The unrepentant Terry Jones

Over a week ago, we discussed the relative lack of coverage of a burning of a Koran some days earlier in Florida. The overwhelming response from readers to that post was that they hadn’t even heard about the burning. It was interesting to compare the non-stop, over-the-top coverage from last fall with the more appropriate and restrained coverage in recent weeks.

But now that mobs in Afghanistan murdered nine humans and injured 81 others in response to the burning of the book, we’re seeing much more coverage. And the coverage is very interesting. It reminds me of something I was taught in college about rape. 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.

So, for instance, here is NBC reporter Luke Russert on Twitter:

11 people lost their lives so Terry Jones could burn a Koran and feed the 24/7 news monster

Here’s The Guardian‘s headline:

Terry Jones defiant despite murders in Afghanistan over Qur’an burning
US pastor is showing no regrets about an act of hatred that provoked a massacre of UN staff amid deadly riots

The Christian Science Monitor decides to put freedom itself on the line:

The violent reaction to Terry Jones burning the Quran at his tiny Florida church continued to spread Saturday, and with it questions about freedom of expression with murderous results.

More examples at The Daily Beast and New York Times (albeit in an otherwise solid report). Special hat tip to Reuters for coining the term “extreme fundamentalist pastor” to describe Jones. You know, for those times that “fundamentalist” just isn’t derogatory enough.

So clearly the media is focused on the “short skirt” angle to this case.

Now, we all know that everybody in the states — from President Barack Obama to Sarah Palin (and even Jon Meacham!) — agrees that burning a Koran is not the wisest move. Neither is wearing a short skirt while walking through a part of town known for rapists. But something is rubbing me the wrong way here by blaming Jones for murders he didn’t commit. Apart from whether or not it’s fair to blame the maroon Jones, what I loathe about this approach is that it treats Afghans or Muslims as animals who can’t be controlled. You burn a Koran, they all kill recklessly! That’s not fair to them and it does a horrible disservice to the actual details of the story.

USA Today‘s been covering the story and religion reporter Cathy Grossman asks:

Who’s responsible for the death in in Afghanistan today? The mob fired the guns but who handed them the ammunition? The news media? Or Terry Jones?

Um, the people who killed are responsible for the killing (unless, again, we think Muslims are subhuman or something). But apart from that, consider the major missing link in between Terry Jones and the mob. Here are some key details from someone at UN Dispatch on the ground in Kabul:

Tonight, the governor of Balkh province (of which Mazar-i-Sharif is the capital) is telling the international media that the men who sacked the UN compound were Taliban infiltrators. That’s rubbish. 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.

This key detail — about how some middlemen fan the flames — was also under reported in stories about the Danish cartoons. Not that killing people or destroying buildings in response to cartoons is ever justified, but it’s also worth noting that clerics drafted new cartoons — far more offensive than anything that was actually published — and passed them off as also having been published. One picture they passed around was of a French comedian in a pig-squealing contest (complete with snout). But they claimed it ran in a paper with the caption, “Here is the real image of Mohammed.” So our options for considering who is responsible for the death and destruction in Afghanistan in recent days has to extend beyond the choices given above. And we can only get that full story with more thorough reporting — reporting that’s hard to do if we’re all obsessed about covering the relatively easy-to-cover and relatively accessible and English-speaking Terry Jones.

CNN, for what it’s worth, is apparently censoring its own interview with Jones. The fairly good ABC News bit embedded above does not censor Jones. It lets him speak before saying “his act of hatred inspired a massacre.” Which one is better? Oh who knows.

What I want more information on is what non-mobbing Muslims think about what happened. What does Islam teach about the appropriate response to the burning of a sacred book? What do other religions do when their sacred books are torched? I know about Christianity, but what about other groups? There are so many good questions to ask, questions for which Terry Jones is not the prime source or target. I’d like those questions looked at.

And if you’re interested in some discussion of media coverage of Jones, be sure to check out Grossman’s postings at USA Today‘s Faith & Reason and Michelle Boorstein over at the Washington Post.

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  • Rev. Dan Vojir

    Sorry, but the responsibility DOES LIE with Jones: it was done with malice of forethought and as such, murder. He gave a lame explanation – “somewhat of an awareness” – which nobody believes. There is a difference between thinking something “might” happen and knowing something will “definitely” happen. At the very least, Jones should be charged with treason or rank stupidity.

    Whatever the stance, HE KNEW VIOLENCE WOULD OCCUR, but didn’t care about the consequences just as long as got publicity.

    Remember, he’s an ardent fan of Fred Phelps.

  • Mollie

    Rev. Dan Vojir,

    Do you think the mainstream media should adopt the same template next time people respond poorly to legalized abortion, or a gay pride march, or a woman wearing a short skirt?

    If not, why not?

  • Erik

    Rev. Dan Vojir,
    Imagine, for a moment, that your post offended me to such a degree that I made dire threats against you and your family and promised to “definitely” carry them out if you ever expressed such an opinion again.

    Should my outrage thus command your silence?
    Do you realize that you are inviting censorship from any group with sufficient umbrage and willingness to violence?

  • Judy Harrow

    I don’t think Jones committed murder, strictly speaking. He did not intentionally kill anybody. But I do think a charge of “reckless endangerment” manslaughter would be justified.

  • David

    So, if I did have a Quran that I no longer need or want, and I don’t want any one killed by tossing it in the trash or burning it – how do I dispose of it? Is there a toxic waste drop off center for this book?

  • Mollie

    Everyone, keep comments focused on journalism.

  • Jettboy

    If there was a Bible burning, how many people would be killed for it? None. If there was a Book of Mormon burning (and in a way there is a socially accepted desecration right now) how many people would be killed? None. I can’t think of any religious group whose Holy Books would be burned and it would be a catalyst for murder. No matter what you think of Terry Jones, the Muslims are proving his views on them correct. They are not the religion of peace no matter how much media beats that hardly believed drum.

    “what I loathe about this approach is that it treats Afghanis or Muslims as animals who can’t be controlled.” Aside from the issue of if they are humans, are Muslims not proving every day that they cannot be controlled and therefore uncivilized? American’s unwillingness to speak out against Muslims is itself outrageous. Yet, everyday there is heaps of scorn on Mormons and Scientology (spearheaded by the media and entertainment) that pose no real threat to anyone.

    “You burn a Koran, they all kill recklessly! That’s not fair to them . . . ” It is absolutely fair to them, unless you don’t believe your lying eyes. It might be said that not all Muslims kill people because someone burns a Koran, but who is to say they won’t? How exactly do you pick out the “good” Muslims from the “bad” Muslims? The fact that Muslims aren’t makes it difficult for us outsiders to trust any of them. It shouldn’t be our problem.

  • Mollie

    But Jettboy, we haven’t even seen good coverage of what Islam has to say about these murders. That’s what we need, more than blaming Jones.

