Friday, March 23, 2012

Don’t Burn the Bible, Or This Kitten Gets It


via Patterico's Pontifications by Aaron Worthing on 4/4/11

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.  Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
Strap yourselves in, because this is a long one.  But hey, Rule 5 is in effect!
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.
Now let me start by saying that any person who doesn't burn a Koran and don't want others to burn a Koran because they consider it rude and they are nice people and they don't like to do that sort of thing, more power to you.  But everyone who says, "don't burn the Koran because those nutty Muslims might kill people" are getting it profoundly wrong, starting with Joe Klein:
Jones has a right to burn the Koran. And Rick Warren has a right–no, more than a right: a moral responsibly–to blast Jones for the nitwit bigot he is, and to rally mainstream evangelicals against this profoundly disgusting, and extremely dangerous, act. Warren tries to stay out of the political spotlight and he is to be admired for that. But this is different and, as David Petraeus warned last time Jones threatened this sort of unChristian behavior, not just the lives of unarmed UN and other aid workers, but also of American troops, are at stake.
But there should be no confusion about this: Jones's act was murderous as any suicide bomber's. If there is a hell, he's just guaranteed himself an afterlifetime membership.
And we had Harry Reid declare for some reason that there should maybe should be hearings on the matter:
We'll– we'll take a look at this, of course. John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been on top of this. He's made many trips to Afghanistan.  And I think we'll take a look at this as to whether we need hearings or not, I don't know.
And in the same program Sen. Lindsay Graham said:
You know I wish we could find some way to– to– to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea but we're in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy. So burning a Koran is a terrible thing. But it doesn't justify killing someone. Burning a bible would be a terrible thing but it doesn't justify murder. But having said that, any time we can push back here in America against actions like this that put our troops at risk we ought to do it. So I look forward to working with Senator Kerry and Reid and others to condemn this, condemn violence all over the world based in the name of religion. But General Petraeus understands better than anybody else in America what happens when something like this is done in our country. And he was right to condemn it. And I think Congress would be right to reinforce what General Petraeus said.
Graham later doubled down:
I don't believe that killing someone is an appropriate reaction to burning the Koran, the Bible, or anything else, like I said Sunday; but those who believe that free speech allows you to burn the flag, I disagree. Those who want free speech to allow you to go to a funeral and picket a family, and giving more misery to their lives than they have already suffered, I disagree. And if I could do something about behavior that puts our troops at risk, I would. But in this case, you probably can't. It's not about the Koran; it's about putting our troops at risk. And I think all of us owe the troops the support we're capable of giving.
So he doesn't think he can ban it, but he would if he thought the law would let him.
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. 

So does drinking.  So does seeing eye dogs.  So does Piglet.  Indeed, opposing laws that would impose death for blasphemy apparently can result in death.  In case you missed it, for the radicals, it's the religion of perpetual outrage and offense.  Everything pisses them off, James, including you, me, and anyone else not being a Muslim.
The fact is Terry Jones didn't hurt a soul.  No actual people were burnt along with that Koran, unlike the girls in a Saudi school who burned to death because they were not allowed to leave the building in an "indecent" state.  And to assign blame to Jones, validates their psychosis.  They are told that not only is this considered normal behavior, but it gets results.  Not that they are likely to know or care about what you or I say, but they are likely to notice Senators Reid and Graham.
And that brings me to James the second point:
Second, Terry Jones is not a victim. He is safe in Florida; the people who were killed in retaliation for his offense–including, according to Agence France-Presse, "four Nepalese, one Swedish, one Norwegian and one Romanian worker"–had nothing to do with it.
Okay, then James, you have to tell us that you believe in socialism.  Or the kitten gets it:

I suppose if you don't care much for animals, I can threaten the life of a child instead, possibly even someone you love.  I mean if all it takes to coerce a person into silence is to threaten a third party, then our freedom is tenuous indeed.
(Note: to slow people, like Charles Johnson, I am engaged in a hypothetical. No actual kittens or people are being threatened, although I am not sure I can say that about the site I took that photo from.)
In the end, James, we have to pay attention not just to the situation right in front of us but the incentives we are creating.  Today they say, "don't burn a Koran or the kitten gets it."  Tomorrow it's don't vote Republican/Democrat or the kitten gets it.  Or don't speak out against the president.  So the correct response is to live brave lives where we say what is on our minds, with only the most limited restrictions on freedom (like you can't reveal troop positions live on TV, Geraldo) and of course our own self-imposed limitations on taste.
Finally, I don't buy the argument that this hurts our war effort, either.  As Mark Steyn wrote, this betrays a lack of confidence in our own superior culture:
The reason we're losing this thing is because of a lack of cultural confidence, of which the fetal cringe of this worthless husk out-parodies anything Coward could have concocted. When I'm speaking on this subject, I often get asked to reprise the words I quote in my book, from Gen. Sir Charles Napier in India explaining to the locals his position on suttee — the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Napier was impeccably multicultural:
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows.You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
In the absence of cultural confidence overseas, we are expending blood and treasure building an Afghanistan fit only for pederasts, tribal heroin cartels, and the blood-soaked savages of Mazar e-Sharif. In the absence of cultural confidence at home, we are sending the message that the bedrock principles of free, pluralist societies will bend and crumble in a vain race to keep up with the ever touchier sensitivities of the perpetually aggrieved. Claire Berlinski has it right: The real "racists" here are not this no-name pastor and his minimal flock but Reid, Graham, and the Times — for they assume that a significant proportion of Muslims are not responsible human beings but animals no more capable of rational behavior than the tiger who mauled Siegfried's Roy. If that is true, certain consequences follow therefrom. The abandonment of the First Amendment is not one of them.
We will not win this war by appeasement.
Of course I might be blinded by my own biases and experiences, but I will end by quoting from South Park on the Mohammed Cartoon controversy:
Freedom of speech is at stake here, don't you all see? If anything, we should all make cartoons of Mohammed and show the terrorists and the extremists that we are all united in the belief that every person has a right to say what they want. Look people, it's been really easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades, we haven't had to risk anything to defend it. One of those times is right now. And if we aren't willing to risk what we have now, then we just believe in free speech, but won't defend it.
Don't just believe in free speech.  Defend it.  Or at the very least, don't let the bastards bully you into silence.
Update: Newtons bit in the comments points out that Paster Jones didn't personally burn it, but instead ordered it burnt. The post has been appropriately corrected. And also corrected for embarrassing error about Lincoln's biography.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

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