Or maybe the Talibans are not a religious affiliation, but a politically group. Interesting, but then again, the Vatican is a nation state, and I bet that in the UK it isn’t kosher to say hateful things about the Pope.

    Wouldn’t it be simpler just to prohibit speech acts which incite to violence or public disorder?

  38. michael reidy

    Americans really are different. In most other countries Bellwether Jones would have been prevented from action liable to lead to a breach of the peace. He is denied entry into Britain. Does untrammelled free speech lead to excellence of discourse and the free flow of dialectical reason? No it seems to this observer to lead to vulgar abuse and a coarsening of public utterance. Satire and sarcasm are quite underdeveloped and there seems to be no middle ground between the saccharine ‘have a nice day’ and ‘prolapsed organ of your choice’.

    Jones in order to understand the causal nexus should be sent to an Afro-American gang infested neighbourhood with a placard which has ‘N—-s are the spawn of Satan and the sons of Ham and moreover MLK had it coming’. Of course he has put himself in harm’s way and now the police will be protecting him. Should they?

  39. michael reidy

    AKA Amos.
    Ah Chile, another country where the American footprint was on somebody’s throat. That would restrict free speech.

  40. I do not have a religion, nor do I believe in man made supernatural entities. Accordingly the burning of a Bible or Koran is of no account for me. However I do not approve of burning any book. What I do know however, and I am astounded that Pastor Jones either did not know, it or chose to ignore it, is the fact that if you publicly burn the Koran in such a way that the act is bruited around the world, people are going to die. How the Pastor can face his god now I cannot imagine? I do not like people dying, and like even less the thought that I may be responsible either directly or indirectly for their deaths whoever they are.
    Instances like this always remind me of a quotation from Voltaire:- “ Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”

  41. Amos,
    It may be possible to reduce the Wikipeadia account of UK ‘hate speech’ legislation to absurdity but I don’t think your remarks about child molesters and rapists do the job. I am glad to see you note the ethical distinction between raping children and being a homosexual. Still, being a rapist is not a ‘sexual orientation’ no, and neither is being a child abuser. You can argue otherwise yes, but not with any plausibility. Regarding homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality, which are sexual orientations, “the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred” according to the law. So you are free to criticise them.

    UK law prohibits the stirring up of racial or religious hatred or hatred of homosexuals in this way: if a person uses threatening, words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening he is guilty of an offence if he intends or is likely thereby, to stir up racial or religious hatred or hatred based against persons of a given ‘sexual orientation’. (The law also prohibits behaviour that is ‘merely’ abusive or insulting if it it rascist.)

    Is this really so very obviously silly?

    You are free to express your hatred for the Taleban and victims of child abuse can scream that God hates child abusers. And if a religion or a religious doctrine foments evil things (as they often do) then, as is the case with any less evil religion, you can express your antipathy or dislike, you can ridicule, insult or abuse that religion and the beliefs or practices of its adherents and you can urge adherents to cease practising their religion or belief system. All that you cannot do is use threatening language intended or likely to cause hatred of people on the grounds that they have had the misfortune to have been indoctrinated into a particular species of religious claptrap. You are free to say that you personally hate the Pope, Catholicism and the actions of the Vatican, you just can’t use threatening language towards Catholics in such a way as is likely to cause further hatred towards them.

    And, I believe, you are free to advocate the murder of a person who has committed crimes against humanity. Certainly I think you should be.

    There may well be simpler ways to do things and I freely admit to having mixed feelings about hate speech laws – there is a part of me that wants to go along with Mill. Still I don’t think UK laws are *obviously* wrong-headed, not if you look at the detail and interpret them seriously.

  42. s. wallerstein (amox)

    Curious:

    Thanks for the details on U.K. legislation. No, I don’t think that they are obviously wrong-headed. My remarks were captious.

    You right: child abuse is not a sexual orientation, but I insist that pedophily is one, although it is not classified as such.

    If the pedophile acts on his desires, that is, commits child abuse, it is a crime and a serious form of violence.