    What I’m trying to say about the current media coverage is that it may make us feel better, it may be a hell of a lot easier to tackle Jones rather than the doctrinal issues at play in Islam — but can we at least try to cover the actual issues? Then we can decide what’s fair and what’s not fair.

  • Pete S. S.

    I think that it would be useful to explore what the Quran actually is to an Islamic society and Muslims on the whole. It’s easy to call a lot of things a sacred text, but if that common denominator is taken as the fullness of a writing’s definition to the group that holds to it, THAT is when “reckless murders” seem to push the idea that Muslims are animals that cannot be controlled. But we should know that, as an example, the Bible is not shown, nor ever has been shown the same attitude by Christians that the Quran is shown by Muslims. Christians often admit to errors in Scripture, translation issues, even edits! And they read it aloud in any language they can find it in without an issue. Not so with the Quran–an insult to the Quran is more than an insult to the people or the religion. That has to be taken into account, I believe.

  • Dan Crawford

    What if the United States announced publicly that it would destroy 300 homes in a city, state or nation where the American flag was burned or stomped on? Muslims who justify the murder of human beings because of an offense against the Koran would be outraged at the United States, but the same moral principle used by murderous Muslim applies. The Florida “reverend” is contemptible, but he is not the one morally responsible for murder, and the more we blame others and assign moral culpability to anyone but those who commit the murders the more we will find ourselves in an ethical swamp.

  • Dave

    I have no problem at all with the press laying this mess at the doorstep of Jones. That’s honest reportage. Some of your cited examples were over the top, but they were overdoing something that should be done.

    I find your parallel with rape and short skirts absurd, dragging an unrelated issue into this matter.

  • Mollie


    Can you explain WHY you believe it’s honest reportage to blame Jones for murders he didn’t commit? More than just asserting that’s the case?

    As for parallels with rape and short skirts, the point is to think about how we assign blame. Obviously Jones wasn’t victimized for his act — other innocents were — but it’s about how we report responsibility.

  • David

    Jones and his cohorts provoked the Muslims to wrath, knowing full well the consequences. Of course he is culpable, if not to murder itself, to aggravated manslaughter. He hides under our liberties and innocents in countries who have no liberties pay the price for his cowardice. If he wants to make a statement that bad, let him prove his sincerity by laying down his own life: go to Saudi Arabia or Iran or any number of Islamist nations and try the same stint.

    He is doing this only because he can, and that’s because he’s an American.

  • Mollie

    And the above comment shows why the rape/short skirt analogy was used.


  • Nayak

    Terry Jones is no innocent girl wearing just a short skirt, he is stripped fully doing pole dancing by burning the Koran. What was he trying to prove? That Muslims will use every opportunity to kill? If he has a problem with what is preached in the Koran, why can’t he fly to Saudi Arabia and conduct a civil debate with an imam and enlighten the rest of us if his opposition to the Koran is valid?

    On the point whether Jones is responsible for the deaths of the UN workers: Imagine a child commits suicide after prolonged bullying from his classmates. Do you think the child is responsible for his own death, and that none of his bullies shall be held accountable? What about those teenagers who were criminally charged for the death of Phoebe Prince, for instance. Do you think they were wrongly prosecuted and sentenced?

    Jones is definitely taking freedom of speech a little too far.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I think I saw in only one place a mention in the media that the violence was originally stirred up by imams preaching at the Friday services–not radicals or secret Taliban infiltration. So shouldn’t the imams (their clergy) be blamed in the media for their incendiary preaching of violence toward human beings???
    And if most moslems are as against such things like these beheadings as the media claims–where are the Moslem leaders or spokespersons?? Is the media ignoring their statements or are so few and so mild statements against such being made that they aren’t news??? Doesn’t silence denote approval??? Or fear of one’s own co-religionists???

  • TCalder

    It’s soft bigotry to avoid holding Muslims to account for the murders of innocent people. The media reports news in a way that blames everyone else for something which might potentially offend a Muslim.

    I have news: NOT BEING MUSLIM offends the Muslims. The media should simply report an action, report the response, and leave out their biases. Most of us can figure out what’s really going on without the media’s “help”.

  • blar

    @Nayak: So the murderers in Afghanistan are analogous to Phoebe Prince? That’s absolutely perverse. As though the single act of a silly and hateful preacher on the other side of the world could visit the kind of abuse upon a mob of Afghanis that a coterie of bullies could inflict daily on a single girl. Or that murdering a bunch of innocent UN officials is at all as desperate or commensurate as an act of suicide in the face of bullying.

  • Harold

    The reporting (and opinionating) on the U.S angle by the U.S. press is confirmed by the comments here. There is a debate inside the U.S. about blasphemy and intentionally provoking what is, inevitably at this moment, violent reaction is a question that people are talking about It may not be what GR thinks they should be talking about, but I do think the journalism cited by Mollie is capturing the debate that is occurring right here in this post.

    I also have to say that the short skirt comparison is overly simplistic. The minister didn’t commit blasphemy with the same intent as a woman wears a short skirt. His actions were intended to provoke and purposeful. A woman who wears a short skirt isn’t intending to provoke a rape. IOW, she is innocent victim while the preacher is an intentional provoactuer. That doesn’t justify kilings, but it also doesn’t mean he should be a First Amendment martyr (although I’m sensing that’s how he will be portrayed in some circles).

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It is sad that you have to read specialized media or the internet to find–not opinion, but fact– about the treatment of Christians in Islamic societies. I was just reading an article in the Catholic periodical the National Catholic Register. It was full of factual information of what Coptic Christians endure in Egypt that have rated not a mention or little mention in the mainstream media. The article was titled: “Persecution Grows In Egypt-Revolution Ramps Up Anti-Christian Violence.” It was by Michelle Chabin their Middle East correspondent in Cairo.
    In fact, much of the little I have read in the mainstream media about the fate of Coptic Christians in Egypt these days has had almost a pollyanish attitude.
    One typical incident in the article involved a Coptic man and Moslem woman who became romantically involved. A male cousin of the Moslem girl murdered the girl’s father because he would not murder her for “staining the family honor”. The father’s son murdered the cousin to avenge his father’s death.
    Following the funeral for the father and cousin Moslems went on a rampage in the town, burning down the Coptic Church and terrorizing the Christians
    so that thousands fled the town in fear for their lives.
    This was not terrorists at work. But your mainstream adherents to the moslem faith. Every day you can find factual stories like this on the internet. Not reporting on them gives the media cover to attack people for even questioning if the media is correct in always talking of Islam as THE “religion of peace” as if it were more peace oriented than other religions.

  • Passing By

    American journalism spent decades overlooking, if not actively justifying atrocities in Communist dictatorships. Now, it’s Islamic culture that fascinates and sells newsprint to the likes of 11,13, 15, and others. One can easily suspect that were people like these actually made to live under Sharia law, their songs might sound different, less smug, less superior, less self-satisfied.

    What is this sickness that pervades American journalism, or more accurate, what sickness twists American culture to consume that journalistic product?

