Bloody Fools

UPDATE:

It has been amazing and distressing to me that responses to this blog from a cadre of readers have focused only on the twin lunacies of Islamic extremism and Christian triumphalism.  Some of them want to vindicate Terry Jones as a kind of litmus test for their belief that a butterfly is enough to ignite the Muslim world–so why worry about an ox?  If there is logic there, it must be part of the initiation ritual.

Some have even taken the “What would you expect?” line, as though Mr Jones’s actions necessarily excited the “Muslim animals” and renders him, therefore, innocent.  From what tank is that slimy conclusion fished?  The further logic is that Islam is all about violence anyway, so a a little more (what’s the difference) can hardly be laid at the door of a Florida fundagelical.

Some respondents think that there is a moral equivalence, such that Terry Jones and the Afghan and Pakistani responders are cut from the same cloth. How that renders Jones innocent or raises the dead I am not sure. I find that kind of response both uninformed and worrying. Very worrying coming from nonbelievers, and maybe because it raises in my mind questions about whether a certain level of atheism isn’t also an impediment to moral reasoning–specifically that kind that finds all religions “naturally” guilty of atrocity and hence no one at fault and no one innocent of crimes.

Yet one wonders if Mr Myers–who also figures in this story–had been approached by NSS agents and told that his act of “desecration” would lead to the loss of life,  would have gone through with it.  Something tells me that the redoubtable Dr Myers would have relented. Because he knew his was a stunt.

Terry Jones’s acts were not a stunt: they were intended to light fires and kill innocent people.  Indeed they were done to prove that innocent people would be killed.  “For some of them,” he said, “it [the torching of the Qur'an] could be an awakening.”

…The world was reminded of the 30-person Christian congregation at Dove World Outreach Center on Friday, when a mob incited by the burning of the Koran attacked a U.N. compound in Mazar-e Sharif, killing seven U.N. employees. On Saturday, related protests in Kandahar left nine dead and more than 90 injured.

Jones, 59, had considered the possibility that burning the text might elicit a violent response and that innocent people might be killed. In his characteristic drawl — a slow-motion delivery that seems incongruous with the church’s fiery rhetoric — the pastor said the church also debated whether to shred the book, shoot it or dunk it in water instead of burning it. But in the end, his desire to shed light on what he calls a “dangerous book” won out. The Koran was burned in a spectacle streamed live on the Internet. To reach out to Muslims overseas, Jones included Arabic subtitles….”

As if we needed evidence. That, thankfully is the difference between an atheist Koran hater and a fundamentalist Koran hater: and if ever there were a clear bisection of the “rules” for blasphemy, this should be it–because people are dead as part of the definition.  Jones now plans to move house so to speak and put Muhammad on trial next month.

To my atheist colleagues, I say: please, before you snipe, try to understand.  We are not yet at the point where atheism is the “cure” for anything, least of all for the kinds of violence these acts have made manifest.  I know that it’s tempting to think that unbelief is the silver bullet cure for all the atrocities of religion [Imagine], and that a world free of it would be world in which neither Terry Jones nor Afghan extremists would hold sway.  Arguably that would be a more peaceful, reasonable, less violent world.

That is not the world we live in, so the question of what to do does not only involve the meager 1.6% of the population of America willing to identify as atheists, who have their answer and are sure it’s the right one, but the 1.66 billion Muslims in the world who want to differ.  The choice, frankly isn’t about No God or Your God; it’s about moving beyond the short-sighted religion-bashing of some atheists to a realistic position where criticism of religion can be effective.  That is the only business plan worth discussing.

Ultimately, the way forward is going to be a matter of tone and technique, not the outcome of the work of a few commando God-bashers writing from the safe haven of first world democracies telling the majority how foolish they are.

_______________________

What do Professor P.Z. Myers and the Revd Terry Jones have in common?  Not very much, except both have desecrated the Koran.  Is it important that they did what they did for different reasons, and with different results? Do such distinctions matter when we’re talking about a book that neither man finds particularly–attractive?  Yes.

Terry Jones

As readers of this blog will know, I think the use of blasphemy to draw crowds and win followers is probably on a moral par with Jesus’exorcisms in the New Testament: you find something or someone that will grab people’s attention–a man possessed by 6000 demons will do– then you let fly, do the hocus pocus,  and hope the nasties will go into the pigs (like the trick requires) and not into the audience. When the pigs go shrieking in agony over the cliff and the “demoniac” is still in one piece, the crowd applauds wildly and proclaims you the messiah.  That is sort of what happened for both Myers and Jones.  But with different results.

Myers, simply an atheist showman, wrote a pretty nifty article about blasphemy on his site in 2008.  In it he documented the insidious reverence in which Catholics held to the doctrine of the “real presence of Jesus” in the eucharist in the Middle Ages and the violence shown to disbelievers, especially Jews, who were always getting on the wrong side of Catholics and always being accused of desecrating the communion host, or “cracker” as Myers snarkily likes to call the matzah used at Mass.

“That is the true power of the cracker, this silly symbol of superstition. Fortunately, Catholicism has mellowed with age — the last time a Catholic nation rose up to slaughter its non-Christian citizenry was a whole 70 years ago, after all — but the sentiment still lingers.”

Had he performed his oblation a couple of years later after the results of the 2010 Pew Forum Poll on Religious Knowledge in America, he could also have added that 45% of Catholics do not know their Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, though they like the Spaghetti suppers on Friday night.

Never was there a “mellower” target then than Catholics, who in the main seemed not to care very much when Myers drove a rusty spike through the cracker, some garbage (a banana peel and coffee grounds) and–importantly–pages of the Koran.  Of course, as soon as he did this, the eyes of the superstitious religious blind were opened, and the lame man leapt as an hart.

Crackers and Korans and peels, O My.

Myers’ antics made him the dark darling of full frontal atheists, those who hold to the curious view that the angrier you make people who believe in sacred books and objects, the likelier you are to win over people who hold a weak or no opinion on the subject.

Desecration, confrontation, Yo-mama style insult and blasphemy are tangible blows for reason, the commandos believe.

Though their training manual is being revised.  The Center for Inquiry, in its regular confusion over what fund-raising gimmick to try on next, made 2009 its first international Blasphemy Day and invited people to send in cartoons, jokes, slogans, and anything else to show just how lucky we all are to live in a country that cherishes free expression and where Nothing and No-one is sacred. The small difference between an inside joke that like-minded people think is funny and real blasphemy, which can only occur among people who take religion pretty seriously, and which might get your head blown off, escaped the organizers who soon enough put Blasphemy Day in the bottom drawer and rolled out Blasphemy Rights Day.

But, predictably, no one died as a consequence of Mr Myers’ brainstormium.  And an unclimaxed Myers was reduced to pasting letters from a few lost souls who wrote almost pathetically of their upset:  “As a Christian it is an insult for anyone to call my beliefs stupid shit. I have respected every religion and every idea for years.” To which Myers felt obliged to respond in derisive detail, defending himself against a volley of feathers by saying: “They [the pages of the Koran and the Bible] are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet.”

He observed that in addition to pages of the Koran he also used a few pages of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, which as far as I know is not yet considered sacred scripture by any group, and whose spiking would not likely ignite a revolt–especially since it was well known that the sympathies of the spiker were pro-Dawkins anyway.  The point was half-clever, but the whole incident was tasteless, and (as I’ve said before)  cowardly: to be effective, try it again, only this time in downtown Lahore after you send the memo.

Tried, convicted, soaked in kerosense, ignited

Which brings us roundabout to Pakistan and the Reverend Jones.  Jones is the intellectual Omega and pastor of the sixty member Dove World Outreach Center in Lake City, Florida, who threatened to burn the Qur’an in August 2010.

His reason for doing so was to bring the book to justice  for the violence and murder “it [sic] had perpetrated.” Unlike Myers, who began with the view that no book is sacred, Jones is of the opinion that Islam’s holy book and Islam itself is “of the devil.”

A jittery National Association of Evangelicals disowned him, local Florida fundagelical groups (some of them militia) distanced themselves from him, and condemned his statements.  In the War Zone, General David Petraeus explained that soldiers “will be killed if this event happens.”  Jones demured, hedged, tried to stretch out his fifteen minutes to thirty six hours of fame (longer than a news cycle), then “postponed ” the trial and burning of the book while he “negotiated with the planners of the Ground Zero Mosque.”

The media being a fickle lover, lost interest in the story and almost missed more recent developments when Jones announced that the trial and sentencing would take place on March 20, 2011.  Funnily enough, the Interior Ministry in Pakistan was watching developments closely after a spate of incidents involving charges that Christians (about 3,000,000 in a country of 170,000,000) were secretly desecrating Korans and a spate of church-burnings and murders.

The trial was held, the sentence rendered by a Jury of 12 church elders, and a Dallas imam, according to reports, acted as a defense attorney. The book was soaked in kerosene for two hours,and was then ignited by Jones’s assistant pastor Wayne Sapp.  Further events are planned for Good Friday (April 22, 2011) in Michigan.  One thing that comes through clearly is that religious zealots know a thing or two about lighting fires. The Catholics Jones also despises are satisfied to light a Paschal candle on the night before Easter.

Reaction has been slow, because media attention has been erratic, but  in Afghanistan, thousands of outraged protesters stormed a U.N. compound killing at least 20 people, including eight foreigners–this at a critical moment in the Afghan war when America is trying to “win hearts and minds.” The demonstration in Mazar-i-Sharif turned violent when some protesters grabbed weapons from the U.N. guards and opened fire, then mobbed buildings and set fires on the compound. Demonstrators were also massed in Kabul and the western city of Herat.

So far, three attempts to burn churches have been thwarted by Pakistani security forces, but it is just a matter of time before death and destruction, related to the imbecility of a small-time Christian publicity whore, rears its snake-maned head.  Predictable but terrifying right-wing approval for Jones’s action is also beginning its viral crawl across the internet.

As to Myers, despite the development of a blasphemy fan club and admiration for the cowardly use of free expression rights in the safe haven of Morris, Minnesota, the only serious “threat” came from Catholic League president Bill Donahue.  The League (like B’nai B’rith) was founded as an anti-defamation society at a time when discrimination against Catholic immigrants was on a par with discrimination against Jews.  Donahue filed a complaint with the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, offering that Myers’ actions violated the University’s anti-discrimination policy: ‘Expressions of disrespectful bias, hate, harassment or hostility against an individual, group or their property because of the individual or group’s actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion…can be forms of discrimination. Expressions vary, and can be in the form of language, words, signs, symbols, threats, or actions that could potentially cause alarm, anger, fear, or resentment against others.”

It was a far-fetched complaint both in terms of accusation and in terms of consequences; Myers’ action only succeeded in cementing his hard-crafted persona as a jerk.  And even as a one-off expression of jerkiness, the actions of 2008 did not rise to the standard of blasphemy, which is usually understood as an interreligious act designed to malign or humiliate a religious opposite.  Secular “blasphemy” against religion is more problematical, and Myers’ showpiece proved it. That is because there was no real conviction behind the act.  “Religion is sooooooo stupid” is not an impressive bumper sticker.  The defense of free speech is only relevant and brave when free speech is actually abridged, not when threats to its exercise are manufactured.

Jones is a different story.  A more dangerous one.  He is the ugly Id unchained from the soul of an America I’d hoped had died.  It is moronic, armed, and dangerous.  It does not question the ontological correctness of its religious and political views.  It burns a book in Lake City, Florida, and Muslims (and others) die in Afghanistan and soon Pakistan and elsewhere.  Jones does this knowing they will die, praying to his defective God that they will die, in order to prove his belief that the devil is with us.  He is with us, and he needs to be charged with and convicted of murder.  His name is Terry Jones.

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196 thoughts on “Bloody Fools

  1. Pingback: Arrest Terry Jones: The Abuses of Blasphemy « The New Oxonian

  2. This is a brilliant post. I agree with everything you’ve written passionately. Thank you with all my soul for all you have said. The comparison between Myers and Jones was necessary and the analogy of hocus pocus perfect. You’ve also contrasted accurately the cowardly revelry in free speech, where blasphemy isn’t against the law, with blasphemy in countries which condemn blasphemers to death. What Myers did was pithy and pathetic. What Jones has done with his insane ritual has resulted directly in brutal murder. This is so blatantly obvious he is guilty of murder as you rightly say. I am appalled and horrified to learn from this post, of right wing support for Jones’ repulsive performance. For God’s sake, for humanity’s sake, arrest him. I’m tempted to say burn him at the stake because it rhymes, but only figuratively. I think he MUST be interned for life for the safety and justice of all. Of course I condemn the fundamentalism that used his actions to justify murder, but if Jones’ actions were an expression of ‘freedom of speech’ they were ignorant, irresponsible, selfish and wicked and gave no consideration to the rest of humanity.

    8X8

      • Dave: It is clear that Jones expected violence. But that is not the only outcome of an abuse of free speech event. I think the KKK wanted to instigate fear. Fear was not an option for Jones; his actions are target specific. It;s easy to lapse into a generalization about the “flakes”–but I think it’s important to sort out their motives and intended consequences.

      • Jack: Personal abuse is always interesting. Read the rules. I’m not bothered – I’m just glad it wasn’t directed to the author of the post. Insanity is relative isn’t it? As Oscar Wilde wrote: “In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.” Perhaps I could read it as complimentary. What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy? As Marcus Aurelius said “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” Nevertheless, your comment was personal and I hope you have more substance.

  3. Any suggestion that gnu atheists are in any way responsible for the fundamentalist revival in the USA is wrong. It’s almost thirty years since the film Life and liberty for all who believe was made, documenting the rise of the religious right and the forces behind it.

    PZ Myers? I guess he was a grad student then, by the time he was investigating neural development in grass hoppers at the university of Utah this film was already gathering dust. Probably dismissed as a crazy conspiracy theory. Frankly I think the makers (any still alive ?) should be claiming the Randi million dollar prize for their ability to clearly see what was coming.

    • No suggestion to that effect; I don’t know whether PZ Myers can be considered Gnu, certainly EZ, but the point of the analogy is not that PZ causes Jones (or anything remotely like that); it’s that there is an interesting parallel here between two Koran-haters, springing from different intolerances, leading to different results. Both were trying to manufacture blasphemy as a lab experiment. PZ’s fizzled and just caused hurt feelings and a little abuse (which he thrives on); Terry Jones “succeeded” because his intention was not just to cause trouble but to cause real harm. It puts free speech in a corner because classically/constitutionally considered you are free to burn any book you want (as long as you don’t burn people down with it). Which suggests that the law is a very poor way to deal with distinction’difference issues. I’ll have to look at the film again, though; it’s been a while. I think his PhD is from Oregon, not Utah and I have no reason to think he’s bad at his trade.