    That is the tragedy of his existence. His eros, his sexual orientation, leads him to
    do harm to others, unlike other forms of sexual orientation.

  43. Amos

    As you are aware paedophilia is not classed as a ‘sexual orientation’ – this being a matter of your attraction towards one sex or the other or both. A paedophile will have a sexual orientation in this respect too and I see no need to change how we use language: I think your real point can be made without it. The paedophile cannot help his desires and there is no cure for them, we should not hate him (or her) whilst he controls his urges – indeed we should give him credit whilst he does so. And, the question you could then ask is: if we concede that hate speech should be restricted, why should we not restrict hate speech towards non-offending paedophiles?

    I can see that point but I do not know whether paedophilia is distinct in any important way from the some other darkly malignant forms of paraphilic disorder recognised by clinicians such as urges towards non-consensual sex or severe sadism. I do not suppose anybody ‘chooses’ those desires. Nor I suppose do people ‘choose’ the desire to commit violence generally in a non-sexual sense. We should give credit to those who defeat their darker urges, not hate those who have particular strains of them I suppose. So generally speaking, if we ban some hate speech, should we not also ban hate speech directed towards those with controlled desires to rob, rape, murder, abuse children etc? In fact while we are at it who actually deserves to be hated? Shouldn’t hate speech laws outlaw the promotion of hatred towards people full stop? Hate the sin, not the sinner after all…

    I’m happy to raise the question more explicitly … does that excuse me from providing an answer?

  44. s. wallerstein (amox)

    Curious:

    I am quite aware that paedophilia is not classified as a sexual orientation, but the sexuality of paedophiles is orientated towards those younger than age 13.

    As you probably surmise, I am trying to make paedophilia more “respectable”, insofar as those who have said tendency do not act upon it.

    No, I am not a paedophilia. I am almost ashamed of how bourgeois and Hugh Heffneresque are my erotic tastes.

    However, since as far as I can see, psychological classifications generally obey ethical and political imperatives, I think that “we” have the ethical possibility of
    solidarizing with those paedophiles who do not act out their urges.

    We show our solidarity by considering paedophilia to be a sexual orientation, but in this case, a sexual orientation which, for ethical reasons, cannot be acted out.

    It must be truly tragic to be born with sexual urges which lead one to harm others, as is the case with paedophilia, since we can agree that sex with pre-puber children is harmful and violent.

    I would hate to be in the head of a paedophile who does not act on his or her urges, given the current zeitgeist regarding paedophiles.

    In a sense, those paedophiles who do not act on their urges are heroic rather than sinful or evil, yet few are willing to welcome their sacrifice of their erotic life out of caring for others.

    One way of recognizing their decency in not acting on their sexual urges to give them the status of sexual orientation.

    Undoubtedly, a question of definitions.

  45. As part of the constitutional commitment to free speech the American Gov. has been sending selected individuals overseas for specialist treatment mainly to clinics in Egypt and Syria specialising in Hydrotherapy and Electrotherapy. Dr.Fleischman author of Dark Secrets: multiple pathways to expression and Getting it off your Chest: release and recovery rejects the idea that this is a fad of the current administration. “This is a permanent program, the financial lockdown will not affect it in any way however we have modified the aspect which has been referred to as Naturism though I still think that clothing has an inhibitory effect on self-expression.”

  46. Michael,

    Thank you for drawing wider attention to this valuable therapeutic work.

    The credit due to our American colleagues can not be overstated. Still, I think it only fair to point out that the US co-ordinated treatment program you refer to would not be nearly so successful were it not for widespread international co-operation. Countries such as the UK play an essential role in getting those in need to these specialized clinics whilst working hard to protect patient confidentiality. UK specialists have also done some very valuable advisory work ‘in the field’. The UK has, perhaps, been too modest about its efforts in this regard and certainly it should give more public applause to the Middle Eastern therapists who work so tirelessly on behalf of those believed to suffer from information retention disorders.