  • mattk

    “no regrets about an act of hatred”

    Do you think he meant this neutrally? I don’t. I think he labled the act as hatred because hate is something you aren’t supposed to do, even if something is worthy of hate.

  • Dave

    Mollie, Jones was fully aware that some populations would be inflamed into intemperate action. In the fact, the latter resulted in American deaths. I would not charge Jones with murder — I don’t know if any criminal charge could be brought — but the situation certainly stems directly from his criminal stupidity. For that he deserves the contumely of the populace and the media.

  • Bob Smietana

    The rape analogy doesn’t fit. Rev. was not murdered or attacked.
    His words however, had consequences. Especially riots followed his threat to burn the Quran.
    Seems more like a case of someone yelling for in a crowded room. Or lighting a match around gas fumes.
    It was at least unwise.

  • Mollie

    Spiking away, including comments making ad hominem attacks against President Obama. Not the site for such commentary, folks.

    On that note, President Obama just said “there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act.” Full statement:

    Today, the American people honor those who were lost in the attack on the United Nations in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

    Once again, we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed, and to the people of the nations that they came from.

    The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry.

    However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity.

    No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act.

    Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the U.N. workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan.

  • Mollie


    Placing responsibility for a crime on anyone other than the perpetrator is the point. We don’t blame women who dress “unwisely” for crimes. Obviously the murder of innocents is even less justified than a rapist crying “but but she was wearing a short skirt!”

    This is why the media need to spend more time finding out what people OTHER than Terry Jones think about the issue.

    Does Harmid Karzai regret calling for the arrest of Terry Jones, for instance? Do Muslim clerics regret “crying fire in a crowded theater” for instance? Those questions are much harder than asking an English-speaking, attention-seeking idiot whether he regrets his actions — but they’re infinitely more important.

    After we get the answers to those and other questions, by all means, ask Terry Jones a thousand questions about whether he feels responsible.

    But have some priorities.

  • Anti Dhimmi

    The ignorant reporting should not be a surprise to anyone, because journalists in the US are almost entirely ignorant of, well, just about everything. Most of what they “know” seems to be liberal bromides.

    How many of these reporters have ever read even one sura of the Koran? I would wager, none. How many of these reporters know what the Hadith are? I would wager, none. How many of these reporters know what Moslem theology teaches about the origin of the Koran? Again, I wager none.

    Look, if a sports reporter attempted to cover a baseball game without knowing a single rule of the game, the coverage would be simply pathetic. If a political reporter attempted to cover an election without knowing the names of any candidates, the political subdivisions in which the election was taking place, the party platforms, the coverage would be a joke.

    Yet it is apparently acceptable for reporters to cover Islam without the slightest knowledge of any aspect of the religion. And therefore, we get ignorant reporting.

  • Mollie

    Reminder to new commenters to read the comment policy before posting. For instance, we do require people use real email addresses.

  • Chappy

    I for one agree with you. And to the commenters above, Terry Jones did nothing to warrant what happened! Where are the Islamic avengers in his town and state that went to exact justice on him? Has he paid for his “crime”? That is like having my boss make a pass at my wife, curse my religion, and then I go home and murder everyone that lives on my street. There is no difference. Neither is justified. Despite what you have been taught, there is an objective right and wrong, and the media should look at the issue OBJECTIVELY and tell what really happened, and seek out others who can explain the religious and political scene there to them, rather than sitting in an office or traveling around this country trying to report on what happens on the other side of the world.

  • Harold

    Placing responsibility for a crime on anyone other than the perpetrator is the point. We don’t blame women who dress “unwisely” for crimes. Obviously the murder of innocents is even less justified than a rapist crying “but but she was wearing a short skirt!”

    First, the evidence you provide of journalists–as opposed to oponionators—doing this is sparse. I also think, as Bob says, that your comparison is naive and inappropriate and fails to grasp the significance of who what Jones did is perceived and Jones’ rationale for doing it.

    I also think you are asking journalists to do something that is impossible. There is no satisfying explanation for what happened and there is nothing a journalist can write or find out that will give us much explanation. The call for “why aren’t they interviewing Muslims about this” comes from as flawed a place as the idea that Islam is like Christianity in terms of the press allegedly believing that radical Islam is no different from radical Christianity in the West.

    Does Harmid Karzai regret calling for the arrest of Terry Jones, for instance? Do Muslim clerics regret “crying fire in a crowded theater” for instance? Those questions are much harder than asking an English-speaking, attention-seeking idiot whether he regrets his actions — but they’re infinitely more important.

    Are they, really? Or is expecting that there is a satisfying answer that some journalist can find a fools errand?

  • Harold

    I also want to defend CNN here. I think their decision not to show the interview–which is being decried as cowardice and censorship in some circles–is an example of responsible journalism. Airing an interview with him does nothing to move the story forward. He is not an innocent victim–like a woman who wears a too short skirt and gets raped–and journalists do not need to give him even more airtime.

  • Jerry

    Placing responsibility for a crime on anyone other than the perpetrator is the point.

    That statement and a lot of the coverage and especially comments here miss an important point. Jones did the equivalent of uttering “fighting words” and did it with malice aforethought. The news coverage should reflect that fact. I wish the news coverage had included a discussion of that legal principle, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942 because I think this is a classic example:

    There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting words” those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

    The resulting uproar we’re reading about including the actions of Al Quaeda to take advantage of it and the actions of fanatics and the effect of spreading rumors all of which is despicable.

  • Earl

    Journalists need to provide context, it seems to me, even when they are reporting things that they agree with.

    For instance, the President said:

    …No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people….

    Many of us would say “Well, Islam does…just look at the record.” And the defense would be “Even Islam does not tolerate the slaughter and beheading of the ‘innocent’.”

    The difficulty is in who is “innocent” in the eyes of a Muslim…and for many of them, anyone who refuses Islam is “guilty”, so that the President’s statement simply doesn’t offer you or me any protection at all.

    Whether he (or the journalist involved) is genuinely aware of this is another question, of course.

  • Maynard S. Clark

    I read in the Bible that parents are not to provoke their children to wrath. Why is any other spirit or attitude suitable when working with folks of another religion? Is provocation – are provocative actions – somehow excusable or even praiseworthy in this context? I think not!

  • Rick Ritchie

    It seems to me that freedom of speech is either a good that is good aside from any consequences arising from it, or that we decide its good by its consequences. If the first, then Terry Jones must be regarded as innocent. If the second, then we have to know which consequences fall to him. If he gets the blame for these deaths, does he also get credit if people wake up and see what they are dealing with? Perhaps this would lead to better US policy. And maybe having better policy will mean that not only fewer Americans die, but fewer foreigners die overseas as well. We’ll never know. Which is why we don’t decide things like this on the basis of consequences. We don’t know what they all are. We see some of them. We don’t see the alternate world where this didn’t happen.

  • Mollie


    You write that I only provided evidence of opinionators as opposed to journalists.