      • The law is more than adequate to deal with the distinction. Making the law “polite”-compatible would defeat its purpose.

        “you are free to burn any book you want (as long as you don’t burn people down with it).”

        is quite clear.

  4. I seem to have missed something. Could you please clarify your meaning?

    We have two facts …

    1. Some religious lunatic in Florida burns a book.

    2. A bunch of religious fanatics halfway around the world murder a dozen innocent people.

    Which one(s) should be charged with murder?

    You need to get your priorities straight.

      • @Miles: I can only suggest this hyperbolically because I know the improbability in US law of any such thing (the arrest of Jones) happening, but I am not prepared to write off nut cases as nut cases as a way of absolving them of their design to do harm. I have no way of knowing how much like “wild beasts” [sic] the Afghan “responders” are, but clearly they are not wild beasts;they are murderers of other human beings, and I was talking about the murdered–which you seem not to have taken into account. Let’s assume the murderers did what they did as payback for what Mr Jones knew they would do. It’s true, Jones didn’t pull a trigger; or that in Pakistan a church is burned down, and Jones didn’t light a match. Is the conclusion then that he bears no responsibility for actions he had reasonable assurance would occur, or that he simply has no legal responsibility–two very different things, though murder is murder.

  5. If someone goes to a zoo and deliberately creates a disturbance that causes animals to burst out of their enclosures and go on a deadly rampage, he may be held legally responsible for the damage done by the animals. This is because the animals are not competent moral agents (i.e., they lack the capacity to govern their actions by deliberate choice) while the man who provokes them is one.

    In the Jones case, someone deliberately creates a disturbance in response to which, and in a fashion that he could have foreseen, a group of human beings to go on a deadly rampage. You hold that he bears legal responsibility for the actions of those human beings.

    I can see how such a conclusion would follow if you made the assumption that Afghani Muslims are, like wild beasts, not competent moral agents. Without that assumption, I don’t see how it follows.

    • OK, let us make the assumption that Afghani Muslims are like wild beasts and not competent moral agents.

      Do the facts bear that out?

      Or is this the time we go to “Not ALL Afghani Muslims are…” as a diversion?

  6. IN DEFENCE OF MUSLIMS

    I am astounded that in London, Birmingham, New York, Riyadh, Baghdad, Malaysia, Kosovo and Senegal rampaging mobs of have not indiscriminately murdered foreigners or non-Muslims.

    How can this be? Jones actions were so provocative that is is surely incumbent upon any one who proclaims to be a Muslim to, at the very least, violently demonstrate, loot and pillage whilst burning the flag of America or Britain. And this level of restrain is only mandated by the fact that there are not enough kafirs available in the local vicinity for each believer to personally slaughter an infidel.

    It worries me greatly that perhaps these Muslims who have not yet appeared on the streets are not true believers.

    Oh, hang on a second… no it doesn’t.
    It is probably because despite a crude Western view of Muslim and Islam (which within a certain political context is not wholly invalid, as demonstrated by your post), many individuals are in fact quite similar to myself and my neighbours. They like ice cream and paddling, hanging out with friends, helping each other and living a good life.

    These ordinary people, would not individually take it upon themselves to murder anyone.

    So what happened yesterday?
    In certain localities where the local political circumstances exist, certain men from certain groups within society choose to use the Jones incident as a handy excuse to whip up anger, hatred, xenophobia and religious fervour.

    These are the culprits.

    Within the audience at Friday prayers there would be certain individuals who chose not to go along with this rabble rousing and carefully slipped away, others lacking the courage to dissent would merely drag their feet and drop to the back of the chanting crowd.

    Others, would more enthusiastically march, chanting to proclaim their anger at the desecration of their holy book, however whilst hoping to be featured on TV screens in Washington and Sydney they would nonetheless have no desire to kill or be involved in the murder of innocent bystanders.

    Finally, you have the hardcore at the front of the crowd, and if they were organised also dispersed throughout the crowd to motivate the mass.
    These are the individual who were determined to cause mayhem and worse. These are the people who eagerly seek blood for their own purposes.

    This is the causation of the murders. These are the culprits.

    To seek to reduce their culpability by assigning a portion to an ignorant publicity-seeking bigot thousands of miles away is ethically bankrupt.

    In terms of political rights you are also incorrect. You said; “The defence of free speech is only relevant and brave when free speech is actually abridged, not when threats to its exercise are manufactured.”

    In the UK recently we have had a number of incidents which relate to this.
    Firstly we have had 2 or 3 occasions where people have been arrested for burning the Koran, ie. for exercising their free speech rights (such as they are) one was a 15 year old school girl.
    Then we have had certain individuals with views hostile to Islam refused entry to the country to talk. One was Pastor Terry Jones. The other I believe was Gert Wilders who was going to speak at the House of Lords.
    These visits were refused on the basis that they would upset Muslims and that violence may ensue.

    Note, it was not the case that these individuals were going to incite violence amongst their audience, but that others not present would be so incensed by the exercise of free speech that they would feel compelled to violence.
    Thus the entire basis of our (and more explicitly your, ie. America’s) political arrangement is being directly challenged and surrendered by ideas those who agree with you.

    Pastor Jones should have been ignored and ridiculed. To arrest him now is to say to the beheaders in Afghanistan, “You are right, the provocation was too much. We can sympathise with your need to cut the heads of strangers”

    • You know Felix, you sometimes say some very intelligent things, and then you have to go an’ spoil it all by sayin’ stupid like I love you. Here is an example: “To seek to reduce their [presumably the killers?] culpability by assigning a portion to an ignorant publicity-seeking bigot thousands of miles away is ethically bankrupt.” Who is trying to reduce anyone’s culpability for violence? Do you think that Mr Jones has no responsibility for violence that he knew would ensue (he was warned repeatedly hours before the episode, both in August and in March) and in direct response to his own provocative act? –No responsibility to listen to people who ensured him that these things were going to happen– a direct (not accidental) consequence of his “ignorant, publicity seeking” actions? Why the cute title, the failed irony? Why the totally flatulent first sentence, which reeks of an almost complete ignorance of the episode itself, but doesn’t reach even the doorstep of a logical reply? “I am astounded that in London, Birmingham, New York, Riyadh, Baghdad, Malaysia, Kosovo and Senegal rampaging mobs of have not indiscriminately murdered foreigners or non-Muslims.” Why no engagement with the major analogy of the essay, as between the separate and differently motivated acts of the Koran-haters, one an atheist the other a hard-core gun-slingin’ Christian, who let others do his gunnin’ for him.
      You’ll have to do better than this poncey almost oratorical presentation of an argument no one has made if you want to get your comments on this site; this is a pass.

  7. Good morning,
    it feels like comments have become like personal , private messages.

    I see the blog has changed title again. Unusual practice, but if its just part of the way you operate then I guess the original name change can be passed over rather than called out.

    I would say more but I doubt it would interest you or elicit a useful response. That’s a shame, but then again it would be unreasonable to expect you to become a private tutor to every fool who stopped by.

    • Hi Felix: I would be absolutely delighted to have conversations with you–it’s clear that you’re engaged, interested and willing to talk/disagree/and discuss. The blog title was changed just to reflect a major update and I wasn’t able to suggest clearly enough that the update “gathered” a number of similar responses about free speech ands Mr Jones’s immunity. Anyway, please visit when you’re interested and I’ll try to do better about responding. My only “rule” is that I don’t post what i can’t reasonably respond to and that I urge respondents to focus on the blog.

  8. This is difficult because people are so sensitive that when you say what you mean in a reasonably straightforward way at the time, you are liable to be misunderstood. I have been horrified to read a lot of these comments, and hope that my previous comments have not been misunderstood. Murdering people is always wrong, and most Muslims here (about 90% in the UK, we have been told) think so too, and consequently believe that terrorism is morally wrong and contrary to the will of Allah as revealed in the Qur’an. Mobs in Afghanistan, or anywhere else, killing people for any reason, whether Pastor Jones ‘ actions or any other reason, are murderers, and they should be held accountable for murder. At the same time, none of us should take any action which we know will result in the murder of innocent people. Pastor Jones is a malicious Christian who hates his neighbour, and he is guilty of gross moral wrongdoing.

    • “[...]most Muslims here (about 90% in the UK, we have been told) think so too, and consequently believe that terrorism is morally wrong and contrary to the will of Allah as revealed in the Qur’an.”

      While this is a percentage that sounds decently high, think about it for one moment. What you are saying there is that one in ten UK muslims finds terrorism and murder acceptable. I don’t have any empirical data, but I am sure you will agree that 10% pro murder is, in fact, a very high number compared to other subsets of the UK population. That is a serious problem, considering that we can assume that the UK muslims range on the more moderate end of the spectrum.

      “At the same time, none of us should take any action which we know will result in the murder of innocent people.”

      No. Very much no. What you are saying is that we should censor ourselves. No critical caricatures. No critical literature. No critical movies. All these cases happened in recent years, and have incited violence and deaths of innocent people (or serious threats). Jones is just an extreme case. What you suggest goes against everything the very idea of free speech stands for.

      • I agree with some of this; I do not agree that what Jones is doing and threatens to do is simply the exercise of a constitutional right. E.g., the effects are being felt in a war zone; at what point can you call incitement to riot and murder sedition–an established exception to the free speech principle. But I think you need to read the update to see that i don’t think that will be applied, so the harm will continue–in the eys of some hardcore Muslim haters, because Islam is naturally violent.

      • For some reason I can’t seem to reply directly to your post so I have to reply to myself :) You will notice that what I said was directed specifically at some of Steph’s statements, though. Call it off-topic if you want, but it wasn’t actually referring to your blog post. This just as an explanation.

        That said:
        “at what point can you call incitement to riot and murder sedition–an established exception to the free speech principle.”

        I come from Germany, which may well be one of the western democracies with the strictest interpretation of what constitutes a sedition (“Volksverhetzung”). This is, of course, a consequence of our past. However, if I am not mistaken sedition does not actually apply here (though I may be misinterpreting based on my perceived use in Germany). Sedition implies incitement to violence *against* a certain group of people. In this case we have incitement to violence *within* a certain group of people.

        And as you say, where should we draw the line? Jones was actively provoking, no doubt. However, so were the Danish caricaturists and the publishing newspapers. So was Theo van Gogh with his movie. What exactly is it that makes these latter two cases different? This is not a rhetorical question either, because from my point of view it looks like the only difference seems to be that Terry Jones is a raving nutcase who noone liked anyway.

      • @Claudia: Yeah I understand how the van Gogh case might be a parallel, and of course he died as a result of Islamic intolerance. As to the cartoons, I was fairly close to that episode (http://www.islam-watch.org/SecularHumanism/JeffMuttMuhd.htm) and published a few articles on the topic, including one specifically defending the cartoons as sort of unfunny but well within agreed conventions of free speech as defined by the UN. -That’s why I’m somewhat surprised to see people at the WEIT site jabbing me for “coddling Islam.” But that’s different. I also think the cartoon case is slightly different because — believe it or not — the Koran wasn’t involved, and even though it is considered a crime in some ME countries and Pakistan to insult the Prophet, there was ambiguity in that case, and of course a greater difference because you couldn’t count on Islam to explode into a fury of retribution in Denmark in the same way it did in Afghanistan. Basically, my principle is that in dealing with hornets you walk around the nest: you don’t hit at it with a stick when people are passing by, then throw up your hands and say you aren’t the responsible moral agent. That has to be the argument in the case of Jones, and it isn’t very convincing to me.

      • I do not hold most of the opinions attributed to me by Claudia, which is why I have never expressed them. I do not believe ‘No critical caricatures. No critical literature. No critical movies.’ What I have suggested is that we exercise some moral responsibility and not do quite unnecessary things – he did not have to burn the Qur’an – when we know that the result will be that some people, in this case an uncivilised Afghan mob, will murder innocent people, as the senior American general in Afghanistan had warned. This does not ‘go against everything the very idea of free speech stands for’. And I agree with what Joe says here.

      • @Joe:
        You may be right that the extend of the possible reaction to any insult wasn’t quite understood in 2005. While the extend may not have been clear, I argue that the very real option of a danger for the involved parties as well as innocent bystanders should have been obvious.

        Anyway, consider the hypothetical case of this same thing happening today. We now know the possible reactions. Do you think we should walk around the hornet’s nest or should we be allowed to make all the caricatures we’d like?

        Here in Germany, we had theatre plays cancelled for fear of a violent muslim reaction. There are art expositions which never happened for the same reasons. They walked around the hornet’s nest. That may be prudent, but is that really the world you want to live in?

        So, where do you draw the line? How do you balance the possible cost in lives with our freedom of expression?

        @Steph:
        I simply followed the quoted statement to its logical conclusion. I’m glad you don’t hold that opinion, but what you said implies exactly that. My questions to Joe, above, also go to you. What are we allowed to do, in your opinion? Can we have an art exposition that critically challenges islam? Can we have a theatre play where the severed head of the prophet is shown, along with the heads of other religious leaders? Can we have caricatures criticising and depicting the prophet?

        All of these could lead to incitement in the islamic world. It depends fully on which religious or political leaders feels like using it as a nifty little distraction from their domestic problems.

      • @Claudia: It’s a fair question, given that there is absolutely no likelihood that Mr Jones will be arrested or even prevented from doing something even more obnoxious. My hyperboles about what he “deserves” were mistaken for an endorsement of something illegal. But I wonder if the situation would be the same if instead of Afghanis, American lives were lost as a result of his actions. If free speech is the principle, then the nationality and religion of the bodies shouldn’t be the deciding factor. On the other hand, the people in Afghanistan do not know that Americans regard him as an easy to write off nutcase: the media has portrayed him as a conservative Christian preacher–but much as we may dislike another famous conservative preacher, Pat Robertson, we can’t quite imagine him stooping to this. And one other thing is certain, the media here is paying attention again, which is what he craves, so there will additional deaths. Those are the givens: a man immune to prosecution and who will not be prevented from incitement, and the certainty that he is doing real damage,

      • Claudia it is not a logical conclusion from what I was saying at all. I was talking about human behaviour and not an abstract sense of logic. I was not aware of the situation in Germany and consequently am in no position to comment on it. Other than that I agree entirely with Joe’s reply to you.

    • Meaning then that 10% think it’s okay? Sounds like a religion with great moral precepts…..or maybe you’re wrong? The murder of innocent persons is completely against the koran – except where it mandates the faithful to kill the infidels, or to enslave the infidels, to take or kill their women ….just like the bible in fact!

  9. Re: Update

    “It has been amazing and distressing to me that responses to this blog from a cadre of readers have focused only on the twin lunacies of Islamic extremism and Christian triumphalism.”