  47. s. wallerstein (amox)

    I hope that our Latin American specialists in treating information
    retention disorders receive their due praise.

    Chile, under the aegis of Dr. Pinochet, a therapist with postdoctoral training in the U.S. sponsored School of the Americas, formerly located in Panama, functioning in North Carolina at last notice, did some pioneering work in this field.

  48. My Dear Amos

    You are quite right to point out that Dr Pinochet (like a number of Latin American therapists) did indeed do some pioneering and inspiring work in treating information retention disorders. And the debt owed to dear Augusto and his American colleagues by all those Chileans and indeed numerous persons of other nationalities (Dr Pinochet, to his credit did not withhold treatment from foreign nationals) who benefited from these treatments cannot be overstated.

    Still, I would wish to point out that, to our credit, the UK also did its part in helping Dr Pinochet conduct his vitally important therapeutic work in other areas. Dr Pinochet was, of course, actively concerned with therapeutic interventions to combat the unhealthy hostility that can arise at the group level. At a time when other countries were unwilling to give Dr Pinochet the assistance he clearly deserved – and indeed openly criticized his methods! – British was proud to assist. Amongst other therapeutic devices, we exported half-track vehicles that will no doubt be fondly remembered by many Chileans whose painful crowd psychology disorders will have been greatly eased by their deployment at the time. I can only imagine that the Chilean people must be immensely grateful to the United Kingdom for this, and for working so very hard to prevent legalistic red tape and United Nations interference from interfering with Dr Pinochet’s valuable work and legacy.

  49. s. wallerstein (amox)

    Curious:

    Dr. Pinochet expressed his infinite gratitude (he’s an English gentleman, himself, complete with twead jacket) towards the U.K. in giving their humanitarian flights towards the Faulkland Islands (aka las Malvinas) a base in the far south of Chile.

    Between Dr. Pinochet and Lady Thatcher there was a meeting of true minds, perhaps love. When Pinochet was unfortunately retained in the U.K. due to a vulgar breach of good taste by Spanish judge, Mr. Garcon, Lady Thatcher visited Dr. Pinochet and following an age-old English tradition, they drank tea (or maybe it was whiskey) together.

    The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie, how lovely!

  50. Ah yes, I am aware of the gentleman’s assistance in that regard. The admiration of the shopkeeper’s daughter for the dashing Augusto was well known. We can only speculate as to whether their love found physical manifestation… did they make love, or only fuck the people?

  51. Curious, Amox:
    The British had what were known as the 4 techniques partially adapted from colonial experience in Indian particularly the yogic technique of standing on one leg with an anti-distraction device over your head (bag). Long periods of prolonged alertness tended to achieve a state of hyper consciousness and super powers. Some of those that received this treatment in latter days have become Members of Parliament and show the benefits through an enhanced recollection of expenses incurred.

    The French back in the day with their Gallic flair and low tech enthusiasm achieved notable results.

    However to return to the main question:
    We can understand why someone of the caliber of Bellwether Jones a graduate of the California Graduate School of Theology, special subjects: thurible charging and aspergilling, also a member of Mensa (spaniel chapter) aided by Deacon Sapp ( his name in Religion short for sapientia/wisdom) should together engage in their capers. The mystery is how adepts of critical thinking such as philosophers could be unwilling to accept that the indubitable causal nexus, between those actions, and the deaths of civilians on the other side of the globe, carries a moral charge. Is that too complex a sentence? Let me rephrase. You’d need to be dumber n’ a bag of hammers not to get that Jones is co-responsible for their deaths.

    Is it due to a lack of knowledge of history? That may have something to do with it. They don’t remember that 160 years ago, 2 long lifetimes, in Victorian England you could have been jailed for blasphemy, that it was forbidden to marry your deceased wife’s sister, that you could not teach at Oxford or Cambridge without accepting the 39 Articles, etc, etc. Well we have moved on, not too rapidly for some but why should we believe that the whole world should be at the same AD noetically? It is arrogance to assume that all people everywhere should have the same attitude towards objects of religious and civil respect. Unless we are for a self-stoking war on terror we ought to realise that in the global village we need to be smarter about this.

