Death by megaphone in Afghanistan

There he is again. In prime news territory in the New York Times, which offered Terry Jones another chance to speak for himself (while also, interestingly enough, stripping him of “the Rev.” in a violation of Associated Press style on clergy titles).

Jones pretty much says what you would expect him to say. There are no surprises, if you’ve been following this drama. I did find it sadly typical that most of the members of his tiny flock are carrying weapons these days. However, while pretty much the whole fundamentalist and evangelical Christian world has damned him, he is standing firm. But you know all of that, right? Of his actions, he notes:

“It was intended to stir the pot; if you don’t shake the boat, everyone will stay in their complacency,” Mr. Jones said in an interview at his office in the Dove World Outreach Center. “Emotionally, it’s not all that easy. People have tried to make us responsible for the people who are killed. It’s unfair and somewhat damaging.”

Violent protests against the burning continued on Saturday in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where 9 people were killed and 81 injured. The previous day, 12 people were killed when a mob stormed a United Nations building in Mazar-i-Sharif, though on Saturday the top United Nations official in Afghanistan blamed Taliban infiltrators for the killings. He said the victims had been deliberately murdered rather than killed by an out-of-control mob.

“Did our action provoke them?” the pastor asked. “Of course. Is it a provocation that can be justified? Is it a provocation that should lead to death? When lawyers provoke me, when banks provoke me, when reporters provoke me, I can’t kill them. That would not fly.”

And so forth and so on. Is Jones responsible for the slaughter? Of course, he is one of a number of people who have blood on their hands in this current situation in that his actions deliberately provided the spark that others fanned into flames, meaning that they chose to join him in this whirlpool of guilt.

However, key facts continue to be left out of the mainstream coverage, as M.Z. noted the other day. Is anyone seeing reports about the actions of the radical — perhaps multiple imams — who turned one Koran burned by Jones & Co. into hundreds of Korans burned by large numbers of Americans? Who is giving us the facts on the ground? Feel free to leave URLs in the comments pages.

At this point, I think it is safe to say that M.Z. is right and that UN Dispatch has become the essential publication for anyone who wants to know what is happening with this story in Afghanistan. That is the publication, after all, that told us:

Local clerics drove around the city with megaphones yesterday, calling residents to protest the actions of a small group of attention-seeking, bigoted Americans. Then, during today’s protest, someone announced that not just one, but hundreds of Korans had been burned in America. A throng of enraged men rushed the gates of the UN compound, determined to draw blood. Had the attackers been gunmen, they would likely have been killed before they could breach the compound.

So what is the bottom line? What is at stake?

That same post by Una Moore ends with this paragraph — which sums up my reading of this drama, at this moment in time.

This is not the beginning of the end for the international community in Afghanistan. This is the end. Terry Jones and others will continue to pull anti-Islam stunts and opportunistic extremists here will use those actions to incite attacks against foreigners.

So, are you seeing this complete picture in the newspapers you read and the broadcast news reports that you watch? Are you seeing the sequence of actions, choices and, thus, responsibility? Jones did what he did. The extremists did what they did.

Who is MORE responsible? That is a question that really transcends journalism. It does not help, however, if reporters edit the story to leave out key facts in this deadly equation.

So for now, it helps to keep reading UN Dispatch. I hope journalists start clicking there as well. Here is the latest from Moore — right here.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jettboy

    “a small group of attention-seeking, bigoted Americans.”

    What, exactly does that mean? When is one a bigot and another an activist? If it was a Muslim that burned a Bible I would bet no one would be calling them bigots. Nope, just “enraged men” who don’t like foreigners (not “anti-foreigners” mind you). Name calling isn’t reporting. Its commentary and biased.

  • Jerry

    You have to already be stark raving mad to kill people because some misguided bozo, on the other side of the planet no less, burns your holy book. … Plenty of Bibles get burned every year but you don’t see Christians slaughtering others because of it.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The only problem with spreading the blame around beyond the actual butchers and beheaders is the old saying (which is quite true) that if everyone is responsible, noone is responsible.
    And, unless the Times has found out the REV. Jones is not a duly recognized or ordained minister, their dropping his title is just more typical Times arrogance. Indeed, considering the way much of the news media usually slobbers over the Times, you can be sure he is no longer a minister in the rest of the Times’ worshipping community.
    By the way, does any reporter know the difference between an imam and a mullah?? According to my dictionary an imam is a prayer leader while a mullah is one learned in the Moslem religion and a teacher or interpreter of the religious law.
    Now, according to news accounts it is mullahs who have been inciting the violence and killings in most places (after the mobs were riled up by the imams in the Friday prayer services). So what does that do to Westerners-(especially in the media) who claim that they know the Koran better than the mullahs and imams and that the apparent widespread Islamic propensity for violence is not “real Islam.”