    Where are these responses “from a cadre of readers”? As I write this, there are 12 responses posted; 5 of them are yours.

    • Now there are 13. When the replies read like a dittograph of the same point, it’s easier to do it this way; besides this list is moderated. I’ve just been reading comments over at WEIT–some are actually pretty good. Did you have anything to say about the post or are you just challenging the moderation?

      • No, I don’t have anything to say about the post here; I am just challenging the moderation and your replies. For example, what do you mean when you say, “it’s easier to do it this way”? What way?

      • The policy I try to follow is simply this: I won’t post what I can’t reasonably respond to, and I won’t post comments that are simply digressions on me as opposed to the content of the post. I can’t reasonably respond to every article, so this morning’s rather long update got a new title to indicate it included a general response to comments that might have deserved a response from me — if there were 48 hours in a day. I completely expect (most) people to disagree with me, at least in terms of discussing Terry Jones and PZ Myers in the same post. I enjoy all non-abusive discussion. So I hope that you will post a comment about the article!

  10. It’s a globalized world, and we are going to have to learn to live with Islam, however disagreeable it may be, since Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion.

    We cannot annihilate the faith of millions and millions of people. We are not omnipotent.

    Learning to live or let live with a doctrine involves not burning its sacred texts, at least not in public.

    I have utterly no use for the Koran. I tried to read it once and found it hopelessly boring and badly written, unlike the Bible which at times reaches the status of literature.

    • I agree: the radical rejection of all religion and all sacred books is an easy option for nonbelievers–that’s what they/we are in any event. But it’s both politically reckless and culturally hopeless to think that hardcore tactics–whatever Islam bashers we’re talking about, Christian or atheist–are doing the right thing just because it’s the insolent thing.

    • Re: the Bible . . . at times reaches the status of literature.

      If only people would read the Bible as literature there would be fewer problems. However, there are books that at all times reach the “status of literature.” Read them instead.

      • @Veronica: Brilliant: and one of the issues is that we’re not far along in the “civilizing” process that some other religions have undergone to permit us to read the Koran that way: it’s an icon and icons are dangerous, I agree, I was in Pakistan last year, teaching and in Beirut for three years before that. The one topic you can’t discuss is the Koran, and the one thing that will cause you to disappear into the alleys of Lahore, where I was, is defaming Islam.

  11. I’m going to challenge the moderation, as well.

    When you start out your update/post with

    “It has been amazing and distressing to me that responses to this blog from a cadre of readers have focused only on the twin lunacies of Islamic extremism and Christian triumphalism.” you have at least a small obligation to provide a way for the reader figure out what you’re talking about.

    It’s really just a bit too cute now for you to pretend that the posts you’re modding are just repeats of each other (which, in itself, suggests that the comments were significantly running against you). But we don’t get to know for ourselves, do we?

    • Just to repeat what I said to another reader: There aren’t many “rules” here except that I won’t post what I can’t respond to; I won’t post responses that are uncivil or just written to be rude (though there’s wiggle room in that if they are sufficiently rude); and I won’t post “dialogues” that turn into major debates between me and readers–there just isn’t enough time. And as you might suppose, comments must have been pretty much pro-Let the Rev do what he does, which is why this morning Update appeared at all.

  12. “and I won’t post “dialogues” that turn into major debates between me and readers–there just isn’t enough time”

    If you aren’t intending to provoke and inspire thought, commentary and debate, why post at all?

    Additionally, the debate to which you refer had already taken place, and was already posted on your blog. You cannot possibly be arguing that you removed the posts to save you time.

    • @Helen I like your second question. It’s a fair one–about why anyone blogs. Perhaps to your third I should have said that when a discussion turns into multiple back and forths and becomes purely argumentative, I don’t think that’s edifying for anyone–even though being moderated out might be disappointing for some.

  13. R Joseph Hoffmann

    I have already written a post on Terry Jones and the burning and banning of books on the website I provided with my name and email and have left comments on WEIT about your post. It’s a beautiful day, so I’m going out to enjoy the sunshine; however, I will comment on your future posts.

  14. Mr. Hoffman,

    Thought-provoking post. I largely agree with your post, Jones was out to provoke a response and is hateful But several issues have been with me since this regarding the American response. Maybe they are poor analogies, but I’ll offer them.

    This is about shame, face-saving or honor, call it what you will. Muslims feel shamed by Western power and perceived disrespect. I’m sure these riots are simply about the desecration of the Koran. Anger has been there for years. I’ve an acquaintance from Herat, a Northern Afghan city, and he told me, about 4 years ago, that his kin were annoyed at the American presence. They went so far as to gripe “at least the Russians brought their own women with them,” whatever that means. I don’t believe Westerners were having wild nights on the town with local girls, but it does tell me that locals are feeling shamed. They were using gender as a way of expressing their shame. This was in a largely, nominally friendly Shiite, non-Pashtun city and at a time when Afghanistan was largely quiet. I’d imagine similar feelings may have been present in other communities.

    Now to my bad analogies and poor thoughts. As I said this is about shaming. What would be the American response if the news story was about local Herati girls dressed in Western fashion assaulted and killed? Obviously, we know and those girls would presumably know that dressing in a “provocative” fashion could bring results: punitive raping, murder or acid assault. I would hope our response wouldn’t be, “well, they should have expected it.” In the same way, in the 1930s in Mississippi if an interracial couple sauntered down a main street they should expect a response. I’m not comparing these activities with Jones. But I’m afraid we are sacrificing liberalism for expediency and politically correct relativism. I’ll make a value judgement here.

    I’m concerned by the politically correct, but not surprising hypocrisy of our leaders regarding Muslim anger over this issue. Here they recognize the source of anger. Contrast this to the unwillingness to consider the motivation of Muslims angry at a foreign presence in their countries. It seems like burning a Koran is a more serious issue then say decades long treatment of Palestinians, anger over US overt or covert military presence or invasion.

  15. sorry, one sentence should read

    I’m sure these riots aren’t simply about the desecration of the Koran.

    Forgot to mention Karzai’s political maneuvering in all of this, he is one of the villains in this tale.

  16. Steph wrote:
    What I have suggested is that we exercise some moral responsibility and not do quite unnecessary things

    And who should we look to in order to decide whether an action is morally responsible or not? Politicians? Religious leaders? You? The problem with requiring people to “exercise some moral responsibility” before one acts is that there are untold numbers of opinions on what is or is not a morally responsible act.

    • To whom should you look to tom? That’s a huge question and one which I can’t possibly answer in a blog comment. The ultimate answer is of course ‘yourself’ but it involves a whole long and complicated process involving humanist education, to equip people with good values, which I think you should understand.

      • Steph seems to have missed the point completely. When you say something like, “What I have suggested is that we exercise some moral responsibility”, just whose version of moral responsibility are you talking about? Pastor Jones, Muslims, you, everyone has their own opinion about what is moral and what is not, which makes your suggestion kind of meaningless. I suspect what you really mean is that your version of moral responsibility is the right one, and if others would just exercise their moral muscles they would come to the same conclusion.

      • Yet Tom would agree (?) that what Revd Jones did was not responsible?

        I’m not sure what you mean here. If you mean Jones is responsible for murders and should be arrested, as you suggested earlier, then, no, I do not agree. He broke no US law. If you mean Jones is “morally” responsible, then no, again I do not agree. Jones acted in accordance with his own moral principles, as each of us is wont to do, he broke no laws, and he caused no harm. Who is to say that our moral principles are superior to Jones’s? That’s one problem with the idea that if we all just exercised moral responsibility, things will go the way we want them to. One person’s morality is another’s immorality.

      • Yes that’s what I thought Tom meant. I agree in theory that he broke no law, unless sedition could be proved (and it probably cannot), but as to “Jones acted in accordance with his own moral principles, as each of us is wont to do,” that surely would have to be evaluated not just in terms of whatever Jones’s principles are but in terms of consequences (you say “he broke no law”–which has nothing to do with a moral principle). You say “he caused no harm”–by which I suppose you mean he pulled no trigger. It’s an interesting loop of a discussion–and we’ll wait to see what Jones does next. I’m sure he will achieve an iconic status in ethics textbooks, esp with a name like Jones.

  17. In a post which I received by email, but is not here
    (moderated?), Claudia asks: is that the kind of world we want to live in? She refers to a world where people prudently don’t say things which will
    excite the sensibilities of religious fanatics or, in Professor Hoffmann’s words, where people avoid hornets’ nests.

    We don’t choose the world we live in. I would prefer to live in a world where I could say exactly what is on my mind and others would applaud or at least listen with respect, but that’s not the world as it is. This is a world with religious fanatics, and unless you have a wonderful plan for converting them to enlightenment values, it’s best to avoid irritating them. You know, I live in a neighborhood with thugs and bullies, and I avoid them and when I cannot avoid them, I smile and am extra polite to them, even though I don’t like them at all.

    • I think the transition from a God whose justice is swift and sure like Allah’s to almost 2,8 billion people to complete disbelief is cloud cuckoo thinking. Maybe we should be thinking about winning them over to an agenda of moderation–but atheism as the “cure”–amazingly unrealistic coming from people whose leaders are distinguished scientists and profess to deal in reality.

      • rjosephhoffmann: “Maybe we should be thinking about winning them over to an agenda of moderation–but atheism as the “cure”–”

        “Moderation” is insufficient. “Tolerance” is also required. What opposing views (e.g., atheist ones) do is exercise tolerance). There is no real tolerance in the absence of opposing views.

      • I do not see tolerance as a value especially connected with atheism: how can it be? Humanism, yes, atheism per se, no. I think this is true historically as well as in the trend toward “new” atheism, if it really exists (more doubt about that every day)

    • @Wallerstein
      We may not choose the world we live in, but we can choose to shape it the way we like it. Or we can choose to duck and hide, to let the bullies of this world have their way with us and to be extra nice to them. (just imagine for one moment how the western world would look like today if that had always been the way to go)

      @Joe
      “Maybe we should be thinking about winning them over to an agenda of moderation–but atheism as the “cure”–amazingly unrealistic coming from people whose leaders are distinguished scientists and profess to deal in reality.”
      Then it’s good that this is just a strawman, isn’t it?

      Maybe I’ll give my question from above another chance. What if the Mullahs had not chosen Terry Jones’ act as fodder for their political moves, what if they had chosen, for example, the knighting of Salman Rushdie? Would you hold the Queen responsible for the ensuing protests (which happened and could have easily lead to similarly violent events)?

      • Hoffmann:”Queen is to Rushdie as Terry Jones is to Koran?? it’s not working for me”

        It works for me Joe. :-)

        ==

        I think what people would say is that clearly both of these actions (burning, knighting) are legal and yet both may cause anger or worse.

        You therefore should consider whether you have a good reason for what you are about to do.

        Does the Queen have a good reason for knighting Rushide? Yes. He is a great author and a symbol of resistance to religious fascists.

        Does Jones have a good reason for burning the Koran? I think we can agree that he does not. Its a publicity stunt. (If we imagine for a second that he had burnt ‘Little House on the Prairie’ then we can see that, absent angry muslims, it is a morally neutral action.)

        Therefore the moral calculus (benefit zero, risk non-zero) suggests that he should not do it and if he proceeds he is acting immorally.

        This formulation generalises to the fact that you can do plenty of things that annoy muslims (in this instance) as long as there are good enough reasons. May I suggest banning religious schools?

        However, I have not been completely converted to the other side, I still have a major problem, at a gut level, with anyone who says that Jones is to _blame_. The chain of causation is very long and complicated and it ends with a man and a knife.

      • “Does Jones have a good reason for burning the Koran? I think we can agree that he does not.” We do not agree; he does–or says he does. Without exploring his real motives, he has said many times that he finds it of the “devil.” You and I may find this kind of talk delusional. but Jones sees spirits at work in a world that is riddled with satanic influence and the Muslim world is for him the center of it all. He calculates, I’d suggest, that he can prove this by igniting their hold book and unleashing the powers of darkness. He does it and (no surprise to him) people die. That is his insane logic. What to do.

        I am all for banning the religious schools; when I lived in Pakistan two years ago, attempts were made: the army gave up trying.

      • Well, once again you haven’t even bothered to explain why the analogy doesn’t work for you.

        Felix, I’m not sure I agree that one of them had no good reasons. Jones acted for religious reasons. This second burning can even hardly be called a publicity stunt since noone really cared at the time it happened. The Queen wanted to honor Rushide. I am sure he deserves it, but what are we ultimately talking about? A somewhat pompous event resulting in three more letters to a name, not much more. Is that really worth putting human lives at risk?

        My point with this is twofold:

        First, it is the Mullahs and political leaders who decide which “anti-islam” event they react to. At any given time, there are several options they can choose from. The Queen/Rushdie thing indeed lead to worldwide protests and could well have lead to violence and deaths if some Mullah had chosen to rally the masses. Also consider how the caricature protests only started months after they were presented.

        It shows that a) it is the people who rally and whip the masses into a frenzy who are responsible and b) the violence is not necessarily caused by specific events, anything will do.

        Second, it appears that much of the outrage against Jones is based on the fact that, well, pretty much everyone hated the guy anyway. And he is a hateful, closeminded bigot, especially for us atheists. This is why I tried to goad you into thinking it through with other examples and other “perpetrators”.

        Would you still place the same amount of blame on the Queen, or on a theatre director*, or on the caricature artists, or on Theo van Gogh?

        *btw, after some struggling the cancelled play I mentioned above did eventually go live (Idomeneo, Deutsche Staatsoper, 2006 I think). There were some protests, mostly limited to Germany, no serious violence and no deaths. But there could have been, easily.

      • @Claudia: Analogies aren’t arguments; they work or don’t work to compel “assent”–and your examples, which are all over the place, do not begin to resemble this case. That is why it doesn’t work. Theo van Gogh was “executed” in Amsterdam by violent thugs, a casualty of his exercise of his right to speak freely, The Queen did not knight Salman during the Satanic Verses controversy and as I recall there was a minor furore which soon abated when she did, and in any case her action was merely interpreted to be insulting; it was not announced to be so–that’s far fetched given the number of Rushdie haters in Birmingham and London. There was an equally minor outbreak over the South Park episode that “showed” the Prophet inside a bear costume (as I recall, anyway, the costume that is) — as with the Danish cartoons. With the sole exception of van Gogh whose killers WERE charged with and convicted of murder by the way, these other examples are simply frivolous. I’m interested to know whether you regard Jones as “guilty” of anything except poor taste and bad timing?

      • Claudia,

        “I’m not sure I agree that one of them had no good reasons.”

        I believe that Jones is a nutcase and that his reasons are nutcase reasons. Therefore my own moral analysis suggests that the act was immoral for the reasons described. You are all entitled to your own analysis.