    Actually, I don’t think I included a single “opinionator” and only had examples from the mainstream media.

    So ….


  • Harris

    It would seem that the lack of coverage contributes to the problem. Without substantive coverage in the US and with it, domestic outrage, there was only the act and then the interpretation of others. The act was clearly intended to be provocative, and as such, the act carries a sort of accountability.

    A second analogy perhaps might be the “loose lips sink ships” messaging during WWII. Some speech is legal but imprudent.

    And that in turn, raises the third point: in an inter-connected world, can there exist parochial speech, or insider speech? This would seem to be the burden that Rep. Peter King had in his hearings, that some speech by Muslims was at the least, imprudent, claims of vast moderate speech not withstanding. This disappearance of local speech (and so local damage) will undoubtedly have other instances in the days to come, it’s the nature of our age.

  • Joel S. Gehrke

    But think about the pass to which we have come: We are in a society that portrays people who would use violence to defend the honor of the American flag as know nothings. The same opinion makers is deflecting responsibility for brutal murders committed on the other side of the world away from the perpetrators, to the actions of a lone provocateur.

    Mollie makes a concession that the guy who burned the Koran is an “idiot” who is looking for attention. Why is that disclaimer obligatory? Why is is offensive for an American to burn the Koran when we have watched Muslims call for “Death to America” since the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979? Are really obliged to muzzle ourselves for fear while people in our own country try to blow up Times Square and shoot soldiers in Texas in the name of Islam, and on the authority of the Koran which Terry what’s his name just burned? The most significant social insight that comes out of this is the reaction of the opinion makers in the USA. If someone depicts Christ in a jar of urine, that’s just art. If someone burns a copy of the Koran and calls that woman debasing, inhumane, militaristic menace for what it is, then the murderous reactions to his protest are imputed to him. That is screwed up.

  • Ben

    It’s a very small point, but Afghanis are what you call the currency of Afghanistan, Afghans are what you call the people of Afghanistan. That we still don’t know this 10 years into our war there makes me sad.

  • Mollie


    Afghani, according to Random House at least, means “a native or inhabitant of Afghanistan.”

    Obviously can also refer to a unit of currency.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Although I do not think people of one religion (Rev. Jones) should be burning other religion’s alleged holy book, he has every right to. It is just so hypocritical of so many in the media who jumped to defend putting Christ in urine (as Joel reminded us) but now virtually defend Islamic bezerkers who behead people over the exercise of a freedom in our country. They unwittingly make the awful case that we Christians should stop being so wimpy and take violent action against “artists”, the media ,etc. when what we consider sacred is violated by them. And if we did use violence–many of them have now already argued that we would not be at fault–they and the “artists” would be.
    But the truth is–the fault lies with those who did the horrendous deeds, and to the imams or mullahs who incited them. (They were the ones who yelled “Fire” in a crowded theater.) Rev. Jones’ actions were not in and of themselves immoral, illegal, threatening, or violent toward human life. What the imams advocated, what the moslem mob did, was all 4. And yet too many in the media jump all over Rev. Jones.

  • Ben

    The beliefs Christians and Muslims hold about their holy books are different.

    The Koran has a special status in Islam that sets it apart from the way many Christians view the Bible, for instance. While Christianity’s holy book is held to be divinely inspired and to have been set down by holy men, the words themselves are not considered a direct work of God.

    But most Muslims believe that the Koran was transmitted to Muhammad from Allah by the angel Gabriel nearly 1,400 years ago and written down precisely as Allah intended.

    In practice, this is one of the reasons observant Muslims are urged to learn Arabic, since a translation is deemed no longer the precise word of God. Strict Muslims are expected to clean themselves ritually before touching the Koran. They don’t allow the book to be set on the floor and, in some cases, hold that nonbelievers should not touch the book.

    That said, killing over desecration is something that should be treated with opprobrium, IMHO.

  • John M

    The Western media’s inability to convey the existence and point of view of a worldview where certain types of speech are actually worse than violence is a tremendous failure. I think Mollie is onto something here, that the Western media is (by and large) portraying Muslim violence in response to these kinds of things as akin to hurricanes and tsunamis: predictable to some degree, but uncontrollable, and with deeply mysterious root causes. The reality is that Muslims who act violently in response to things like Quran burnings are doing so from a worldview that makes sense to them. Why is it that so few Americans have the faintest understanding of these worldviews after, as Ben points out, nearly 10 years of nonstop war with two Muslim countries (maybe with Libya we can make the third time a charm)?

    I would like to submit my list of proposed questions for journalists to use to get at the root of this worldview:

    o How does it make you feel when people do things like burn the Quran (or make cartoons that mock Muhammad, or whatever)?
    o How do you perceive that organizations like the UN (or the Danish embassy or fill in whatever group got victimized in the riot) are linked to the Quran burning (or the cartoons or whatever)?
    o What message were you (or the perpetrators) trying to send, and to whom were you trying to send it?
    o How do you think the rest of the world sees your actions (or the reactions of your countrymen or coreligionists) in this riot?
    o What would you say to Terry Jones (or the cartoonists or whoever) if you were to meet him (them)?
    o How do you feel that things like this riot could be avoided in the future?

    Pay particularly close attention to the idea of honor and shame, and ask clarifying questions about those ideas. Honor and shame are driving factors in (most) Muslim cultures and are as alien to (most) Westerners as moon rocks.

    American proverb: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
    Afghan proverb: A bad wound heals, but a bad word doesn’t.

    And with that, I’d like to note that I’m a software developer by trade and not a journalist. But if any of the professional journalists here want to use or modify any of these questions, I’d be delighted if they did so.


  • Karen

    Here is how Al Jazeera English covered the killings:

    It’s television, so no in depth discussion of how different societies deal with desecration issues or blasphemy. Interesting that the demonstrators wanted a public punishment and have a different sense of how to deal with holy books.

  • Joel S. Gehrke

    It seems to me that John has put his finger on the divergent values that separate the mob in Afghanistan from cultural relativists who excuse their murderous reaction Koran burning and impute moral responsibility for their actions to Terry Jones. It really does come down to differing understandings of what is honorable (and therefore worth fighting for) and what is meaningless. Cultural relativists deny God. Since there is no God, it is morally impossible to blaspheme God. Therefore, the act of burning the Koran is seen as a gratuitous, merely personal, offense against Muslims, with no political value whatsoever.

    In contrast to the relativists, both Muslims and Terry Jones subscribe to a belief in God; to a Second Commandment which ascribes holiness to God’s name, and which attaches punishments to the misuse of His name. When Jones burns the Koran, that is blasphemy. St. Polycarp was called “the puller down of our Gods”, and the Romans burned him for it. That was an operation of the same world view that is in play here, when Muslims kill people in reaction to blasphemy by Terry Jones. Never mind that the victims of this latest violence were uninvolved with Terry Jones. They were westerners. That was close enough.