    The idea of a private gathering virtual or actual is no longer sustainable. The walls have ears and loose lips sink ships as the WW2 poster had it. Pope Benedict XVI makes a tactless remark at a gathering of theologians in Ravensburg. Up till recently this meeting would have been as occult as that of Madam Blavatsky’s mahatmas in Tibet. Now it is round the world in a trice and papal flags would have been burned if they could have got them.

  52. I see the causal connection fine, I deem the man morally responsible, do you have any practical suggestions other than sending Jones into an “Afro-American gang infested neighbourhood with a placard which has ‘N—-s are the spawn of Satan” on it?

    My gut tells me to send Bellwether to Afghanistan to proselytize but I try not to let my gut do my thinking for me.

  53. s. wallerstein (samox)

    I don’t think that Jones is morally responsible, because, as I said above, he is too childish or stupid to realize what he is doing. If I were to burn a Koran, I would be morally responsible for deaths in Afghanistan.

    Be that as it may, he should be forced to apologize publicly for the harm done. It little matters whether he apologizes sincerely or not.

    It is hard for me to imagine that the world’s most powerful nation, with CIA agents and Special Forces operating in more countries that I can name, do not have the means to convince dear Pastor Jones to make a public apology and kiss a Koran or whatever is the suitable gesture.

  54. Samox and Curious,
    If the CIA put their minds to it rapture could come early for Jones.

  55. That’s it Micheal? Seriously? All that eloquent prose and that is all you can come out with? Really?

  56. No serious proposals for legislative change? Nothing?

  57. Amos.

    So you don’t think Pastor Jones is morally responsible but you do think the US government should use threats, harassment and therapeutic techniques to get him to go through the motions of making an insincere apology? Is this really the society you want? Should we do the same with the next Salman Rushdie?

    Personally I do think Jones is morally responsible, Michael has that much right. Pastor Jones knew fine well what he was inviting and what the dangers were. The powers-that-be went to great lengths to spell those dangers out to him when they tried to dissuade him from burning a Koran back on September 11th. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates telephoned him at the time and Jones was spoken to several times by the FBI. He knew there would likely be tragic repercussions to all this. So yes I do think he bears some moral responsibility for his reckless behavior.

    What the law can do about that type of thing whilst we hold onto some semblance of our liberal values I don’t know. I was rather hoping Micheal might enlighten us. He has said that in most countries other than the USA “Bellwether Jones would have been prevented from action liable to lead to a breach of the peace”. But Jones’ actions would not have been deemed to have risked or led to a breach of the peace under UK law, and there is no legal basis under which the UK could have prevented his actions or punished them.

    Perhaps Michael would wish to see the notion of a ‘breach of the peace’ extended beyond the immediate locale of an action to cover possible actions right across the globe. Or perhaps he would wish the British to resurrect the recently repealed Blasphemy laws and tailor them to cover all religions, or at least the dangerous ones. Still, I fail to see how any such legislation could effectively prevent religious nuts from burning their own Korans on their own property and posting a video of the same onto the net if they wanted to – we’d need very draconian penalties to deter that. But then it hardly matters – the UK parliament would never pass such laws and it is not the UK where the Korans are burning. And there is no hope – no hope at all – of passing such measures in the USA – Senate even blocks bans on burning the US flag, and the Supreme Court would likely strike such a law down if they finally did pass it. So they won’t ban anybody burning the Koran no.

    In truth, I am unclear that any Western society could bend over far enough to appease the Islamic fundamentalists without adopting Sharia law. And if the CIA or an Islamist shoots Jones, I imagine Korans will burn from shore to shining shore.

  58. s. wallerstein (samox)

    Curious:

    I made it very clear above that I believe that the rights of Mr. Rushdie to publish his works should be protected. That was one of the examples that I used in my discussion of the difference between free speech (the Satanic Verses) and free expression (burning a Koran).