        “Would you still place the same amount of blame on the Queen, or on a theatre director*, or on the caricature artists, or on Theo van Gogh?”

        As I said, I don’t blame Jones, or any or the other people you list, and I wouldn’t have blamed the Queen.
        And this is precisely for the reason you give – the violence is called forth by mullahs.

      • By now I’m starting to think that I’m apparently completely unable to communicate my point. Either that or you really are deadset on not seeing it.

        I used these “all over the place” examples to demonstrate two things:

        1. Violent muslim reactions are erratic and mostly guided by Mullahs or political leaders, using the outrage for their own goals. Each of these examples could have lead to innocent deaths. How do you evaluate the moral or legal responsibility in these cases?

        2. A lot of the outrage against Jones seems to be caused by the fact that he was detested even before this stunt. For this reason I asked you to evaluate other examples, where the “provocateurs” are of a different sort. Add your South Park example if you like, and the publishing of the Satanic Verses.

        And please note, the question is not if these examples actually did lead to violence. The question is if they had the potential to do so. If they had the potential for violence, shouldn’t they have been avoided? If not, why not? And where would you draw the line?

  18. We all compartimentalize our rationalism, and just as certain scientists turn off their rationalism when they go to church or to a synagogue or a mosque, others blindly imagine that if only the Muslim masses were free to read Richard Dawkins, they would convert to atheism in mass.

    • I think it you are intentionally generating a comment thread that falls outside you own rules. So I suggest you block this response :-)

      Please state which of the following you agree with:

      a) Jones believes he has a good reason for burning the Koran

      b) Jones has a good reason for burning the Koran.

      If you believe (b) please describe the good reason.

      • Sorry wrong thread.
        The blog doesn’t seem to offer the chance to reply below a certain depth. You can still do it by modifying the web address of the reply button but I got it wrong this time apparently.

      • Last comment, though it a Fool’s Dilemma: (c) Jones states he has a good reason for burning the Koran. No one can possibly know what he believes.

  19. Off topic, but I think it should be acknowledged that Paul Myers was not the original desecrator of the Eucharist in the instance referenced. That would be Webster Cook, and it was how Catholic League associates demanded that failing to swallow a wafer be understood as a heinous crime that inspired Mr. Myers to take the action that he did.

    The post implies that Myers just decided, out of the blue, to be a jerk. That doesn’t seem quite fair.

    • @Ken I know I regard PZ’s actions as jerky but was honestly trying to make the distinction, and did make the point that manufactured blasphemy and real interreligious blasphemy are two different things. PZ’s article on the subject was very good, but the stunt was not, and a lot of the article is devoted to a defense of the act: he underscores how a religious symbol can lead to violence. In an age where most Catholics don’t even know what they’re supposed to believe, it’s a different story. Btw, Catholics used the Eucharist against each other in the early church: in Augustine’s day, to prove that his church was out of grace, his opponents’ batallions fed the host to dogs–so this has a long, ugly history. Thanks Ken.

    • I don’t believe that he has a good reason, and you don’t believe that he has a good reason.
      He states that he has a good reason.
      We don’t know what this purported reason is.
      I am unable to think of a reason that would meet my personal criteria of good.
      Since you have not stated otherwise I am going to ascribe this inability to you also.

      So, as I said, I think we can agree that he does not.

      • He states that he has a good reason.”””” He states a reason. Which has nothing to do with our criteria of what a good reason might be. Am I wrong?

  20. Claudia:

    We can try to shape the world: it’s not easy. I’m not at all sure how much intellectual influence I have over my family or my friends or ex students. I doubt that I have or could have much influence over people in Afghanistan, whose language and culture I am ignorant of.

    Wasn’t that Blair’s and Bush’s idea? (I’m assuming that they weren’t just after the oil.) They wanted to remake and democratize Iraq and Afghanistan, cultures which apparently, they understood as little as I do.

    Culture and received ideas have a tremendous force, which is difficult to reshape. I modestly prefer to concentrate on convincing people around me, people with whom I share basic values about one or two things.

    Yes, I duck and hide at times. That’s why I’m alive today, literally.

    • I think he should avoid vacations in Indonesia. Look on the bright side: there are probably only tens of thousands of Jonses, mainly in America. There are millions of bin Ladens, and maybe worse. Some people are saying it doesn’t matter who ignites whom, but I say do the geopolitical math and get back to me–that is, if life means anything.

  21. I applaud most of Hoffmann’s work here, especially since it is not that popular a viewpoint. All I can say at this moment, to lend an alternative to the discussion is: Terry Jones is guilt of reckless endangerment. Please look up the term. It fits. Exactly. And while reckless endangerment does not have the gravitas willful homicide has, it does carry key elements: malice of forethought, forewarned consequences and reckless behaviour.

    Jones has now given us a strong case for imprisonment: he plans more protests, and while he has not, as yet, stated that any of these protests would involve burning a Quran, he knows his credibility is almost nil.

    I would definitely put weight (and energy) on promoting this lawsuit, whether U.S. civil or international.

    • Rev. Dan wrote:
      I would definitely put weight (and energy) on promoting this lawsuit, whether U.S. civil or international

      The problem you run into with lawsuits, criminal charges, and the like, is that the US has this pesky thing called the First Amendment. It’s not so easy to override it.

    • What is the so-called case for imprisonment? I wish people doing amateur legal analysis would remember that we have a Constitution which constrains the government’s ability to criminalize conduct. Under Brandenburg v. Ohio, inflammatory speech or expressive conduct is protected by the First Amendment unless the speech is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action”. Nothing about Mr. Jones’ statements indicates that his actions are directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action.

    • As an attorney, I would suggest that you not quit your day job. (Same goes for Hoffman, who seems to bear some very odd ideas about what “sedition” means.)

      First, reckless endangerment is a crime, not a tort (ergo no “lawsuit”); it is defined differently, or not at all, by various jurisdictions’ laws. Jones is in Florida, and as far as I can tell (I do not practice in Florida) there is no crime called “reckless endangerment” in Florida law.

      Second, “malice of forethought” is a funny malapropism. Malice aforethought, meanwhile, has no connection with reckless endangerment.

      Third, ordinary principles of legal causation require a defendant to be the proximate cause (sometimes called “legal cause”) of a relevant result—here, the deaths. It is extremely unlikely that any court would hold that a man who burned a book is civilly or criminally liable for deaths perpetrated by other people he never met; in technical terminology, the chain of causation in this case was broken by the independent intervening acts of the people who actually committed the murders. Oddly enough, the Afghans in question in this case were neither children, animals, nor automata; they were fully functioning adults who were capable of deciding on different causes of action. Blaming someone else for “provoking” them to murder is legally impossible, not to mention morally repugnant.

      Fourth, I’d like to introduce you to this thing called the First Amendment. It protects speech up to and including burning one’s own property. The legal approach you suggest would destroy this bedrock principle; more specifically, your approach is directly barred by long-settled case case law from U.S. federal courts. And thank goodness.

      • Rieux: thank you for clarifying the legal position on Jones. When you say “Thank goodness” do you mean grateful we live in a country where even violent and reckless men can act on their private hatreds, or that this disturbance (you might grant me at least that term) was permitted to happen as an illustration of the inherent “violence” of Islam? Or would you argue, some have, that there is neither a moral nor a legal issue here.

      • Rieux,

        I’d be very interested to know whether legally (in your jurisdiction) incitement is taken to mean ‘incitement by those in agreement with the speaker’, or whether it also includes ‘incitement to cause violence against the speaker, possibly against those who agree with him, and possibly against anybody else I met in the street regardless of the fact they they don’t agree with him’

    • How about the publishers of incendiary book like the Kuran (or even the bible)? How are they less guilty? They actually write that you should kill unbelievers? What exactly about these books makes them worthy of any respect?

      • There are no publishers per se; do you mean why were these texts preserved? Less guilty than what/who? Your own ancestors, who would doubtless not share your view, preserved them.

  22. Pingback: Newsbusters: WaPo Spends the Lord’s Day Celebrating Religion-Bashing ‘South Park’ Duo | Katy Pundit

  23. I know you’ve said that this is hyperbolic, but I still have to take strong issue with this:

    “He is with us, and he needs to be charged with and convicted of murder. His name is Terry Jones.”

    To me, the very clear implication is that, even though U.S. law does not allow such a possibility, it should. I’m not so interested in the question of what Terry Jones deserves or appropriate assignation of blame (not least because my own moral philosophy doesn’t really include these concepts at a basic level, considering them more to be useful social constructs than fundamental aspects of morality).

    But I can’t think of any reasonable standard by which Jones’ actions could be made illegal without unacceptable collateral damage to free speech. Nor, if we absolutely must make use of some concept of blame or responsibility, is it clear how to do so. You compare him to a man swatting the hornet’s nest, but hornets are stupid, instinctual creatures, and violent Islamic extremists are not. The chain of causality is much looser and more uncertain, and winds through several other players who could have prevented these incidents. If a man gives orders to his subordinates, he knows they will obey him. If he colludes with others, he knows their shared goals. If he provokes an enemy who reacts in self-defense, he knows that he has left that enemy no choice. A mere undirected insult, not even a taunt, doesn’t qualify as the same level of manipulation of or collaboration with anyone, especially as Jones was not intending for these events to occur.

    Further, equally hyperbolic statements of Islamic “sympathizing” or “collusion” aside, there is necessarily a sense in which punishing or preventing Koran burning is conceding a great deal. The people who carried out these attacks were working toward a world in which strongly criticizing or offending Islam is universally condemned and made illegal. Killing representatives of “The West” is a means (admittedly crude) toward this end. If we were to punish people like Terry Jones, and doing so explicitly because of the riots induced, then we would be complicit in making the riots an effective method in carrying out those ends.

    The question necessarily arises: if we concede in this way, will it actually prevent future violence, or will such violence continue as long as it appears to be an effective tactic, and as long as any high profile criticism of Islam exists? We can also note that this violence has roots in, among other things, the social convention that people’s deeply held convictions must not be offended or ridiculed, and that people who break this rule are intolerant and wicked, and must be punished. It appears that this conviction needs to be weakened in all countries (if we are to take freedom of speech and freedom of conscience seriously). Strengthening this conviction by giving it legal force in all countries appears to be counterproductive in the long view.

    • I find it ironic, when I have also mused that there is probably nothing within the bounds of the legal system we have to prevent Terry Jones from continuing to do what he is doing, that you would rather talk about bedrock principles than about him. Does his hatred of Islam alone make him a culture hero, or just the price we have to pay for living in a nation that values free speech? As to hyperbole, nothing more to say on that except this one is an exasperated voice saying “There oughta be a law” when we know there isn’t. It would be interesting to know what the opinion would be if the Afghans had been able to kill American soldiers instead of UN workers, non of whom were Americans. -More young men dying for the cause of bedrock principles?

      • I don’t want to talk about Terry Jones because he is a simultaneously boring, unexceptional, and nasty piece of work (though the attention paid to him is more unusual). I have no interest in defending a vile bigot or proposing that Koran-burning is somehow inherently good.

        But the statement “There oughta be a law” does interest me, because I definitely think that there oughn’t, on free speech grounds, as you say. I’m quite fond of living in a country where one can produce hate speech, deny the Holocaust, or protest funerals with obscene signage. This despite the fact that such speech increases the chance of violence against myself and people close to me (particularly my gay and transexual friends, some of whom have indeed been the targets of violence). My position on Jones is one I take out of consistency, not due to any affection for him, or disregard for lives of UN staff.

        Furthermore, your statement suggests that Jones should be prosecuted, not just for burning a book, but due to the murders it led to. I think that there’s an argument against this even more basic than the one regarding free speech, which is the notion of the rule of law. Jones would have to be punished, not because we particularly didn’t like his case, but because of a universal set of rules. But I don’t think that there’s reason to believe that he had adequate understanding of the outcome of his actions, nor that he intended (not disregarded or accepted as possible, but intended) the death of innocents, nor that the response of outraged Muslims was anything like an automatic, inevitable call-and-response.

        Under these circumstances, any net that caught Jones would also catch anyone else who commited an otherwise legal, nonviolent act, not intended to cause violence, as long as the actor knew that it might be some part of the chain of causation leading to violence. I think that this is far too many fish to catch, and that we thus have to let Jones go, if we are to pretend to a rule of law and not of personal whims or animosity.

      • You already have young men (and less young, and women) dying over there for what principles exactly? I’m sure the drones and constant civilian casualties should not be re-assessed, it’s really all about that single book burning… clearly.

  24. @Dan, This isn’t the case: The links above in the blog and the Washington Post specifically address his consideration of the loss of life.

  25. How far do we bow the knee?

    Centuries back, the accusation of desecrating the ‘host’ was evidence enough to cause the slaughter of Jews, by Christians — the slaughter en-masse, might I add. Entire towns would be emptied of Jews by tiny holocausts, wherein the accused Jews and those of their ilk would be hanged or burned alive and the rest would be run off.

    Their crime was one of blasphemy, as per those of the time. In retrospect, it had nothing to do with religion, but it was a demonstration of a tacitly condoned psychopathy.

    In a compulsion to permit the rationalization of violence as a fundamental practice of tribal jingoism we step into a chasm of where a collective guilt binds us all. When we claim OR accept that someone like a Samson could be a hero, where a Judeo-Christian god could justify the slaughter of children, where people are unworthy by virtue of being born, then we lose all rights to call any religious violence as beyond the pale.

    We can, and must, unbow the knee that we’ve bent to accommodate the beliefs of others such that they would respect our beliefs; because we actually realize that the beliefs do not and cannot garner any earnest respect by any objective or rationale basis. If you must force respect, then everyone realizes the travesty. You don’t want to call them silly, because you don’t want them to call you silly, both being garbed in equivalent irrationality.

    • @Tim: I don’t think that is the choice, bowed or unbowed (bent) knees. As to Mr Jones, he has said many times not that the Koran is just “paper” ( which is PZ’s point) but it that it’s invested with a spirit of Satan. Perhaps luckily, we don’t need to take those superstitions into account in assessing what he did: they’re phantoms of his own imagination–a lot like the strong belief in Satan his Muslim others have. No one is advocating submission, just a candid recognition of how the two sides can manipulate each other into violence. My further point–that atheism has nothing to do with the immediate situation–may be frustrating, but seems true. The pragmatics are against it, just as they would have been against atheism having anything to do with interreligious struggle at the Reformation or in any other primarily ineterreligious struggle, except of course to suggest that unbelief is the cure for all troubles attributed to religion. But feel free to tell me how I may be wrong here.

  26. I don’t live in the U.S., and so I bear no special allegiance to its Constitution or legal system.

    So, if Pastor Jones’s burning Korans isn’t illegal in the U.S., can’t he receive a friendly visit from the taxpeople, suggesting that if he doesn’t stop playing with matches, all of his tax returns for the last 20 years will be audited with a microscope?