    I must disagree with the idea that Islam’s concept of honor and shame are more significant within their value system than in the values which are inherent to western civilization. Honor and shame are values which derive from the idea of holiness. The idea of the holy which has its root in the Book of Leviticus, and pervade western culture, thanks to St. Paul.

    Cultural relativists have been trying to root out and burn any concept of holiness for 120 years, but they are actually newcomers to the western mind. The only reason intelligent people suppose that Muslims have a sense of honor and that we don’t is because cultural relativists have replaced our historical self understanding with propaganda based on falsehoods. The only sense of honor or shame they have is a residual imperative to tolerate the opinions of others as much as their own agnosticism.

    By the propagation of this lone imperative, relativists are able to carry off twisted analyses such as that which occurs in the news coverage here. Result: (1) They condemn Terry Jones for disrespecting Islam because they hold him accountable to their relativistic ethical standards. (2) By operation of the same standard, Muslims who behead innocent people in reaction to Terry Jones’ statement are absolved, because they (the murderers) are expressing their religious convictions. For that reason, they come within the protective imperative of universal tolerance.

    And that is why I believe this overweening deference to Islam by American Christians is a pernicious impulse; precisely because, while masquerading as love, this tolerance is actually cultural relativism: While pretending to be intellectual sophistication, it is actually the ethic of unbelief. And that is why Terry Jones is more authentically Christian than folks who are so careful to make sure that we say “Afghan” instead of “Afghani” in the name of charity and love.

  • Chuck Long

    Nayak says:
    “What was he trying to prove? That Muslims will use every opportunity to kill?”

    If that was his intent, he seems to have succeeded.

    I find it amazing that the Make Believe Media will take every opportunity to disparage Christians of all stripes, yet continually turn a blind eye to the every day barbaric behavior of Muslims around the world. Terrorism, female genital mutilation, honor killings, forced marriages and an overall contempt for the most basic of human rights for any women whatsoever are simply not reported, and so it would seem, simply don’t exist in their make believe world where Americans — and especially American Christians — are the “extremists” trying to force their way of life onto an otherwise benevolent world. By refusing to report such atrocities, the mainstream, Make Believe Media share the blood of these atrocities as sins of omission.

  • Ben

    Joel –

    Woah, woah, woah, I actually agree with much of what you said in that post about the loss of notions of honor in the West. I’m not saying we should get the Afghan vs Afghani terminology right out of an ethic of “charity or love.” I just brought it up because it’s one of the first things you learn when you visit or read deeply about Afghanistan. (Yes, Mollie, some places will include the people as a secondary definition of “Afghani” but it’s really not standard.) One of the curious things about recent US wars has been the ongoing lack of knowledge about the people in those places. There was a poll of Americans several years into the Iraq invasion where a sizable percentage didn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shiite. That’s stunning if you think about it.

    And I’m not sure it’s fair to blame the media entirely for this. I know that the stories I file from Afghanistan which are heavy on Afghan voices and their perspectives are much less clicked on than stories which are basically about an American political dispute involving Afghanistan. For instance, a story about what Afghans thought of Obama’s surge did worse than a story about the Washington debate over the surge. Journalists could do a better job reporting Afghan voices, but we also need better readers — ones that will read those stories rather than the red-meat US political angles.

  • Joel S. Gehrke

    I accept that.

  • Harold

    Actually, I don’t think I included a single “opinionator” and only had examples from the mainstream media.

    Russert’s twitter to a story from another network is opinion.

    Daily Beast is written by an author/political operative, not a journalist.

    Guardian is a far left newspaper in the UK’s partisan newspaper world. It’s closer to Fox News than mainstream media

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Let’s try a different analogy: If Jones had contrived to (legally) put a stack of guns on the counter of a seedy bar where he knew violence was likely and the patrons of said bar grabbed those guns and killed people, who would be responsible? (Not a rhetorical question, btw. How *would* you parse the responsibility?)

    And as a matter of journalism, I thought the lack of coverage of the burning was an error. The probability that the images of that act would get into the hands of those who would use them to incite violence was 100%. Journalism can provide context. And while it’s likely that no act of journalism would have prevented this particular violence, perhaps it could have had an incremental effect — which is the best we can generally hope for.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    And btw, this system that allows a “low rating” to hide a comment may be the worst idea I’ve ever seen if the goal is free and open discussion of important ideas.

    I am *not* suggesting an unmoderated comments section. Been there, suffered through that. But the comments in this thread that were hidden by “low ratings” represent nothing more than positions considered unpopular by too many readers.

    We live too much in an echo chamber. As a matter of principle, I channel-flip between CNN, Fox and MSNBC — plus the broadcast news channels. And I read material I know I’ll likely disagree with. A comments system that allows readers to shout down unpopular positions is a terrible, terrible idea.

  • FzxGkJssFrk

    I agree with Jeffrey about the comment hiding based on a low rating. Simply because a bunch of us dislike a comment doesn’t mean it shouldn’t show up. I would leave the hiding to the site admins.

  • Mollie

    Re: Comment hiding … we had changed the settings so many more “dislikes” were required before a comment would be hidden. This is the first thread in a while where any comments have been hidden.

    I for one click on *all* hidden comments so I’m not even sure what hiding the comment accomplishes other than adding a layer of curiosity!

  • Dave

    Mollie: This is why I’m not bothered when one of mine gets hidden. The opinions of a liberal Pagan are sometimes disagreed with by a cohort of conservative Christians — big surprise…

  • Mollie

    Jeffrey Weiss,

    Well, I still believe it’s absolutely bigoted and reprehensible to act as if people are subhuman or somehow not be responsible for their own actions. So I would still place responsibility for killing with those people who kill.

    I think that if we’re looking for some way to absolve or deal with the fact that peaceful Afghan(i)s killed innocent UN workers, we should feel free to also castigate the Muslim clerics who incited them to riot.

    A free man burning a Koran or a free woman wearing a short skirt do not incite actions. They’re just exercising their freedom. To incite is to encourage the negative behavior against the cause. So the clerics are, reportedly, inciting the crowds to act violently against the (cause of) Koran burning. But the Koran burning is in and of itself an exercise of completely free speech.

  • Jerry

    A meta comment: Given the tenor of many of the comments, I’m not surprised that Mollie’s #6 asking people to keep to the purpose of this blog got a “hot debate” rating.

  • Dave G.

    And this is what you get when the narrative doesn’t match reality. Fact is, much of our ‘pop media’ has made it clear, as Tavis Smiley pointed out, that Christians are the most violent people in the world. That is a theme oft repeated. And yet, assuming there would come a time when the next Jesus covered with urine caused mass violence and killings on the part of Christians, I don’t see the media blaming the artists in question. Why? If Christians are that violent, shouldn’t we be scared to death that someone will anger them?

    And yet, only Islamaphobic bigots suggest that Islam and Muslims are somehow more violent, or breed a level of violence out of proportion of other belief systems. Yet, when this happens, there is almost no real focus on the violence itself, but on Jones who caused it. As if, calling Muslims violent or defacing something important to Muslims automatically leads to violence. As if that is common knowledge.