  • MarkAA

    Tmatt,
    I almost always agree with your analyses, but today I have to disagree with your post comment, “Is Jones responsible for the slaughter? Of course, he is one of a number of people who have blood on their hands in this current situation in that his actions deliberately provided the spark that others fanned into flames, meaning that they chose to join him in this whirlpool of guilt.”

    You meant it metaphorically, of course I get that, but Jones really has *no* blood on his hands. The burning was a stupid act to perform, sure, but he did not kill anybody; he burned a book. Others *chose* to respond with violence, mayhem and murder. They had a choice to not respond violently. He did not force them to kill or give up their self-control. Had he put guns to the Afghans’ heads and coerced them into killing others, then he would have blood on his hands. To claim that his burning of a book makes him guilty in the deaths of people halfway around the world implies that the Muslims who responded to his actions had no free will and were somehow powerless to behave without violence. This connects to journalism because we see too many reporters writing about Muslims as though they are some mysterious “other,” mysteriously, mindlessly driven to react with rage and violence, without any choice, inevitably. There is nothing about Muslims as human beings that makes them any less able to make free choices about how they will react than Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or Atheists. If a pastor or imam were to burn a Talmud, you would not see crowds of frenzied Jews killing people. They would choose not to react in the unacceptable, bloodthirsty ways these Muslims are doing. Let’s put the blame for the actual violence squarely where it belongs: On those who choose not to control their own ire.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    MarkAA:

    Sorry, we disagree. Based on previous history violence and death was a certainty.

    By the way, Jones disagrees with you too. He admits that his action was a direct provocation. Is that cause? Mighty thin line.

  • David

    tmatt:

    1. if I should bomb the gallery carrying this hateful and blasphemous exhibit while viewers are inside, are the artists and/or the gallery managers morally culpable for the deaths and injuries that ensue? To what extent, or in what sense, am I exonerated or excused?

    2. You need to revisit the literature on the problem of double-effect in ethics: if carry out out an action with one intention, and it has a different unintended, –even if forseen– effect, I am not necessarily culpable for the effect. (This is the basis upon which Catholic ethical teaching permits a doctor to give a lethal dose of morphine–if that dose is necessary for pain palliation. Augustine also has an example where a judge can properly engage in torture, even though he knows an innocent man will die as a result.)

    3. If I believe that in my role as a scholar and teacher that Muhammad is not historical, or that the Qur’an was not “revealed” in the years 610-632 CE (as taught by Muslim historiography), would I be permitted to teach that, even if I know people will die as a result of Muslim response?

  • David

    BTW, as observed by Don Surber, CNN is reporting that Ahmad Wali Karsai, Pres. Karsai’s brother said that “The protests in the last two days in Kandahar have no link to the Quran burning in U.S. at all, ….

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    I wonder to what extent discussions like these are taking place in newsrooms.

  • tipi tim

    And so forth and so on. Is Jones responsible for the slaughter? Of course, he is one of a number of people who have blood on their hands in this current situation in that his actions deliberately provided the spark that others fanned into flames, meaning that they chose to join him in this whirlpool of guilt.

    this is the best paragraph i’ve read yet about these events.

  • Jerry
  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    “he is one of a number of people who have blood on their hands”

    I completely disagree. He burned a book. On the otherside of the world some people decided to kill some other people who had nothing to do with the burning of the book.

  • melissa

    after i read the article in the nytimes sunday morning, i knew you’d post about it and couldnt wait to read your assessment of the (imo skewed) article. thanks for the even-handedness, and for the UN Dispatch link. keep up the fantastic work. its greatly appreciated!!

  • Daniel

    So when I yell “Fire,” in a crowded theater, I have not trampled anyone to death because I did not step on anyone? Rev. Terry Jones has engaged in irresponsible behavior. This does not remove the culpability of others for their irresponsible behavior. I’m a little unclear why this clarity has been lacking in news stories about these events. Seems like basic ethics to me.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    David’s point about double-effect is important. The problem is that, as tmatt pointed out, Rev. Jones actually did want to provoke a reaction.

    I participated in “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” a few months back. Protest rather than incitement was the intention there, for myself and at least the vast majority of other participants.