  59. Amos,

    You had indeed stated your position that verbal communication is privileged in that regard quite clear yes. That question was entirely redundant.

    But to be clear, you do hold that those who are *not* morally responsible for the consequences of their ‘free expression’ – be they bigoted pastors or naive artists – should be harassed and threatened by the government until they make grovelling insincere apologies to religious fundamentalists for any offence or ‘hurt’ their free expression has caused? Will all religious fundamentalists be granted this privilege? And once we let them take away the rights of artists, are you sure they won’t be knocking at the door of the writers next?

  60. s. wallerstein (amosx)

    Curious:

    First of all, as I’ve stated beforehand, I don’t live in the United States.

    However, any society will have to decide which rights or privileges they will defend with the understanding that defending rights is serious business.

    In my imaginary society, a Koran burning pastor should be convinced to not burn more Korans and to make a public apology, simply because we do not want to cause problems with the sensibilities of
    Islamic fundamentalists, for reasons of prudence in the first place and in the second place because we respect their right to hold sacred what they hold sacred.

    Therefore, if friendly and not so friendly persuasion does not convince Jones and other Koran burners to keep their matches in the kitchen, I would suggest passing a law prohibiting burning sacred books.

    If a society, such as the U.S. does not want to pass such laws, it should accept the consequences, which well may mean that their sons die fighting enraged Talibans or others Islamic sects in far-off countries.

  61. Hi Amos,

    I appreciate you do not live in States, but I also appreciate the value of your opinion on matters that concern the States and, indeed, us all. I must say I’m not keen to advocate the ‘not so friendly’ persuasion and I’m worried that laws that ban holy book and icon desecration will become laws that ban books and all tehat offends. But I can understand your position.

    I’ve just been watching a documentary that showed Islamic extremists burning the US flag (and the UK one) outside the American embassy in London on September 11th of last year whilst shouting “burn, burn, USA” with a variety of placards which included “Jesus will destroy the Cross & follow the Quran” amongst the more moderate ones. At the other end of the street were some ‘patriotic’ members of the English Defence League shouting “scum” and suggesting that if they didn’t like it here…

    I really don’t know what will come of it all.

  62. Curious:
    The Supreme Court of the U.S. in its wisdom upheld the right of Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to picket funerals. Jones & Phelps have collaborated in the past as you might be aware. Rush Limbaugh was in the same class in school as Jones. There’s a pattern. I must ask the I Ching about this.

    All the British can do is forbid the entry of Jones, Dutch Wilders and other peripatetics. They have enough whistling kettles of their own. As I said the Americans are different.

  63. Hi Michael

    The Snyder v Phelps verdict was indeed an affront to all sense and most Americans felt this keenly.

    The sole dissenting opinion by Justice Alito provided a reasoned legal basis for the morally sound argument that the USA’s “profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault.” Alito stated that Westboro “church have strong opinions on certain moral, religious, and political issues, and the First Amendment ensures that they have almost limitless opportunities to express their views….. And they may express their views in terms that are “uninhibited,” “vehement,” and “caustic.”…. It does not follow, however, that they may intentionally inflict severe emotional injury on private persons at a time of intense emotional sensitivity by launching vicious verbal attacks that make no contribution to public debate… In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims…”

    ‘Freedom of Speech’ (and indeed ‘Freedom of Religion’) as it has been construed in recent legal decisions is a thing the USA is very welcome to keep to itself, it is liberty become license…

  64. Burning a Koran, another Koran can be printed . But a person dead cannot be . Both the burner and the agitators are foolish.

  65. i just wonder how it comes tthat our beloved muslems show so much anger on Qoran burning?
    you see it has been a nice islamic tradition to burn books and libraries. the gigantic library of the city Rey or or the royal library in Tisfoon in Iran!!! or in Alexandria books were used to warm up bath water. it was Omar the(second kalifa) wort to his army general:
    “those books maybe are against our qoran then burn them all or those books are with our qoran, vi have our qoran and it is enough for us then burn them.”
    and now sooooooow… much business for burning one book some where even in non-muslim land! a bit fetish!