    Am I the only one who thinks the problem behind all of this coverage has been the attempt to build a narrative where one doesn’t exist, and deny the narrative that does?

  • Karl H

    Christians may not value the Bible in the same way that Muslims do the quran,but certainly the person of Christ is held in as high esteem among Christians as the quran is among Muslims. Yet images of Christ are subjected to blasphemous mistreatment in the US and Europe on a regular basis.

    You could argue that at one time Christians would have gotten up in arms about such blasphemy and at least expelled artists who suspend a crucifix in urine from the country. It could be the case that Christian passivity in the face of blasphemy is a result of the influence of the enlightenment rather than something that is native to Christianity.

    But in either case, sound reporting should ask, “Is this violence characteristic of Islam?” The reason those questions are not explored by the media is that they will likely come to the conclusion that the reprisals perpetrated in Afghanistan are sanctioned by Islam–by some or many interpretations of Islam.

    But even if that isn’t the case, they would certainly come to the conclusion that Islam mandates death for blasphemy. Unlike Christianity, which has ultraliberal and moderately liberal variants, Islam has no vocal “liberals” outside of the West, because the killing of heretics is still widely practiced.

    I think that’s the reason these questions aren’t investigated. What is bizarre is that Islam is passed off in the Western media as the Middle Eastern Christianity–basically a peaceful religion with a few radicals. At the same time we’re expected to understand that you should never provoke Muslims by insulting their religion. These ideas are mutually exclusive, yet they have convinced us to believe them both at the same time.

  • Dave G.

    If Jones had contrived to (legally) put a stack of guns on the counter of a seedy bar where he knew violence was likely and the patrons of said bar grabbed those guns and killed people, who would be responsible? (Not a rhetorical question, btw. How *would* you parse the responsibility?)

    That would work, if it was commonly accepted that the bar was seedy and violence was likely. But if we are told over and over and over and over and over and over again that only baraphobic bigots consider the bar seedy or prone to violence, then the question is, why would we suppose Jones is in any way guilty. And therein lies the problem. The attempt to say anyone suggesting a link between Islam c. 21st century and violence is just an ignorant bigot, and yet anyone who does something Muslims don’t like should be held accountable for provoking violence, is just a square peg in a round hole. Something has to give. Either Jones should not have assumed there would be violence. Or we should all admit that Jones should have known, and therefore is accountable to the fact, that violence would occure…since we admit there is a problem with violence in the Islamic world. It’s the calling a square a circle in how we’re approaching this that’s the problem.

  • Ben

    Nice back-and-forth on the seedy bar example. Maybe we aren’t clear though on what the bar is — Is it all of Islam or is it Islam as practiced by many desperately uneducated Afghans living in a country occupied by “Christian” nations where that occupation has been unsuccessful at delivering security and aid?

    During the cartoon riots a few years back, I seem to remember Egypt and some of the other Middle Eastern countries rioting. It’s interesting things are quiet now there. Does it help that they’ve released a lot of tension by overthrowing their Western-backed dictators? Why isn’t Pakistan rioting this time? I really don’t know, and I recently returned from there. My guess is that after the Raymond Davis affair, there’s a bit of exhaustion (among the religious party leaders who incite crowds).

    That’s not to reduce all this to politics. Islam and its teachings on the Quran and approaches to honor/desecration are definitely a part of this story.

  • Joel S. Gehrke

    So, let’s see what this incident reveals to us about what ABC news really thinks of Islam:

    1) ABC knows that iconoclastic, anti-Islamic speech in Florida is so likely to trigger violent, murderous reactions among Islamic people in Kabul that it is willing to fix moral responsibility for the violence to the speaker.

    2) ABC’s takeaway from this incident is that it is morally imperative on Americans to curtail the expression of opinions about Islam to the extent necessary to avoid provoking such reactions in places like Kabul.

    3) Islamic leaders (like Karzai, for example) believe that they have the moral right to demand that the US government denounce and even punish people who express anti-Islamic views within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States of America.

    In this context, it is morally incumbent on enlightened people everywhere who value their freedom of expression to support Terry Jones.

  • Ben

    One of the things that made the bar a bit seedier up in Mazar-e Sharif just prior to this terrible incident was the killing of Pashtun tribal elders by insurgents.

    As Joshua Foust over at pointed out at the time:

    This is worrying on several fronts: something like 70 Pashtun elders in Balkh [Province] have been killed since 2001, but something like 30 of those have been in the last year. The Taliban have an established a pattern whereby they kill off major figures in a community whilst encircling it and cementing their presence and enforcing control—like in the Arghandab in 2007. ISAF is still paying the price for declining to address, or arrest the decline in Kandahar during that time, and the precisely same pattern is repeating itself in the North.

    Tribal elders are among the competing voices of authority in Afghanistan and can represent a challenge to younger, radical hotheads.

  • Dave2

    I think Mollie is basically right. It is absolutely ridiculous that there should be so much coverage of Pastor Jones, and so little coverage of the individuals in Afghanistan. To be sure, Pastor Jones is an integral part of this story. But the Afghans involved are surely at least as important!

    The rape analogy is useful inasmuch as it illustrates two important and related points: (1) Reporters must fight against the revolting (but all too human) tendency to shift responsibility away from the actual perpetrator of a crime. (2) And against the revolting tendency to see criminals as wild animals incapable of controlling themselves, as if rapists and murderers were not adult human beings.

    But the analogy should not be taken any further: (1) It is a pernicious myth that one’s attire (e.g., short skirts) reliably raises the odds of rape; rape happens to all sorts of people wearing all sorts of clothes, and the only truly safe guess about a rape victim is that she is female. And the suggestion that someone “stripped fully doing pole dancing” can expect to be raped, or is somehow bringing rape upon herself, is simply stomach-turning. In contrast, the causal link between provocative anti-Islamic gestures and violence is a matter of journalistic record. (2) Women wearing short skirts are not engaging in a provocative symbolic gesture aimed at needling potential rapists. But Pastor Jones was doing exactly that to the Islamic world. (3) Women wearing short skirts are simply living their lives, at most hoping to provoke sexual interest from potential consensual mates and lovers. But Pastor Jones was going out of his way to be deliberately provocative to the cherished taboos of his enemies.

    That said, some here are badly exaggerating Pastor Jones’s control of the situation. Burning a Qur’an on Youtube is by no means guaranteed to bring a reaction: lots of people have done exactly that and been ignored, and it would not have been at all surprising for Jones’s stunt to have been ignored as well. Thus Jones did nothing like “yelling [fire] in a crowded room” or “lighting a match around gas fumes”. He did not “kno[w] full well the consequences”, because human culture does not operate in the simple mechanical fashion of a chemical reaction. He knew what might happen, but it was not up to him whether it did.

