Friday, April 08, 2011

Terry Jones and the Koran

 However much deference we show, it'll never be enough.

So on March 20, Terry Jones, a pastor in Florida, burnt a Koran had a Koran burned after finding it guilty of being an evil book that promotes violence.  The burning of the Koran in condemnation for its alleged violence then prompted three days of rioting and several people killed since last Friday by people incapable of recognizing irony or the simple fact that they were making his point.  I thought that everyone would understand who was and was not responsible for that, but apparently not.

But everyone who says, "don't burn the Koran because those nutty Muslims might kill people" are getting it profoundly wrong...

The logic is very simple.  Everyone knew that if he did this thing that violence would erupt, therefore he is responsible for the violence, right?

Well, with surprising frequency, we can cite Abraham Lincoln as guidance as indeed he faced a very similar situation.  In 1860, long before he was the Republican nominee for President, he confronted fears that this union would break if the nation dared elect a Republican president, addressing his remarks to the South:

But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is [clever]. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "[Give me your money], or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me – my money – was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

(Old-timey slang replaced with modern language.)  The metaphor works perfectly.  What the robber demanded of Lincoln—his money—was his own and he had a clear right to keep it.  But it was no more his own than my God-given right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion is my own, and the threat of death to extort Lincoln's money, and the threat of death to strangers to extort my silence, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

A more thoughtful response, meanwhile, comes from James Taranto of the Wall St. Journal.  He confronted this excellent argument by Mollie Hemmingway:

Basically, no matter how short the skirt the girl's wearing, she doesn't deserve to be raped. I always thought it was also wise to dress modestly but that wasn't the point. The point was that the rapist is responsible for the rape, not the victim or society.

Murdering people who have nothing to do with the Koran burning is another animal from rape entirely, but it is still surprising to me to see how the media suggests that the pastor who oversaw the Koran burning–Terry Jones–is responsible for murders he didn't commit. . . . Clearly the media is focused on the "short skirt" angle to this case.

And this is how he responded:

There are two big problems with this analogy. First, burning a Koran is an offense against Muslims, just as burning an American flag is an offense against Americans. It is not merely imprudent but morally objectionable. That does not justify a violent reaction, but it does make the provocation different in kind from that of a rape victim's wearing a short skirt. A better analogy might be to an adulterous wife who is murdered by her cuckolded husband. He is guilty of a serious crime, but it is also true that she wronged him.

I'll get to the second difference in a moment, but let's tear apart that first one.  James, in case you haven't been paying attention for the last…  thirty years, everything is an offense against radical Muslims.


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