    Are the two morally equivalent, even if they had the same consequences?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Ray–you said “protest rather than incitement” was the intent of Draw Mohammed Day. But what if Moslems ARE incited by virtually anything you do?? Do they have the right to set the rules for American Freedom of speech or the press. Would cartoonists be the murderers if Molly Norris (the originator of the Draw Mohammed Day) had been beheaded instead of just terrorized.
    I say this because I went back through Google to the Draw Day furor of about a year ago.
    According to news stories at the time the Face Book page of Molly Norris was deluged with death threats. And according to the NY Times.com story on it, she changed her name and went into hiding. Later she abjectly apologized for starting the whole thing. In otherwords from standing tall for American freedoms she descended in fear to a state of dhimmitude ( a word from the Turkish Moslem Empire to denote abject groveling to Moslems). Is this America’s future as Islam grows here???

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan –

    But what if Moslems ARE incited by virtually anything you do??

    Some will be, certainly. Hence the focus on intent – are you doing something specifically to incite, or to protest violent responses, or just because you want to do it and the response of “Moslems” is irrelevant?

    In otherwords from standing tall for American freedoms she descended in fear to a state of dhimmitude ( a word from the Turkish Moslem Empire to denote abject groveling to Moslems). Is this America’s future as Islam grows here???

    Considering that Everybody Draw Mohammed Day happened anyway, and had a lot of participants… no, I don’t think so.

  • Julia

    It seems that a third Pakistani church has now been attacked as a result of the Koran burning. Pakistani’s will not listen to protests that the churches have no connection whatsoever with the Koran burner in FL in the US.

    http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Third-church-attacked-as-Pakistani-extremists-declare-war-over-Florida-Koran-burning-21147.html

    The attack on the UN facility is probably also due to the attackers associated it with The West. Everything seen as allied with the West is being blamed.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Spiking away.

    Journalism, folks.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Yes , Ray, you and other artists were not intimidated. However, we have no idea at all of how many artists(like Norris)–writers(like Rushdie)–Directors (like the late Van Gogh)–cartoonists (like the Danish cartoonists)- as well as editorial and news writers- have been intimidated into silence or hedging on what they planned to say or show by the violence and threat of violence directed at those who live by the First Amendment.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan – So, you can point to cases of some people who’ve been intimidated, and I can point to cases of people who haven’t. Sounds like a good opportunity for some investigative journalism to find out how many of each there really are…

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Ray–the point isn’t how many have been intimidated. The point is whether there are any at all in various forms of the media that have been–and still are– intimidated by the threats of violence and violent acts. And given human nature there is bound to have been some. Even one reporter or columnist or cartoonist or movie producer hedging because of fear or dropping a story or topic because of fear (sometimes subconscious and unrecognized) means the First Amendment has been successfully raped by the terrorists.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan – I’m sorry, that’s far too wide a net. If you’re worried about “even one reporter or columnist or cartoonist or movie producer hedging” then what about a reporter or columnist or cartoonist or movie producer “hedging” on what they wanted to say because of fear of blowback from Bill Donohue?

    (No, I’m not accusing Donohue of advocating violence. Just getting students expelled or employees fired.)

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The fulminations of a Donohue (who has been right far more than he has been wrong when he claimed something in the media was anti-Catholic)) are part of the naturally vibrant-even vehement- give and take of strong debate that if someone doesn’t like the heat they can get out of the First Amendment kitchen.
    This is a far, far distance from threats of violence or death that have been backed up by murder in the past.
    That there is even the slightest problem seeing the difference is a huge problem in and of itself.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan –

    This is a far, far distance from threats of violence or death that have been backed up by murder in the past.

    I know – calling for or carrying out violence is serious intimidation, and quite beyond the pale. As I said, Donohue certainly hasn’t crossed that line, and I have no reason to think he ever would.

    But calling for expulsion or firing is, indeed, intimidation. The HUAC hearings didn’t threaten execution, just imprisonment or blacklisting. That doesn’t mean they didn’t threaten the First Amendment.

    The calls for violence by some Muslims are bad because they cause intimidation, certainly. But they are primarily bad because they, y’know, are threats of (or actual) violence. Intimidation isn’t the primary issue there.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Is Afghanistan the only place where there is a reaction, or just the only place where it is covered? If it is the only place where there is a reaction, I think there is a story in why people are not burning American embassies all over the Muslim world and why American troops in Iraq are not attacked.


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