    He certainly did nothing akin to bullying: it is all too easy for people in the Islamic world to go about their lives without a care for the antics of a Florida pastor, whereas true bullies force themselves into the lives of their victims day in and day out. Admittedly, the world is remarkably interconnected these days, and in some sense Jones’s speech was not entirely “local”. But, leaving aside his family and neighbors, he still has only as much attention as others decide to give to him.

    The better analogies so far given are flag-burning or a gay pride march. They are deliberately provocative, though perfectly non-violent, means of confronting your enemies with symbols designed to needle them and their taboos. And then, since this was done on Youtube, it’s more like a Youtube video of someone burning a flag in their backyard, or a video of a gay pride march in a gay-friendly neighborhood.

    So the connection between Jones and the murders is not at all direct. There are middlemen involved: people who found out about the video and brought it to others’ attention, presumably with the goal of inciting zealous religious fury. These individuals have a much stronger claim to culpability then Pastor Jones himself. There is an all-important difference between burning a flag on Youtube, and showing this flag-burning video to a zealous nationalistic mob fully capable of turning violent.

    So the journalistic question is: who planned this demonstration in Afghanistan? Surely Mollie is not “asking journalists to do something that is impossible”. Somebody planned it, and plenty of people must know who did. Why don’t we know yet?

    As for Jones himself, there is a difference between blaming him for the murders (which would be simply asinine) and criticizing him for his decisions (which seems reasonable). To be sure, I find the media coverage repellent, what with its constant editorializing about Jones’s “act of hatred”. And moral appeals to the Bible’s teachings on provocation are worth nothing in an open discussion. And the doctrine of “fighting words” has not been upheld since Chaplinsky, and thus legal scholars contend that the doctrine is moribund and perhaps dead. But there’s nothing wrong with the rest of us recognizing the man’s idiocy and recklessness. Muslim “calls for ‘Death to America’” do nothing to justify Jones’s decision, for obvious kindergarten-level reasons.

    The rhetorical move of branding provocative speech cowardly—Jones is hiding behind American freedoms, Jones was not courageous enough to burn the Qur’an in Saudi Arabia—is absurd. There is a difference between cowardice and prudence. Someone who wishes to make a provocative gesture is by no means obligated to do it in the most dangerous venue available.

    Cultural relativism has nothing to do with it. It’s not as if anti-Jones reporters would excuse Jones’s behavior on the grounds that his culture is the one of intolerant US Protestantism, or would excuse the murders on the grounds that Afghan culture deems them justified. If anything, it’s closer to political correctness: reporters are squeamish about criticizing foreign cultures because they don’t know anything about them and they’re afraid of saying something offensive out of ignorance. This is also why reporters go after Mormons and Scientology more: these are American religions, so you know what you’re dealing with, and you don’t have to walk on eggshells. There’s also a significant element of religious toleration taken too far: people are unwilling to criticize religions because it seems mean-spirited, this being why Scientology always responds to its critics by likening them to Nazis and accusing them of spreading religious bigotry and hatred.

    Which brings us back to Mollie’s point: reporters ought to be doing their job, learning more and more about the culture of the Islamic world and about Islam itself, so that they can focus on the facts that need attention, without having to worry about inadvertently stepping on toes.

  • Joel S. Gehrke


    You wrote that cultural relativism has nothing to do with the analysis by western media and western opinion makers which fix moral responsibility to Terry Jones and which at the same time de-emphasize the actions of the mob; rather, you say that this bias is a function of “political correctness.”

    Sir, I recommend to your consideration that cultural relativism is a basic component of political correctness. For example, 200 years ago, Islam was universally recognized in the west as a false religion and a menace to western societies. For that reason, groups of people who united for purposes of tumult and disquiet for the sake of Islam would have been characterized as benighted, mindless hordes. Today, Islam has not changed, but the prism through which western mind views Islam has.

    Now there is an imperative that Islam be respected by people like Terry Jones. This imperative is a function of a new fangled proposition that all deeply and widely held religious convictions are entitled to respect, precisely because they are deeply and widely held, and regardless of their historical credibility. The philosophical underpinning of this imperative is the Kantian proposition that no one can really know religious truth in the first place. Since “time has upset many fighting faiths,” a muslim’s confession that “There is One God, Allah, and Mohamed is his prophet”, is just as valid as any statement in the Nicene Creed. That moral equivalence is cultural relativism, and it’s a major component of what you call political correctness. Therefore, I would urge you to reconsider your statement that cultural relativism has nothing to do with it.

  • Dave2

    Cultural relativism is directly incompatible with the proposition that “all deeply and widely held religious convictions are entitled to respect”. After all, cultural relativism contends that, if there were a culture that disrespected (or even persecuted) deeply held religious convictions, then that would be morally right in their culture.

  • Joel S. Gehrke

    Dave2: The fact that cultural relativism is applied in favor of murderous Islam overseas and not in favor of American fundamentalist Christianity and that it is absurd whenever it is applied at all does not further your argument that cultural relativism has nothing to do with the principles of political correctness which define the parameters of acceptable public discourse in America. As a matter of fact, your argument that cultural relativism is absurd is exactly why the western media have an indefensible position insofar as they impute culpability to Terry Jones for the violent actions of the people in Afghanistan.

    Islam makes it a central tenet to persecute infidels. Islam is a deeply and widely held religion; therefore it is entitled to respect by enlightened western minds. On these premises, cultural relativists impute fault to Terry Jones because he disrespected Islam. In addition, there is this bias to transfer the culpability away from the actors in Afghanistan to Terry Jones. Why? Because Terry Jones violated a central tenet of cultural relativism by disrespecting Islam and Islam makes it a central tenet to punish blasphemy with violence. The upshot is that Americans are being told to compromise their basic freedom to express their views in Florida in order to avoid havoc in Kabul. Look at this:

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Sunday (3APR2011) that some members of Congress were considering some kind of action in response to the Florida Quran burning that sparked a murderous riot at a United Nations complex in Afghanistan and other mayhem.

    “Ten to 20 people have been killed,” Reid said on “Face the Nation,” but refused to say flat-out that the Senate would pass a resolution condemning pastor Terry Jones.

    “We’ll take a look at this of course…as to whether we need hearings or not, I don’t know,” he added.


    So that’s what’s at stake.

    And this is why I think TJ is a watershed event in American life: He is making a very important point, which is that deference to the intimidations of Muslims or anyone else who lives 6000 miles away from Florida is inimical to the civil liberty with is of the essence of American freedom. He is saying: “King George, Don’t Tread on Me.”

    I agree.

  • Dede

    Joel- you can add S. Hannity to your list- today he said “If General Petraus asked me not to burn the Koran because it would make things tougher for our troops, I would not do it.” Whatever happened to “freedom isn’t free” The significance of the T.Jones provocation is missed on the Right (like Hannity) who just see it as inciting violence against our troops. On the Left, like the ACLU which lives and breathes to defend the First Amendment/freedom of speech, I believe it is more an optics problem with Terry Moore. Somehow the Left just can’t wrap its’ head around…”First, they came for the bible-thumping, gun-toting, white Southern evangelicals….”