    That’s how I’d deal with him if I were Obama.

  27. @rjosephhoffmann:

    Very interesting article. However, I disagree with your logic on what is permissible free speech and what is not. It seems to boil down to, “What are the limits of free speech?” Yes, I agree with you that there a limits to freedom of speech. However, your logic is inconsistent on this topic. Although I’m over simplifying things, you seem to say, “It’s not okay to blaspheme the Koran because it is their holy book? But, it is okay to blaspheme Mohammad because it is only a drawing/cartoon.” Both outcomes resulted in predicatable violence. Why is one acceptable and the other not? I read you answer to this question, but I still don’t understand why one is permissible, yet the other is not.

    • @Mike. Go back and read the first paragraph: the whole article is about why Myers and Jones can’t be equated; though I do criticize Myers, there is no equation–it’s a dis-analogy.

  28. You make a very large error in equating Myer’s cracker shenanigans with this Pastor’s foolishness. You see, Myers reasonably dislikes Catholicism due to the harm it does people and because it is a huge lie. This Florida maniac viscerally hates Islam because it is a set of lies that disagrees with his set of lies. The two acts are not similar in any way. I’m afraid your comparison is weak and unsubstantial.

    • What about the media’s involvement? If if weren’t for them those poor mindless assassins (my heart goes out to them) wouldn’t have had that “reason” to act as they did…

  29. As I understand the facts the burning was not done by Jones but by his assistant pastor. And the media did not spend any time on the event but rather left it as a silly story from a silly bunch of idiots. But then on a Thursday President Karzai went out of his way to announce the “blasphemous” act to his countrymen in time for Imams to rant and rave on Friday. And then the murders. A nice mix of politics, religion and other irrationalities.

  30. rjosephhoffmann: “Terry Jones “succeeded” because his intention was not just to cause trouble but to cause real harm.”

    You seem awfully sure of Jones’s intent.

      • The hallmark of the legal system in the US (ideally) is to err on the side of keeping innocent people from being punished realizing that that means that some guilty people go free. And that more restrictions on “free speech” tend to give too much power to the government. That is, the cost of living in a free society is wackos like Jones.

      • @Dave: I agree with this, ultimately. But I am not sure that free passes to all whackos can continue to be the case–partly (as in my most recent post) the world is much more volatile because of instant communication. On the other hand, anything but more power to the government! I think it might be good for the IRS to look at his books, however, as someone suggested.

  31. It is regrettable that we can’t simply threaten to burn Korans to keep the Islamic terrorists in line. Every killing would mean a thousand more Korans will be added to the incinerator.

  32. I find it odd that Karzai isn’t held to the same standard as this idiot pastor. While I don’t think the pastor did anything wrong, aside from the logic used to justify the burning, Karzai was far more instrumental in the violence than the pastor was. Why give Karzai a free pass? He’s a political figure that should have known better. What about the media. The news was whoring itself for ratings because this certainly wasn’t a worthy topic in the states… I mean… unemployment, the national debt, global warming and then this guy?
    Was he offensive? Yes. Is he responsible for the deaths? Absolutely not. You’re trying to justify mob rule because this guy is an offensive idiot. If he burned “The God Delusion” for the same reasons, I doubt you would have bothered to write about it. I doubt this guy would have gotten the same press for burning the bible. And why this guy and not the dozens on the internet that have been burning the Koran before him?

    • “You’re trying to justify mob rule because this guy is an offensive idiot.” Where, precisely is this stated or implied, or entailed?

      • “He is with us, and he needs to be charged with and convicted of murder.”
        I’d say that forgetting to hold the killers to the same standard qualifies or trying to justify the cartoons as being something different when they aren’t. These Afghani aren’t animals, they’re people who are just as responsible for their actions as you believe this pastor to be. You’re appeasing a group because the violence may be directed at you and by extension, your kin, which is just another way of expressing mob rule. As long as you don’t upset them, then you’re safe. I understand the whole ‘I want to live’ thing. But I also understand what mental slavery is. Dealing with this now will save far more lives in the long run than burying your head in the sand and hoping it goes away on it’s own.

      • You have to pay hit men, Eric; Jones could rely on his instincts about listless, angry Muslim youths. Have you ever met such people face to face? I very much doubt it. You bet they’re angry.

    • I don’t give Karzai a pass: anyone who instrumentally participated in the events bears a portion of responsibility. In ethics, unlike law and religion, we don’t talk about “guilt” (yes, it is odd that those two fields share that concept), but responsible moral action is a criterion and I think both fail that test. So (obviously) do the murderers!

  33. this is a brilliant post with the exception of one little error.

    We don’t have blasphemy laws in America. Nor will we ever have them.

    Good luck.

    • Is that what you think this post was about; and do you think that Jones himself was trying to “blaspheme” the Koran? Not so sure.

  34. Pingback: What is this, High Noon? - Butterflies and Wheels

      • Oh please. I join plenty of “sides” when it’s clear it will not work in my favor. I could have joined this one when I first saw it yesterday, without any worry that I would be crushed by the stampede in the opposite direction; I didn’t because I was hoping nobody would notice it. (If I had posted on it then, there would have been no chance that nobody would notice it.)

      • You are simply hosting the Gnu atheist admirathon. No wonder B&W has been disowned by more rational voices. Do you really think it’s the Feast of Reason? There is nothing any longer on B&W worth reading that isn’t cut from the same cloth. It’s a hornet’s nest to any disagreement. Your readers aren’t the least bit interested in civil discourse: when challenged they revert to the same tropes, and when that fails, invoke the myth that atheists have been persecuted historically. It is pure crap, it is untrue, and it really deserves to be outed. And why so brave–did they talk to you to talk back to Hoffmann and show some spine? Just asking? No, Ophelia: B^W is just a sounding board for like-minded hard atheist opinion. There are no butterflies there anymore just gasbags like the seminally under-qualified Eric McDonald and clowns like PZ Myers, who could benefit from a reading comprehension course with an emphasis on analogies. As I recall, Myers was lambasted as such at last year’s CFI 30th, so why don’t we say we are dealing with an atheist fringe that threatens always squandering its capital on its worst instincts?

  35. Burning a book isn’t a crime in America, and it certainly isn’t murder. Horrible, hate-filled things happen every day all over the world, but that doesn’t mean we throw free speech out the window.

    • @Karl: ” that doesn’t mean we throw free speech out the window.” –Much less that we let these things slide by as though they weren’t significant. I find a lot of respondents willing to stand up for “free speech,” as if this were the paragon case of it– almost no one entertaining the possibility that a right can be abused, thereby throwing the principle into as much jeopardy as if a Jones were “talked to” about the consequences of his actions. In fact he has been talked to. It hasn’t mattered.

      • Forget abusing such rights. When it comes to Islam, the only safe way to exercise your freedom to criticize a religious doctrine is not to exercise it at all. Of course, a billion Muslims around the world don’t give a brass button about what a bearded nutjob does to their holy book in gator country. But the actions of a lunatic fringe are enough to reconsider how much we can or cannot say.

    • @Karl: It’s a book to you Karl. It’s something more to the people who were shown video of the “execution” of their sacred scripture. Why would we superimpose your evaluation of the book onto them, knowing that you would shrug your shoulders and they would pull a trigger?

      • Seriously? Because they would pull the trigger, we should let them superimpose their evaluation of the book onto us? An evaluation that holds the ‘execution’ of a book more offensive than that of Daniel Pearl’s life?

      • I left Pakistan only after I was told that the PK security forces had notified the University in Lahore there was a well developed plot to kidnap me; I could have been Daniel Pearl, so don’t sensationalize this as though I don’t know the risks, or as though I am suggesting Islam doesn’t have its problems. That isn’t actually the question: the question is, where are the solutions–and my very strong opinion that American atheism has nothing to contribute to the discussion seems to make many people unhappy, esp the Fuck God Squad. I also know that we will alienate millions of potentially liberal minded people in the Middle East and Pakistan who aren’t willing to let go of God if we condone this Jonesean kind of lunacy in the name of free speech, because we think the West is a model that must be emulated in all things and to the same degee immediately. I am realy quite tired of reading posts from people who know almost nothing about Islam or the Middle east (I except you, obviously) as though they were mystically qualified to make pronouncements. I’m afraid that would include Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and (whazzisname?) Eric MacDonald (whose bona fides I am not familiar with). Sorry to hold this position; but that’s what it is.

      • “I am really quite tired of reading posts from people who know almost nothing about Islam or the Middle east (I except you, obviously) as though they were mystically qualified to make pronouncements. I’m afraid that would include Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and (whazzisname?) Eric MacDonald (whose bona fides I am not familiar with). Sorry to hold this position; but that’s what it is.”

        If you don’t know Eric’s bona fides how do you know he knows almost nothing about Islam? For that matter how do you know that about Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers? How do you know what they know? (Please don’t tell me that’s an epistemological question; I know it is; that’s what I’m asking!)

      • I do know it: they have no experience at all of the Middle East that would entitle them to the attitudes they present (image intended). They deal with stereotypes and flat images that would be repugnant to you if we were talking about women and not Muslims. Please let them speak for themselves, what are you–their ventriloquist?

  36. Have you ever answered how this is different than the motoons or van Gogh?

    The only difference I see is that he is an easy target of ridicule.

    As pointed out above, the law is pretty clear about thus case. You say that’s just law and not morality. That’s hundreds of years of jurisprudence that you casually dismiss. It’s absolutely informed by morality.

  37. rjosephhoffmann (April 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm) “@Dave: I agree with this, ultimately. But I am not sure that free passes to all whackos can continue to be the case–partly (as in my most recent post) the world is much more volatile because of instant communication.”

    It’s not clear that “all wacko” are being given free passes.

    There appears to be ample precedent that indicates that Jones is well-within the domain of legal free speech.

    “Instant communication” is an amusing phrase to use in this case!

    It’s stretching reasonableness that some one should be legally a “murderer” for a trivial act that happened 10,000 miles removed and two months prior to when the killings occurred.

    The fact is that the people who were motivated to kill don’t really need much of anything to set them off. That is the primary (and hard to solve) problem. Blaming Jones is avoiding the real cause.

    • So legal free speech is the base line? No concern over instrumental cause? Too abstract to consider? Just asking.

    • 2 months? No, two weeks. And your Muslims are naturally violent implications (“set them off”) is offensive. It’s easy for you: the cause is religion. Cure that, all’s well. Except it can’t be cured by some short cut that atheism proposes, can it?

      • rjosephhoffmann “2 months? No, two weeks.”
        Yes, two weeks (not two months).

        rjosephhoffmann “And your Muslims are naturally violent implications (“set them off”) is offensive.”
        No, I’m not saying that! People who manage to get violent over an act two-weeks old, 10,000 miles away clearly have some problem. We are talking about a tiny minority of people (fortunately) regardless of what religion they adhere to!

        rjosephhoffmann “It’s easy for you: the cause is religion. Cure that, all’s well. Except it can’t be cured by some short cut that atheism proposes, can it?”

        The cause is something much more proximal than Jones’s trivial act 10,000 miles and two-weeks away!

      • What would it take other than dead bodies to prove that his action wasn’t “trivial”?

  38. I find it funny that this article was created on April 1st, and contains the word “fools” in the title. It’s funny that it has become the most commented on post on the blog in a while. Often April Fools posts are forgotten the day after April fools day.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    • My first instinct was that this was an April Fools post, but it has got a heck of a lot of traction – PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne and others have all posted responses. I think I shall have to read some other Hoffman posts to see if this is out of character…

  39. rjosephhoffmann: “What would it take other than dead bodies to prove that his action wasn’t “trivial”?”

    It would help that the killing didn’t happen 10,000 miles away from the act! The act seems to me to be inherently trivial even though the response to it was not. It would seem that 2 weeks and 10,000 miles should have been enough of a gap between the act and the response to it.

    There’s a big/huge -something- unspecified in between the two!

    rjosephhoffmann: “Except it can’t be cured by some short cut that atheism proposes, can it?”

    Convicting Jones of murder isn’t any real short cut either. And that doesn’t really address the problem anyway.

    • Jones would never be convicted of murder; you’ve missed the thread. Do you think it would be useful to let Muslims know that even in this secular country where his rights are protected to engage in oafish behaviour, we understand their sensitivities–or is that just too accommodationist to consider?

      • Well, Obama could order the FBI to arrest him for ‘incitement’ or similar. I have no idea how long it would stick (and I am glad of that), but if you want to send a signal to the Muslim world that would be the way to do it.
        It might also provide an opportunity to lecture them in western theories or rights.
        The people of Egypt and Tunisia seem to have some pretty good ideas about the nature of citizenship and the power of the state.

  40. rjosephhoffmann: “Jones would never be convicted of murder; you’ve missed the thread.”

    Am I misunderstanding this?

    “He is with us, and he needs to be charged with and convicted of murder.”

    rjosephhoffmann: “Do you think it would be useful to let Muslims know that even in this secular country where his rights are protected to engage in oafish behaviour, we understand their sensitivities–or is that just too accommodationist to consider?”

    Nope. (I wonder, though, if it is at all possible to communicate that in a way would be heard and also not violate our basic principles (eg, of “free speech”.)

    • @David: I think this is called hyperbole, as in “There oughta be a law”–knowing there isn’t one. I think all religious fundamentalists who project the devil outward ought to look within. It’s much easier for the cracker and the insanely violent populations of Afghanistan to demonize each other because they are completely other to each other. I don;t have the answer Dave–maybe it’s an educational issue–but I’m not convinced. Do I think that Jones wanted death–of course; how else could he vindicate his actions? No payoff , no show. But it was as cheap a trick as if you were to say if I hit this dog it will yelp. Fortunately, there are laws against pet abuse, but none against Terry Jones–that might have saved a few lives.

      • rjosephhoffmann: “I think this is called hyperbole, as in “There oughta be a law”–knowing there isn’t one.”

        The tone of the rest of what you said may have obscured that.

        rjosephhoffmann: “Fortunately, there are laws against pet abuse, but none against Terry Jones–that might have saved a few lives.”

        Are you advocating such laws or is it hyperbole?

        I guess I’m not as clear that something else less offensive would not have had the same/similar outcome. (Didn’t some people get killed in protests about the cartoons?) It’s also not clear that we (the US) would not make thing worse by “fixing” free speech by limiting it even if those reasons seem “reasonable”. My opinion is that there is little meaning in being for free speech if it’s only speech one does not find offensive.

        Since it’s easy and natural to want to limit that which one finds reprehensible, it’s my practice to be very wary about accepting that as a reason to limit free speech.