  66. ‘¡Abajo la inteligencia!’

    Without even mentioning the Muslims (as the burners) you can give a long recital of book burning incidents and library destructions. The deliberate shelling of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the destruction of irreplaceable manuscripts, by (Christian) Serbian nationalists in 1992 is a recent example of the latter. You will find a glorious tradition of book burning in Christianity – books frequently burnt included the Talmud and non-Latin Bibles (they burnt their owners too I believe) and even more profoundly dangerous texts have been burnt in America of late – such as those that concern the sorcery of a certain Harry Potter. Of course its not just the Christians who have burnt books – several hundred copies of the New Testament were burnt near Tel Aviv in 2008 and its not just the religious. But the destruction of works of Greek philosophy by the Catholic Church would have been an even greater tragedy had it not been the case that many of these ancient works were preserved within the Islamic world. The Renaissance benefited somewhat from the fact that the Moors had not burnt what the Church would have.

    Book burning seems, generally, a bad thing. Interestingly though there was a a case in Kansas in 2007 where the owner of a used book store publically burnt what he had been unable to give away to libraries or thrift shops as a way of protesting the fact that people were no longer reading books. Book burner Tom Wayne called the event “the funeral pyre for thought in America today.” Fox News reported that one bystander claimed Wayne had “made the point that not reading a book is as good as burning it.” I’m not sure I completely agree with that statement but there seems something in it. Certainly it seems you needn’t be a book burner to have subscribed (knowingly or not) to the motto: ‘Down with intelligence!’

  67. “Since Koran burning seems to lead some irrational and fanatical persons to commit murders, it seems prudent to stop playing with matches.” Since carrying money around with you leads criminal people to commit theft, keep your wallet at home – or ban money. Since selling motor cars leads some people to drive irresponsibly and kill others, stop selling cars. Since selling food in supermarkets leads some people to gorge themselves to obesity and put a strain on the health services, close down the supermarkets. I could go on and on

  68. s. wallerstein

    John Light:

    Actually, since there are lots of thieves, I don’t carry much cash with me, don’t count my money in public, and avoid certain neighborhoods entirely. I
    don’t use an expensive watch nor if I had an expensive cellphone (I don’t), would I use it in many public spaces.

    Since there are irresponsible drivers, I look both ways before crossing the street and always assume that drivers are not looking carefully or are drunk.

    I could go on and on. Avoiding dangers is part of my daily life and of that of most people I know.

  69. Since there are robbers it seems rational not to invite their attention by conspicuously flaunting your money-filled wallet if you want to hold onto the same. And assuming you do not want to be involved in a road accident or suffer the health problems caused by obesity, it seems rational to drive and eat responsibly. Since there are murderous religious fanatics it seems rational not to burn Korans if such an act is known to be likely to cause said fanatics to murder persons for whose safety you have any concern. Unless, of course, burning a Koran is thought likely to achieve some good that is likely to outweigh possible harms to the victims of violent fanatics.

    Pastor Jones knew the risks, the US government had clearly and firmly advised him on this back in September. So, did he think his actions would have some benefit that would outweigh those risks? Or were US and UN servicemen simply not persons for whose safety Jones had any concern when he broke his word, burnt a Koran and streamed the event live on the net complete with Arabic subtitles?

  70. In truth; life is dangerous. It is terminal. It is about competition and conflict. Life is war. War is how humanity settles opposing ideologies. There shall be war between Islam and ell others. I stand firmly with the ‘all others’ crowd and am unashamed at the proper response against them. Get a grip. They are your enemy.

  71. Doubtless the armies of Islam will tremble at the prospect of your weighty intellect being present on the field of battle.

  72. I will suggest to learn quran yourself and you will find the truth. Quran guide us towards nature and show us the path where we all are one. Quran teach us how to convert our individual thinking into collective thinking so that peace prevail in our society.

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