  • Joel S. Gehrke

    You know, my position is a little more nuanced than that, Dede.

    If I had been a member of Terry Jones’ circle before he burned the Koran, I would have strongly advised him NOT to do it. As a Lutheran, I have a very strong sense that my callings in life are defined under the Ten Commandments. I would have argued that just because he (TJ) and I agree that Islam is a provocation and an existential threat to the American way of life, the job of defending the American way of life is with the President, the United States Armed Forces and the police. The problem with men like Terry Jones is that Christians who derive from the Calvinistic/reformed wing of the Reformation acknowledge no theoretical limit on an individual’s ethical zone of conduct: If something is wrong, then everyone and everybody has the duty to confront it. Therefore, if General Petraeus axed me (as he did Terry Jones some months ago) to avoid provocative actions in order to safeguard the lives of men under his command who are called and sworn and trained and committed to protecting the American way of life overseas, I would voluntarily curtail my First Amendment activities in deference to them and their mission. The complicating factor here is that Terry Jones chose to reject the counsels of prudence, and he acted: He burned the Koran in a manner calculated to provoke violent recrimination; his purpose succeeded, and lives have been lost. That is tragic, and we need to do what we can to minimize such loss of life. By the same token, we have no business standing before the world and apologizing for Terry Jones’ decision to speak his mind; much less should we punish Terry Jones in order to placate men like Hamid Karzai. Terry Jones may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch now.

  • John M

    Mr. Gehrke,

    What makes you think that Terry Jones comes from “the Calvinistic/reformed wing of the Reformation”? I don’t know much about the man, but his church’s web site are long on the five-fold ministry team and “apostolic anointing” with nary a doctrinal statement to be found. He and his wife are also co-listed as “Senior Pastors,” which is also dead flat common among Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, and rarer than hen’s teeth among the Reformed set.

    If you’d like to peruse his church’s web site and add to his likely already-ridiculous hosting bill, it can be found here.


  • Joel S. Gehrke

    You’re absolutely right, John. I think my Lutheran bias is showing by the way I label Terry Jones. Lutherans believe that Martin Luther was a corrective impulse within the medieval Catholic church; John Calvin introduced substantive changes to the character of the Christian faith, denying the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist, denying the efficacy of absolution, denying the doctrine of the holy ministry as a conduit of saving grace, and essentially denying the role of the church as the minister of God’s saving will on earth. In the place of these teachings, he introduced a principle of individualistic relationship between the believer and God. From there, you have the Mennonites, then Zwingli and the anabaptists, who denied Christ in the Sacrament; denied the office of the keys; denied God’s saving will in infant baptism, and who also introduced communism, polygamy, glossolalia, and many other evils, all rooted in the principle that the individual is the master of his/her own access to God. Then came the baptists (all 20 kinds), then the Wesleyan methodists (“For a close relationship with God, do this and that”); then the pentecostals (“If you want a higher walk, you must do this and that”) and people like Terry Jones.

    Lutherans see all these folk as gradients within a spectrum of people who have retained the forms that God has invested with saving power, such as baptism and the sacrament of the altar and the word of absolution spoken by the pastor; but who have denied their power in favor of individual spirituality, hand raising, praise, Sweet Jesus, etc. Because of this pernicious substitution, the American theological tradition has and always will produce strange birds like Terry Jones; men who falsely claim divine authority to burn other people’s holy books, or whatever else appeals to their inflated sense of vocation and makes them the center of attention. We don’t really see these impulses as divine missions at all. They are political statements which have to be treated as such.

  • Will

    When Hitoshi Igarashi was murdered in 1991, apparently in reprisal for translating THE SATANIC VERSES into Japanese, did anyone in the press blame Rushdie for “provoking”the murderer? I do not recall any.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Will @71 asks a very good question. Does Rushdie bear *any* moral responsibility for having written the Satanic Verses for violence committed as a result? For this example as well as Jones, we can try yet another analogy. This one is pretty familiar: Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

  • Dave G.

    This one is pretty familiar: Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

    Again, only if we accept that it is common knowledge it is a crowded theater. That is, if we accept that there will be violence in the Muslim world in reaction to such things. That is, there is a problem with violence in the Muslim world, it’s a fact, and it’s unique to that as opposed to say, the Jewish world, the Atheist world, the Christian world (none of whom have offered up mass violence and random killings in response to insults in recent years that I’m aware of). If we accept that fact, then sure, it’s yelling fire. But only if we accept that fact. We can’t say only bigots say there is a problem with violence in the Muslim world, and then act as if everyone and his brother should act as if it’s well known that violence in the Muslim world is the likely response to an action.

  • John M


    Folks who are Reformed (among whom I number myself) tend to see the world as of two parts: those who acknowledge the Doctrines of Grace, and those who don’t. Those who do are able to acknowledge a transcendent God who -really-does-save- and those who don’t are left with a wishy-washy synergism that leaves people with a grand sense of their own self-importance. I have a strong suspicion as to which side of this divide Terry Jones lives on, and why I’d reject any association of Terry Jones with Reformed strains of thinking.

    So I think it’s a very human failing to see things this way. And it’s probably very human of us to seek to categorize Terry Jones as “them” instead of “us.” Hmm, perhaps Christ is calling us to more than this. :)

    Dave G, someone else pointed out above that burning a Quran on YouTube doesn’t necessarily lead to an instant riot. But I’d add to that, “it does if you’re Terry Jones.” Selling guns to people doesn’t necessarily lead to instant killings, but it does if you’re the arms dealer to the Taliban or the Mexican drug gangs. Terry Jones knew what he was doing, and Hell is fuller now than it was a week ago, at least in part due to his actions. “Dove World Outreach Center”, indeed. I think Rushdie may well fall more into the “whoops” category, though I don’t know for sure.


  • Dave G.


    No, burning Korans doesn’t always lead to violence – but violence is enough of a potential reaction that everyone seems to think that it is a distinct possibility. I think it would be interesting to find out just why some things – the Pope’s famous Regensburg lecture back a few years ago, the Danish cartoons, this – lead to riots, violence, and death. And yet other individuals have trashed, thrashed, and flat out insulted Islam and burned Korans and there has been no reaction at all – even if they were on youtube and everyone knows it happened. That would be a great story to examine, IMHO.

    But the problem I have is the attempt to have one’s cake and eat it too. So when the NYT and other papers refused to run the Danish cartoons for fear of violence from that religion that the NYT and other papers insist only Islamaphobic bigots consider prone to violence. You have to admit, there is a problem there.

  • John Pack Lambert

    There was a Book of Mormon burning in Columbine, Colorado in late 2008. No one was injured as a result. Slightly later suspicious white powder was mailed to some Mormon temples. Newspapers across the country have been glorifying the mocking of Mormons of late.