      • rjosephhoffmann “Do I think that Jones wanted death–of course; how else could he vindicate his actions?”

        Did the Nazis in Skokie want death? Did Jones have any reasonable expectation that people would riot and kill people?

  41. Professor Hoffmann:

    The people whom you are arguing with (in general) don’t give a damn about the sensitivities of the Muslim world. They just don’t.

    I’m not sure what motivates them, but they are sure that they are right and righteous.

    They are right about many things and probably, more righteous than many, including myself, but crusades of righteousness do more harm than good and scare me, for what they reveal about the soul of the righteous.

    I admire your energy and resilience in facing down their arguments. I have seen their “shock and awe”
    verbal bombardments break the will (and the hearts) of better minds than mine.

    I see that you spent some time in Pakistan, and I (and probably others) would be interested in hearing about your experiences there at greater length. It may be that in prior posts in your blog, you have talked about Pakistan, and if so, I will get around to reading them in time. Best wishes.

    • Yes, regarding Pakistan, events this year with the 2 murders of people for suggesting that the blasphemy laws could do with some amendment have been deeply troubling.

      I saw comments from Pakistanis who said that the existence of a moderate mass of the populace was a myth. What do you think?

      • Outside a few populations it is a myth; only the well educated and wealthy are in any sense moderate. I had a security detail my whole time and even then, goin in and out of campus was always stressful–the price of being one of about a dozen westerners in a country that has become isolated–and that’s how the fundamentalism breeds. But moderate on the whole–No.

      • That’s a very worrying assessment.
        What does the existence (in Pakistan alone) of 100 million religious fundamentalists with a duty to conquer the world mean for policy?

        Is it submit or fight?

      • The one thing I’mm fully atheistic about is the reality of policy–I don’t think we have one. Strategies yes, long-term vision that takes account of a situation that can spin out of control in a second. No.

  42. Whose sensitivities are we supposed to understand, the murderers and the extremists who egged them on? No, I think we shouldn’t understand their sensitivities. There is no way to do that without giving tacit agreement to the killing of innocent people because of an insult by someone else far away. We have the right to speak and so do they, and no one has the right to target innocents because of what someone else says. No one, that is, loses their rights because of what these thugs do.

    A Pakistani official was recently killed for advocating changing the blasphemy laws. How gutless it would be if we who have freedom and safety to exercise it should break faith with such brave people. There are liberal humanists all over the world who wish to see us maintain our standards and traditions even in the face of the worst threats and intimidation. They expect us to show some backbone and not give in to rioters.

    And I’ve heard enough from those who wish to explain how things are in other parts of the world, because they only want to explain how things are with our enemies there, the ones who kill over insults, and not the views of the great number of people who are threatened by the same people. This is not, in the end, about what the killers want to do to us in the West, it’s about the power their violence gives them over the people they control. That’s the meaning of their religious violence, the political power they achieve by it. From this angle it’s clear that the appeasers are playing their traditional role of excusing and thereby supporting the worst elements.

    • @ErnieNoble principles, but there is nothing to suggest that this spasm of violence was anything other than a direct response to an event manufactured by a demagogue. To write it off as foolery is an option, though there is every indication that the intent was malicious. To begin to suggest that w can use Terry Jones as a poster boy for free speech seems ludicrous; can we reserve such advertisements for people who are brave, unpopular and right?

      • rjosephhoffmann: “To begin to suggest that w can use Terry Jones as a poster boy for free speech seems ludicrous; can we reserve such advertisements for people who are brave, unpopular and right?”

        What group’s standards for “brave, unpopular and right” are “we” going to use?

        The intent of free speech is not to protect wacky/false statements. It’s to avoid the tyranny of a process that determines what speech is acceptable.

        The fact that wacky/false statements are protected is really an unavoidable cost for the benefit of keeping government (mostly) out of the business of determining what speech is allowed.

  43. Yes, Terry Jones is a bloody fool for burning the Koran. And just as foolish are those atheists who want to uphold his ‘right’ to do what he did. The Law of the land, in this case the US, can only bestow or define what ‘rights’ are in a legal sense. But human rights are not subject to legislation. Human rights are inherent in us all; the right to life, the right to the freedom to sustain that life by developing resources that enable us to flourish. The right to life necessitates the right to value. (ie a diet of apples is of more value than a diet of donuts).

    And it is that right, the right to value, the most fundamental of all human rights in the process of living, that actions like those of Terry Jones has trampled underfoot. People value different things. Very often these values can be represented in symbolic form. A book, a cross, a ring, a flag etc. These symbols can reflect different values to different people. What is at issue is not the differing values – but that values are being upheld. Loyalty to values, not any particular value, is a necessary element in human living.

    To burn the Koran in a public and video related manner, as Jones has done, is to aim a bullet into the heart of what makes us human – our inherent need to value. Such an attack is not just aimed at those who hold the Koran to be a value – it is aimed at all of us who understand that to denigrate what others hold to be of value is to denigrate our own humanity.

    The Jones case is not answered by any legalistic argument that he had the right to do what he did but it would have been better if he had not exercised such a right. Legal arguments have their place. However, in the case of Jones burning the Koran there is more involved than what current US legislation seems able to handle. No, no one should be seeking legislation that prohibits people like Jones from burning the Koran – what could be done when next he advocates another Koran burning – is sending him on a free flight to Afghanistan or Pakistan – or if that sound like restricting the man’s freedom – invite a few hundred Muslims from Afghanistan or Pakistan to his Koran burning. Actions have consequences…

    The only real freedom we have is in our mind, intellectual freedom to create and to destroy ideas. Once our ideas are translated into reality, into the real world, then they become subject to the consequences that reality will have no compunction about inflicting. Not all of our intellectual furniture is suitable for our physical home….

    What are the fundamental reasons for the reaction of Islamic people to the burning of the Koran – what is being ‘attacked’ that these people feel a need to turn to violence? Are they just irrational and their Islamic teaching tells them to react – or is there a deep seated humanistic core that is being trampled upon – the violence being the wrong response – but a reaction is deemed to be necessary as a response to what has been slighted – what is that?

    “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose,”

    The words of Nelson Mandela from his prison cell on Robben Island’

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,988171-2,00.html

    To denigrate a man’s values is to assault the dignity of the man – and simultaneously to denigrate our own humanity. We are both diminished. There is no logic in blaming Muslims for lack of self-control when they deem it to be their own dignity as a people that is being demeaned. Dignity, loyalty, love, compassion, empathy etc are not restrained by logic. The Muslim manner of self-defence is certainly questionable – but to not expect a reaction when a bullet has been aimed at their most cherished value – that is foolishness on the part of those who deem it the ‘right’ of the man to light the fire to destroy the value of another man.

    (Obviously, when issues of theology infiltrating into social/political structures arise, these issues require that rational people mount the barricades…)

    • When it first saw this comment it struck me as so wrong-headed that I made a note to come back and respond to it. It is telling that Joseph has praised it.
      ==

      “But human rights are not subject to legislation”

      The ability to exercise ones human rights most definitely is subject to legislation.

      “right to value”
      (Which is a right which I claim does not exist, or at the least in unnecessary since, as I beleive is accepted, you cannot rule over the contents of a man’s mind)

      You seem to be classifying rights in the following hierachy: Life, value (including the right to have your values protected), liberty.
      Which is so obviously wrong-headed that I don’t feel the need to elaborate.

      ==

      “that to denigrate what others hold to be of value is to denigrate our own humanity”

      I do not have to value what others value. Indeed it is not hard to think of things that I abhor which others value, ie. neo-nazis value the swastika and image of Hitler.
      In that example is it not a necessity “to denigrate what others hold to be of value”, and by doing so do I not affirm my humanity rather than denigrate it?

      “invite a few hundred Muslims from Afghanistan or Pakistan to his Koran burning.”
      You seem to be advocating incitement to murder much more directly than Jones himself.

      “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose,”
      Unless I kill his brother or neighbour in response, in which case I will rob myself of my dignity.

      • MH: But human rights are not subject to legislation.

        Felix: The ability to exercise ones human rights most definitely is subject to legislation.

        MH: The ability to exercise one’s human rights is a function of a breathing living being. All legislation can do is make an attempt to safeguard the freedom in which one can exercise one’s inherent rights. Legislation can also do the opposite – as it did in South Africa for many years.

        MH: “right to value”

        Felix:(Which is a right which I claim does not exist, or at the least in unnecessary since, as I beleive is accepted, you cannot rule over the contents of a man’s mind)

        MH: Sorry, but your claim does not make it so – your claim that there is no “right to value” is pure nonsense. We value each and every moment that we breath. Sure, you ‘”cannot rule over the contents of a man’s mind” – and nor can you stop a man from thinking thoughts contrary to your thoughts.

        Felix: You seem to be classifying rights in the following hierachy: Life, value (including the right to have your values protected), liberty.
        Which is so obviously wrong-headed that I don’t feel the need to elaborate.

        MH: I’ve said nothing about having ones values “protected”. Legislation is incapable of doing any such thing. It’s not protection that values require its only acknowledgement that people have the right to have values – however contrary to ones own that they might be.

        MH: “that to denigrate what others hold to be of value is to denigrate our own humanity”

        Felix: I do not have to value what others value. Indeed it is not hard to think of things that I abhor which others value, ie. neo-nazis value the swastika and image of Hitler.
        In that example is it not a necessity “to denigrate what others hold to be of value”, and by doing so do I not affirm my humanity rather than denigrate it?

        MH: And I’m certainly not asking you do value what others value. All that is being suggested is that as you want to uphold your own values – that you grant the other human being that very same right – however inoffensive you might find their values to be.

        MH: “invite a few hundred Muslims from Afghanistan or Pakistan to his Koran burning.”

        Felix: You seem to be advocating incitement to murder much more directly than Jones himself.

        MH: Reality, I’m afraid, is a very harsh mistress. Put Jones and his Koran burning together with a group of Muslims who believe their highest value is being denigrated – and reality will have the upper-hand. Sorry, but that’s life. Don’t go thinking that turning the other cheek has any relevance here whatsoever. Don’t go thinking some sort of morality must come into play. When there is a danger to the things we value in life; danger related to how we perceive our existence to be; when there is the chance that we can lose our most cherished value – then it’s self-preservation that is at stake, self-defence becomes the amoral route in an attempt to sustain our existence.

        MH:“Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose,”

        Felix: Unless I kill his brother or neighbour in response, in which case I will rob myself of my dignity.

        MH: Dying in self-defence is to retain ones dignity. And that is the whole crux of this matter – people are prepared to die for what they value. And, no, it’s not a case of dying for some harebrained idea – it’s a case of being prepared to die, to sacrifice ones own life, for the only thing that gives human life meaning – the ability to value. Strike a woman, went a saying in SA during the apartheid years, and you strike a rock. Strike a man’s values – and you strike the very core of his being…

      • Brilliant dialogue; I will call time out only if it gets dull! I’d be interested to know if either of you thinks there ought to be any attempt to prevent Jones “trying” the Prophet, in view of the effect so far. Presumably there is no way to prevent this–and a lecture on ethics is hardly to going to make a difference if the cameras are rolling.

      • MH: The ability to exercise one’s human rights is a function of a breathing living being.

        Women & gays in Saudia Arabia seem to be having a problem being ‘breathing living beings’, if they try too hard they get stoned to death.

        MH:your claim that there is no “right to value” is pure nonsense. We value each and every moment that we breath

        Yes, and we do it without the existence of a right.
        You cannot stop a person ‘valuing’, and the concept of rights exists to protect those things which can be denied.

        MH: Sure, you ”cannot rule over the contents of a man’s mind” – and nor can you stop a man from thinking thoughts contrary to your thoughts.

        Yes, that’s what it means

        MH:All that is being suggested is that as you want to uphold your own values – that you grant the other human being that very same right

        Maybe you didn’t notice, but you just moved from the right to _have_ value to the right to uphold/protect one’s value.
        In relation to the Afghan murders what you are now saying is that my right to protect my values is greater than this unconnected strangers right to life.

        MH: Don’t go thinking some sort of morality must come into play.

        Are you saying that the murderers, rather than just having a different moral code, lack one entirely?

        MH: Reality, I’m afraid, is a very harsh mistress.

        I thought we were discussing theories of rights, ethics and morality, not reality.
        The reality is that provided with an opportunity to incite a riot a small number of individuals did so, but we seem to be discussing it on the basis that the participants desired the outcome.
        If that was the case it would have occured in many locations on the globe – I did have a reason for entitling my first comment “In defence of Muslims”.
        However let us continue on this track.

        MH: Muslims who believe their highest value is being denigrated
        MH: “when there is the chance that we can lose our most cherished value”

        Surely you recognize the difference between denigrating something and it’s existence being threatened?
        After all there are 1 billion Korans in the world.
        Every Muslim involved was able to reach out his hand and touch his own Koran to calm his troubled mind.

        MH:Dying in self-defence is to retain ones dignity

        You really are singing the praises of murderers. Do you realise that?
        These men we not acting in self-defence, they were slaughtering human beings who had nothing to do with the dispute.

    • I’m extremely confused about what right is being asserted here. My conception of rights is as a balance between the autonomy and powers of individuals and groups. Saying that someone has “a right to” something implies that they can claim a certain aspect of public or private life without certain kinds of interference.

      If “the right to value” simply means the right to hold an express a moral, emotional, or aesthetic attachment to something without persecution, than that’s really part of the network of rights including freedom of conscience, thought, speech, and expression. Implicit in this are both positive and negative rights, the right to value things positively, and also the right to deny that some things have value, or to evaluate some things negatively (e.g. to consider the Koran to be a morally depraved book, despite the beliefs of others that it is intrinsically valuable). Certainly positive and negative evaluations are linked. There are some things that I would die (or kill) to protect that are not approved of by most Muslim communities, and thus a positive valuation of the former necessitates a negative valuation of certain beliefs among the latter.

      When you state that Terry Jones has “trampled underfoot” the right to value, I can’t understand how you can reach that conclusion unless you are making use of two further assumptions (if not, please explain):

      1) That the right to value includes, not only the right to express one’s valuation of something without fear of serious reprisal, but the ability to require others to respect that valuation even if they don’t share it. I find this strange; are all persons under an obligation to treat objects as valuable if someone who is watching believes devoutly in that value?

      2) That positive valuation of a symbol like the Koran takes priority over negative valuation of it. That is, Muslims, in asserting that the Koran is sacred and must not be assaulted, are asserting their right to value, whereas Terry Jones, in asserting that the Koran is demonic and must not be respected, is trampling the right to value.

      Furthermore, “rights” are usually understood to be areas of personal autonomy or identity to be protected, in a firm and principled manner, against intrusion. But this musing about exposing Terry Jones to the “consequences” imposed by Muslims sounds like an approval of mob rule. Are you asserting some kind of “right” for any group to attack those who desecrate their symbols? Is this even consistent with the sort of stable and principled society which the very idea of “rights” seems to require?

      I agree that surely we shouldn’t be “surprised” at this violence. And that the need that some Muslims feel to react or respond may even be “rational” within their system of beliefs and the values they have developed in response to those beliefs and the wider culture in which they live.

      I don’t agree that this implies that “There is no logic in blaming Muslims for lack of self-control when they deem it to be their own dignity as a people that is being demeaned.” Just because they have the right to hold certain values, does not give them an indefinite right to act upon those values without moral censor. Certainly, any action is perfectly consistent with at least some possible set of values or other. That does not mean that one can put forward one’s personal values as an excuse for any action. Such actions make one morally culpable for taking evil actions while defending bad values. Perhaps morally culpable for being negligent in evaluating one’s own actions and values. If that’s not something that anyone can be held accountable for, then there’s never been an unjust war to date.

      Lastly: “To denigrate a man’s values is to assault the dignity of the man – and simultaneously to denigrate our own humanity.”

      I feel that this is a thinly-veiled and naive relativism stepping in. If another man’s values promote that which I consider evil, how can I not disparage those values? The man’s personal sense of dignity may be rather irrelevant (my response may be not be based on my personal opinion of him at all). It’s certainly not realistic to say that I should renounce my ability to defend my values merely because such a defense requires me to show a lack of respect (even a non-violent one!) for another person’s values.

      • Perhaps there is a difference here – although of course the Prophet is also a cherished value – in that the one act, the burning of the Koran, involved a physical act – and the second proposed act is primarily an intellectual act – unless of course the madman Jones sets up some effigy of the Prophet…Then, methinks we are all in trouble. In other words – if Jones takes the intellectual act of ‘trying’ the Prophet into the realm of symbolism, via an effigy of the Prophet, then we are back to the same sort of issues that revolved around the Koran burning. Once images are involved, images that have some value to some people, then we have moved far away from burning pieces of paper or setting light to pieces of cloth. If Jones keeps his ‘trial’ to the words of the Prophet – and seeks to counter these words with rational argument – then he is on safer ground. Debate is fundamental to free speech and ideas, in and of themselves, have no claim to immortality.

        What to do if Jones does go for symbolism via some sort of effigy of the Prophet? I’m afraid the US is perhaps hoist upon it’s own petard! If the US is prepared to pay the price for it’s Freedom in copious amount of blood spilled in some foreign land, then, methinks, its moral standing has been lost. The world is now on our doorsteps courtesy of TV and internet. Which means the US cannot hid behind the notion that it is it’s Freedom that matters above all else. While Freedom is a primary value in the US, in other parts of the word, it is Law, in some form or another, that is the primary value. (these are broad categories not intended to bestow legitimacy on any specifics of either….). Obviously, no society can function rationally while going overboard with either one of these values. It’s the meeting place that has to be found where both Law and Freedom can cooperate instead of attempting to outdo each other.

        In one sense Jones is holding the US to ransom: the price the US must pay for my (Jones)freedom must be the blood spilled by those whose values I (Jones) ridicule, mock, denigrate, disrespect. Freedom for such an anti-humanitarian attack upon the values of another man – is Freedom with a price tag that is dripping with blood. That figure on the Calvary cross notwithstanding.

        There really is no contest here. On the one hand the many who are prepared to die to uphold their sacred values, values that are deemed to be fundamental to their identity, verse a man who is out to destroy, symbolically, the values of other people. There is no rational reason to suppose that there is such a thing as a right to do so. The ‘legal right’ argument cannot override the human right to hold values. Hence cannot be called upon to support the Koran burning of Jones – a symbolic act with the intention of denigrating the sacred values of others..

        What to do? A media blackout is not the answer in an age of instant news cycles and internet, as well as video and cell phone cameras. Legislation is a slippery slope. What’s left? Outright condemnation – from the highest quarters and constant media coverage of the man’s attempt to destroy, symbolically, the values others hold dear. Not appeals to reason but a constant barrage of words aimed at shaming the man. Time, methinks, for the US to stand up and deliver – to call upon it’s people to join hands in order to display what legislation cannot display – the willingness of a people to grant to others what they themselves cherish – the freedom to value. A value that is not self-defeating, is not a value to de-value the value of others.

      • I can’t hold the values of an individual or a group sacrosanct per se because the values may be toxic. Nor can I judge the “correctness” of the value by the intensity with which it is held or the number of people holding it. I am sure there are not nearly as many people holding Terry Jones’s position within the Christian church, broadly construed, as there are people who hold the Qur’an to be sacred. I think Terry Jones’s position is malignant and dangerous per se. That would not change if a billion people held it. I do not hold Islam to be toxic, but I do hold a certain view of Islam to be malignant. Large numbers of Muslims fret over this; but they can do nothing about it. When that large number is further radicalized by the actions of a malignant agent, turn violent, and kill. the act is not excusable–no one ever (least of all me) suggested such a thing. But a man whose theology is dangerous, whose view of Muslims, gays and other groups is perverted (Note: not insane, not demented, perverted and harmful), simply to excuse him as a lunatic with a private agenda is almost beyond measure ridiculous. Unbelievers, whose scorn for Islam exceeds their scorn for all religion by a fraction, are put into the awkward position of exercising (atypical) caution when pointing a finger at Jones or suggesting remedies: on the one hand, they know that his brand of Christianity, if it ever came to power, would silence them first; on the other, their contempt for Islam has accustomed them to write off all events within that religion as “predictable” violence. -Or to expostulate of the beauty of free speech, as though they don’t recognize Jones as an abuse of the principle and not its supreme iteration. (This is relatively new: the idea the First Amendment is strongest when hate speech is the most hateful, and colleges and universities are loaded with cases challenging a university’s right to regulate such speech, btw.) Maybe Jones is aiming for a First Amendment challenge; it would be even more publicity for him. But this demonstrates to me, on the one hand, how carelessly atheism has worked, and frankly how incompetent it is, in its assessment of religion, and how cases like this frustrate atheists into charging anyone who points this out as a kind of “heretic”–or pedant. (Though I like the sound of both).

      • Joseph,

        Firstly, please can you clarify what you meant by “Large numbers of Muslims fret over this; but they can do nothing about it.”

        You say that “simply to excuse him as a lunatic with a private agenda is almost beyond measure ridiculous.”

        However it strikes me that this is precisely what is necessary as Mary Helena says:

        “What to do? … Outright condemnation from the highest quarters and constant media coverage of the man’s attempt to destroy, symbolically, the values others hold dear. Not appeals to reason but a constant barrage of words aimed at shaming the man. Time, methinks, for the US to stand up and deliver to call upon it’s people to join hands in order to display what legislation cannot display”

        I will ignore your comments on atheism because it didn’t make much sense to me and I think it is irrelevant to the discussion.

      • Felix: Rather than going through a you said I said dialogue – and getting the discussion into all sorts of side issues, lets keep focus with what this is all about.

        1). A man, Terry Jones, burned the Koran. He did not just burn a book in his backyard or in his living room fireplace. He burned a specific book, the Koran. He did so in a public act designed to portray his particular, negative, view of this book – a book deemed to be of great value to millions of Muslims.

        2). The US constitution, by all accounts, (I’m not in the US) grants Jones the ‘legal right’ to do what he did.

        3). Far, far away, in Afghanistan, certain Muslims took exception to this symbolic act of denigrating their cherished Koran, ie their sacred value was demeaned, ridiculed, mocked and disrespected. They resorted to killing innocent people.

        OK – stupid, bloody foolish Jones and bad bad Muslims. And the moral of the story is? Freedom at any cost? That might well be the answer of those who see the figure on that Calvary cross as being somehow relevant to living in this world. But for those of us who see that the reality we actually experience is rather different – shedding blood has no value. The world we live in gets smaller every day – images travel at lightning speed. What happens in the US has consequences in Afghanistan. Consequently, to let this matter rest with name calling either Jones or the Muslims will not do. The US ‘legal right’ for Jones to do what he did legally, does not, simultaneously, also give him the human right to do what he did. And that is the issue here. A ‘legal right’ verse a fundamental, basic, human right to hold values. There is no such right to deny another man the right to hold values. The act of Jones in burning the Koran was a symbolic act – the man has no power to deny Muslims their right to value their Koran. It’s the symbolic representation of values that is the core of the present problem. Viewing the whole Jones debacle as no different than burning pieces of paper is a monumental failure in perception.

        Symbols are all around us. Shorthand, if you like, for expressing what words often fail to convey. Symbols have huge value – product recognition to tokens of love. Muslims value the Koran as the word of their god or their prophet. The Koran is their symbol of being connected to something outside of their individual lives. It’s not the pieces of paper – it’s the connection that those pieces of paper are only symbolic of – connection to some other spiritual reality. Images, symbols, are very powerful things. Not only in living but in death – the dead need their rosary in their hand or that crucifix laid on their chest. Words can fail us – images and symbols can sustain us.

        Felix: “I thought we were discussing theories of rights, ethics and morality, not reality.”

        MH: Remember that old song, love and marriage – go together like a horse and carriage…Without reality, without taking reality, human reality, into consideration, morality would become nothing more than wishful thinking…

        Felix: Surely you recognize the difference between denigrating something and it’s existence being threatened?”

        MH: As above – we are into the realm of symbolism not reality – not pieces of paper but symbols that represent the values of people.

        Felix: “You really are singing the praises of murderers. Do you realise that?”

        MH: Nonsense. What I do praise is that grand old Law of cause and effect – actions have consequences.

      • Sean: “There are some things that I would die (or kill) to protect that are not approved of by most Muslim communities, and thus a positive valuation of the former necessitates a negative valuation of certain beliefs among the latter.”

        MH: Perhaps a more charitable view would be that those values of others that we don’t share could be best described as our non-values . The values of others that we don’t share need not be given a ‘negative valuation’ just because we don’t find value in them.

        Sean: “When you state that Terry Jones has “trampled underfoot” the right to value, I can’t understand how you can reach that conclusion unless you are making use of two further assumptions (if not, please explain):
        “1) That the right to value includes, not only the right to express one’s valuation of something without fear of serious reprisal, but the ability to require others to respect that valuation even if they don’t share it. I find this strange; are all persons under an obligation to treat objects as valuable if someone who is watching believes devoutly in that value?

        MH. I would imagine that could well be situational. Does one forgo a wedding invitation in a church just because one is an atheist?

        Sean: “2) That positive valuation of a symbol like the Koran takes priority over negative valuation of it. That is, Muslims, in asserting that the Koran is sacred and must not be assaulted, are asserting their right to value, whereas Terry Jones, in asserting that the Koran is demonic and must not be respected, is trampling the right to value.”

        MH: Perhaps drop the ‘negative valuation’ idea. The Koran is a non-value to many non-Muslims. Terry Jones is not asserting his right to value – he is doing exactly the opposite – denigrating the value of another and thereby devaluing the very principle, the very need, for humans to hold values.

        Sean: “Are you asserting some kind of “right” for any group to attack those who desecrate their symbols? Is this even consistent with the sort of stable and principled society which the very idea of “rights” seems to require?

        MH: Of course not. This whole Terry Jones debacle is not about upholding human rights – it’s the very opposite – it’s about the denigrating and mocking and debasing of the human need for values. That is what Jones has done – challenged reality, human reality. And reality, as always, will have the upper hand – albeit in this instance more like the anger of an earthquake than the beauty of that host of golden daffodils…

        Sean: “Lastly: “To denigrate a man’s values is to assault the dignity of the man – and simultaneously to denigrate our own humanity.”
        Sean: “I feel that this is a thinly-veiled and naive relativism stepping in. If another man’s values promote that which I consider evil, how can I not disparage those values? The man’s personal sense of dignity may be rather irrelevant (my response may be not be based on my personal opinion of him at all). It’s certainly not realistic to say that I should renounce my ability to defend my values merely because such a defense requires me to show a lack of respect (even a non-violent one!) for another person’s values.

        MH: Values and evil are contradictions. Values relate to the enjoyment and the furtherance of living a human life. There is no such thing as a value to destroy the source of values – human life. People do evil things but if people value evil things they are on a fast track to reaping the consequences that society will extract. We have got this far so looks to be that evil can be contained….

      • MH “Debate is fundamental to free speech and ideas, in and of themselves, have no claim to immortality.”

        This is a complete non sequitur in the context of all your arguments. But tell it to the religious fundamentalists.

        MH “The ‘legal right’ argument cannot override the human right to hold values.”
        MH “And that is the issue here. A ‘legal right’ verse a fundamental, basic, human right to hold values. There is no such right to deny another man the right to hold values”

        You need to clear up your confusion in either thinking about or expressing this “right to hold values”
        As you acknowldge in the very next sentence “[Jones] has no power to deny Muslims their right to value their Koran”
        The only way to deny somebody the right to value is to kill them. A living being has values and they are unreachable to another person.
        Do you believe that the right to have ones values protected outweighs the rights of others to free speech?

        “The US ‘legal right’ for Jones to do what he did legally, does not, simultaneously, also give him the human right to do what he did.”
        We agree on this since I maintain that his act was immoral, but that judgement does not provide a recourse to preventing the act, since moral judgement is individual and law is not.

        “Viewing the whole Jones debacle as no different than burning pieces of paper is a monumental failure in perception.”
        We can agree that many people view it as an important symbol despite the fact that their Korans are still secure in their pockets.
        But _if_ their values include the right to kill strangers in response then I claim the right to call those values evil.

        Sean said: “If another man’s values promote that which I consider evil, how can I not disparage those values? The man’s personal sense of dignity may be rather irrelevant (my response may be not be based on my personal opinion of him at all). It’s certainly not realistic to say that I should renounce my ability to defend my values merely because such a defense requires me to show a lack of respect (even a non-violent one!) for another person’s values.”
        Joseph said: “I can’t hold the values of an individual or a group sacrosanct per se because the values may be toxic.”
        Felix said: “Felix: I do not have to value what others value. Indeed it is not hard to think of things that I abhor which others value, ie. neo-nazis value the swastika and image of Hitler.
        In that example is it not a necessity to denigrate what others hold to be of value, and by doing so do I not affirm my humanity rather than denigrate it?”

        You haven’t provided a good response.

      • “The values of others that we don’t share need not be given a ‘negative valuation’ just because we don’t find value in them.”

        Not what I was saying. What I mean by negative valuation is the ability to judge something as inherently bad. I may believe that something valued by another is inherently the sort of thing that leads to evil. That’s usually not disregard for that thing, but a drive or obligation to oppose it.

        Regarding “reality”, when you propose confronting Jones with a few hundred angry Muslims, that’s not something as inevitable as an earthquake. That’s sticking your hand in it.

        “Values and evil are contradictions. Values relate to the enjoyment and the furtherance of living a human life. There is no such thing as a value to destroy the source of values – human life.”

        Maybe so, but this changes what you mean by “values”. Now you are saying some values just don’t count. But what about valuing “evil” things besides loss of life, such as pain or ignorance? What if I think some values are evil, not because any directly oppose human life, but because taken together they entail that some people don’t deserve to live.

        What if I think people are misinformed about what they’d enjoy? This sounds condescending, but I find myself in this position with respect to “ex-gays”, who seem to deny that one can be gay and happy. I’m sure the value they place on their ex-gay identity is considerable and that they enjoy aspects of it. It’s a real value, I think. But holding it entails holding anti-gay prejudice and supporting programs that do enormous damage.

      • I wish the two of you would structure positions on this and give them to me to publish on the site; it’s a fascinating topic and deserves more space than in the comments section.

  44. I still don’t think I have your logic yet…
    If a black man dates a white woman and the Klan lynches a half dozen black folk, is it the white woman or black man’s fault for inciting the killings of a group that feels really really strongly against this sort of thing? I only ask because I’m in an interracial relationship and I wouldn’t want to be the cause of someone getting killed over something that should be trivial.

    • @ Eric And in your analogy, what part of that relationship is being used deliberately to incite the Klan: i.e., where is your deliberate intent. In ethics we have to make distinctions between conditions, direct cause, instrumental cause and other continuing factors/ In your example, there is only the intolerance of the group you cite (or incite ;)); Jones’s action, was deliberate and intentional: he said so. Yours speaks to the cultural problem of unilateral bigotry alone. But nice try–analogies are slippery. And I’m being quite serious: most respondents are just quoting the law, without any regard for the larger ethical considerations involved.

      • It is a fair analogy because, technically, inter-racial marriage is still illegal in South Carolina, where I live. Now, it’s no longer enforced, but it’s still a written law, much like the Koran is written law for followers of islam. Inter-racial couples in the 50′s definately understood the social ramifications of being seen together because they were taught from birth (this is a generalization, but it is applicable) that it wasn’t allowed. Murdering a black man for being with a white woman was just as illegal here as killing someone in Afghanistan because some back woods fundie burned a book. These islamic followers are no different than the klan in enforcing their own social agenda. The koran is not some pretty moralistic book. It reads like Mein Kampf. It is not some buffet, where you get to pick and choose which rules you want to follow.
        Now, there are two reasons that the klan lost power. One, they were pissing off Hoover by pretending to be the law. Secondly, and more importantly, black people in general were willing to use violence to stop being treated like non-humans. The same thing is going to happen to islam because it’s an unfair and oppressive system. Do you seriously not understand why christianity has changed? Judaism, christianity and islam are fundamentally the same, except the first two have had their power reduced because their belief system is so barbaric. I really don’t understand why monotheism has ever been touted as an advancement from polytheism. At least in polytheism, a believer’s god could be wrong and make mistakes.
        Even if the book, that was burned, had been someone else’s private property, it does not justify the reaction to it. The President of my own country said that I’m not really a citizen because I don’t believe in a god. Did you see atheists riot and kill people? That’s no different than what this pastor did and yet for some reason we’re able to act responsibly.

      • Eric: “Even if the book, that was burned, had been someone else’s private property, it does not justify the reaction to it. The President of my own country said that I’m not really a citizen because I don’t believe in a god. Did you see atheists riot and kill people? That’s no different than what this pastor did and yet for some reason we’re able to act responsibly.”

        I’ve not read anywhere that the killing of innocent people is justified because some bloody foolish Christian burned the Koran. To keep repeating this ‘not justified’ Muslim response to the Koran burning is to lose focus of what is involved here. Even if there were no Muslims killing innocent people as a result of Jones burning the Koran – what Jones did is wrong. Wrong from a humanistic perspective – wrong because Jones denigrated another man’s sacred value – and thereby denigrating the very principle, the very need for humans to hold values.

        Christians hold the cross as the symbol of their faith. Muslims hold the Koran as their sacred symbol, their cherished value. That their sacred symbols are different requires acceptance of this fact not ridicule. And why is it that Christians can display toleration, albeit with teeth clenched, when their beliefs are ridiculed? Christian morality – love your enemies, turn the other cheek…Obviously, such a Christian morality is not conducive to living long on this earth……so the good Christians have to break their moral code now and again….But on the whole, love your enemies and turn the other cheek is a pretty good straitjacket in which to keep the masses in line for the hereafter….

        And as for the atheists – while condemning the murder of innocents is the humanistic thing to do – and it does not take being an atheist to do that – the Jones affair has left many of them in a quandary. Bewitched by the notion that freedom can trump the safeguarding and sanctity of the human right of all people to hold values – they have failed to condemn a man who has publically, symbolically, turned up his nose at this most basic of human needs: Jones has a ‘legal right’ – but perhaps he should not have exercised it…..what is that? Orwellian doublespeak…

        Yes, legislation against inter-racial marriage, is immoral. And yes, the killing of those who broke this ‘law’ cannot be justified. But lets take this a little bit further…

        Here, in South Africa, we had a similar ‘law’ – no racial mixing, no racial inter-marriage. Such a ‘law’, was, and is, an affront to human dignity. The black people here decided enough was enough – and so began a black/white struggle for political power. And yes, violence was used in the process of safeguarding their human dignity against the white man’s immoral assault.

        The Christian who burned the Koran has assaulted the dignity of what it means to be a Muslim – an identity that holds as sacred the Koran. The Muslim response, like that of SA’s black population when an assault upon their dignity was made, turned to violence. Both responses are immoral – but that fact does not take away from the black people in SA and the Muslims in Afghanistan their right, their moral right, their humanistic right, to defend their human dignity. Indeed, ‘the end does not justify the means’ is not a moral code – but the assault upon human dignity justifies a response. The issue is what type of response – not that a response is unnecessary.

        “This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

        “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

        Nelson Mandela – April 20, 1964

        That, I’m pretty sure, is what many a Muslim feels when confronted with the denigrating of their most cherished value, the Koran. An assault upon human dignity, whatever it’s specific nature, needs, justifies, a response. We can debate the nature such a response should take – what we cannot do is deny the necessity for a response. Arguments about burning pieces of paper are a reflection of a dangerous lack of sensitivity …

  45. Perhaps there are some atheists who would benefit from reading Scott Atran. Methinks right now he must be pulling his hair out if he has been reading some of the atheist blogs re the Jones and Koran controversy….

    Anthropologist Scott Atran’s book:

    Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values and What it Means to be Human.

    Page 344-346

    Sacred Values:

    “Sacred values often have their basis in religion, but such transcendent core secular values as a belief in the importance of individual morality, fairness, reciprocity, and collective identity (“justice for my people”) can also be sacred values. These values will often trump the economic thinking of the marketplace or considerations of realpolitik.”

    …….Devotion to some core values may represent universal responses to long-term evolutionary strategies that go beyond short-term individual calculations of self-interest but that advance individual interests in the aggregate and long run. This may include devotion to children, to community, or even to a sense of fairness. Other such values are clearly specific to particular societies and historical contingencies, such as the sacred status of cows in Hindu culture or the sacred status of Jerusalem in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

    ……Matters of principle, or “sacred values”, are enforced to a degree far out of proportion to any individual or immediate material payoff when they are seen as defining “who we are”. Revenge, “even if it kills me” between whole communities that mobilize to redress insult or shame to a single member go far beyond individual tit-for-tat, and may become the most important duties in life.”

    ….Appeals to sacred values, then, can be a powerful motivation for making both war and peace. The issue for conflict resolvers is to determine how sacred values appeal to war and how they can be reframed to appeal to peace…..”

  46. Professor Hoffmann:

    I have never been to Pakistan or to any Muslim country. I live in Chile.

    However, in my experience, the majority of people, if not moderate, are passive and apathetic. They may pay lip service to fundamentalist religious doctrines, but in reality, what matters to them is eating well, their families, “what’s in it for me”, and the comforts of life. That makes sense, and I’m not criticizing what I might call “common sense hedonism/egoism”.

    Isn’t that true of the masses of Pakistan or have they, like the masses of Nazi Germany, for example, been radicalized beyond the point of no-return?

    (The above is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.)

    • @Sam: They will go with the flow–most are very poor, literate but not well read, and could be swayed by changes in policy; unfortunately their government is totally corrupt and tries to play cozy with the US while telling their own people they need to dislike and distrust us. In the general population, not a lot of internet–but that is changing. Flip of a coin. But there are some very nasty elements there also trying to win hearts and minds–we sometimes think we’re the only ones.

  47. RJH: “I can’t hold the values of an individual or a group sacrosanct per se because the values may be toxic. Nor can I judge the “correctness” of the value by the intensity with which it is held or the number of people holding it.”

    MH: Toxic values? It’s the reality of our human existence that necessitates that we have values. Not everything we can do is beneficial to sustaining our life. So, if we are rational people, we will value those things that enhance our existence. In other words, we have need of a value system. What is in that value system is, by definition, of value. What is outside it is not toxic values but non-values. Now, that might sound simple – but in practice all humans do value similar things. Family, friendship, loyalty, dignity, a safe environment etc. The standard of value is the same for all of us – the requirements for living a humane life.

    Indeed there are plenty of practices out there that some people might claim as their value – cutting the hands of a thief, stoning to death of an adulterous – these are not values but evil. No ‘law’ can change that fact. No magic, no sky god, can turn evil into value. That such things are allowed to function under a ‘Law’ is monstrous – but such evil does not negate the necessity for “Law’ to function in society. When such evils seek acceptance they should be hung drawn and quartered in the public square of sweet reason…

    Values are determined not by arbitrary dictate but by conformity to the needs of living a rational life.

    RJH: “But this demonstrates to me, on the one hand, how carelessly atheism has worked, and frankly how incompetent it is, in its assessment of religion, and how cases like this frustrate atheists into charging anyone who points this out as a kind of “heretic”–or pedant. (Though I like the sound of both).“

    MH: I don’t see any grounds for those atheists who uphold views, like those of Sam Harris: “It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” (Wikipedia) to decry the actions of Terry Jones. It’s a sad day for atheism. Caught up in it’s own rhetoric, the magnitude of the Jones debacle leaves such atheists with no rational counter to his wanton disregard for the values of other people – and thus by so doing – striking a match against the very nature of our existence – our need to hold values.

  48. Sean:” What I mean by negative valuation is the ability to judge something as inherently bad. I may believe that something valued by another is inherently the sort of thing that leads to evil. That’s usually not disregard for that thing, but a drive or obligation to oppose it.

    MH: 100 percent. Judge evil for what it. Evil actions are never values. Hence one is not denigrating or disregarding a person’s values by naming evil for what it is – evil.

    Sean: “Regarding “reality”, when you propose confronting Jones with a few hundred angry Muslims, that’s not something as inevitable as an earthquake. That’s sticking your hand in it.

    MH: Sure – that was just talk……However, Jones is only saved from this reality by the circumstances of distance…I believe the man now has a price on his head. (from Pakistan)

    “Values and evil are contradictions. Values relate to the enjoyment and the furtherance of living a human life. There is no such thing as a value to destroy the source of values – human life.”

    Sean: “Maybe so, but this changes what you mean by “values”. Now you are saying some values just don’t count. But what about valuing “evil” things besides loss of life, such as pain or ignorance? What if I think some values are evil, not because any directly oppose human life, but because taken together they entail that some people don’t deserve to live.”

    MH: No values are evil. Values relate to our human needs. Labelling such and such an act as a value does not make it so. The standard is human life and the requirements for it to be sustained and flourish. No change of position…

    Sean: “What if I think people are misinformed about what they’d enjoy? This sounds condescending, but I find myself in this position with respect to “ex-gays”, who seem to deny that one can be gay and happy. I’m sure the value they place on their ex-gay identity is considerable and that they enjoy aspects of it. It’s a real value, I think. But holding it entails holding anti-gay prejudice and supporting programs that do enormous damage.

    MH: Sure, people can have all sorts of illusions – but if a man says he is happy – then so be it. I really don’t think we should be about questioning people’s feelings – if I’m sad or happy it’s because that’s the way things are – and I would not appreciate some busybody trying to tell me that my feelings need to be tuned into their expectations…

  49. Felix: “The only way to deny somebody the right to value is to kill them. A living being has values and they are unreachable to another person.”

    MH: I really do hate to go around in circles….The issue is not denying anyone the right to hold values – that cannot be done. The issue is an attempt, by Jones, to denigrate, to disrespect a primary value that Muslims hold – burning their cherished Koran. It’s a symbolic action against the value of another person. It’s the power of a symbol to bring forth emotions that may indeed not be rational – but emotions nevertheless. We are not dealing with rationality, with reason and logic here. This is raw unfettered emotion. Dangerous stuff that does not take kindly to being told to calm down.

    Felix: “Do you believe that the right to have ones values protected outweighs the rights of others to free speech?”

    MH: I’ve not been talking about protecting values – values can stand on their own feet, on their own merit. They do not need any sanction, legislation or special pleading.

    “Viewing the whole Jones debacle as no different than burning pieces of paper is a monumental failure in perception.”

    Felix: “We can agree that many people view it as an important symbol despite the fact that their Korans are still secure in their pockets.
    But _if_ their values include the right to kill strangers in response then I claim the right to call those values evil.”

    MH: No such thing as a value to destroy the source of values. Murder is murder and those responsible need to answer in a court of law.

    Sean said: “If another man’s values promote that which I consider evil, how can I not disparage those values? The man’s personal sense of dignity may be rather irrelevant (my response may be not be based on my personal opinion of him at all). It’s certainly not realistic to say that I should renounce my ability to defend my values merely because such a defense requires me to show a lack of respect (even a non-violent one!) for another person’s values.”
    Joseph said: “I can’t hold the values of an individual or a group sacrosanct per se because the values may be toxic.”
    Felix said: “Felix: I do not have to value what others value. Indeed it is not hard to think of things that I abhor which others value, ie. neo-nazis value the swastika and image of Hitler.
    In that example is it not a necessity to denigrate what others hold to be of value, and by doing so do I not affirm my humanity rather than denigrate it?”

    MH: If someone is claiming such and such is a value – then the correct procedure is to test that claim against the only standard applicable – the needs, the requirements, of human existence. One does not denigrate values – one rejects evil in all it’s forms.

    Felix: “You haven’t provided a good response.”

    MH: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  50. Correction for: “Indeed, ‘the end does not justify the means’ is not a moral code – ”

    should read..

    Indeed, ‘the end justifies the means’ is not a moral code…..

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