05 April 2011

Pastor Jones and the barbarians

The religious nutters are at it again. Pastor Terry Jones finally made good on his threat from last year to burn a Koran, and mobs of barbarians in Afghanistan have reacted by murdering people who, as even their faith-addled brains must realize, have no connection with Jones.

The outrage directed against Jones raises three distinct issues. The first is whether his action was free expression and thus worthy of protection, or should he be penalized for it in some way ("held accountable" seems to be the favored weasel-word). Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham have suggested this. On that question, the answer is clear. Burning a Koran is an expression of a viewpoint. It harms no one and violates no one's rights (unless the Koran in question was the property of someone else who did not consent to its being destroyed). Jones's action was free expression deserving the full protection of the First Amendment -- period. No following sentence starting with "but".

The claim that it could be banned or punished as "incitement" falls apart on serious consideration. Muslims are humans; humans have agency and responsibility. The mobs in Afghanistan bear 100% of the responsibility for their own actions -- period. You and I, too, sometimes hear of things that shock and grossly offend us. We have the choice whether or not to react by murdering people. We choose not to.

The minute we decide that free expression can be limited because people offended by it might react violently, we've given a veto to whoever is most violent. If, say, one of those nutjobs who thinks Obama was born in Kenya threatens to blow up a building if you publish a blog post ridiculing the birth-certificate "controversy", then by the same argument, you shouldn't be allowed to publish it.

Again: It is precisely for such cases that the protections of the First Amendment are needed. The First Amendment is for people like the American Nazis, Pastor Jones, Imam Abdul-Rauf, Fred Phelps, pornographers, etc. Expression which does not shock or offend anyone has no need of any special protection.

(I'm well aware that Jones is a religious fanatic who probably believes things that would offend me as much as his Koran-burning offended the thugs in Afghanistan. That makes no difference. Offensive views must be protected no matter whom they offend.)

The second issue is the odd suggestion that there is some sort of equivalence between the Koran-burning and the violent reaction. Andrew Sullivan, who should know better, puts it thus:

"Both acts are, to my mind, egregiously unhinged. What on earth does it achieve to burn a holy book? And how screwed up is a religion which responds to this by murdering UN workers? Both mindsets are sick versions of religious fanaticism."

Nonsense. Publicly destroying the symbol of a belief system "achieves" the goal of dramatically expressing one's opposition to that belief system. It is not a violent act. It can't remotely be compared with murdering people because you are offended.

Finally, there's the old claim that religion and its symbols and trinkets are somehow "special" and more deserving of immunity from criticism and symbolic attack than other categories of ideas. This is what motivates some religious people to respond to non- violent blasphemy and sacrilege with violence or threats of it. The very fact that religion tries to impose such a limit on freedom of expression makes it more worthy of attack, not less.

I stand firmly by what I said here: In the face of such bullying, blasphemy is no longer merely a right -- it is a duty.

19 Comments:

Blogger Cyc said...

It has been distressing how I've heard more criticism of Jones' burning of the Koran than the murdering of the UN workers. It makes no bloody sense. Is it because some of these people feel they would have the right to do the same if it was their holy book? Is it cultural relativism? Is it just another excuse to try and limit the 1st amendment? Is it just idiocy?

05 April, 2011 07:45  
Blogger mendip said...

Bravo! Well put!

05 April, 2011 08:47  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

I keep trying to find the origin of this quote, supposedly from Elenore Roosevelt: "Nobody can offend you without your permission."

We have choices in our responses, we can choose to be offended or dismiss it offhand. Many, as I believe is the case with the rioters, merely exploit an opportunity to be offended, using it as an excuse to indulge in behavior.

What bothers me most about this whole incident is the obtuse way this story made it into the mass media. There was NO coverage about this pastor's intent or act in this manner. It made me ponder if there was some level of undisclosed "censorship". The story only broke when the Afghanistan riots brought it to the media forefront.

I have always been suspicious of the motivations of our mass media in deciding what stories get broadcast and which do not.

05 April, 2011 12:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Cyc: I've noticed that too. There seems to be an attitude that Muslims are like automata with no volition, and that only the Westerner to whom they react can truly have responsibility. Or maybe people are more scared to criticize the Muslims.

Mendip: Thanks!

RtS: Many, as I believe is the case with the rioters, merely exploit an opportunity to be offended, using it as an excuse to indulge in behavior.

Excellent point, and I bet there's a big element of that in it. Religion has a certain masochistic component, and there are those who revel in the role of being outraged and offended.

Then again, if they are so easily offended by an innocuous act by some person on the other side of the planet, they're giving just about anyone a lot of power over them. It would be easy for some person somewhere to burn a Koran a week and put it on the net each time, keeping the Legions of Outrage at perpetual full boil.

I have always been suspicious of the motivations of our mass media in deciding what stories get broadcast and which do not.

That's a whole bottomless pit of a topic in itself.

Apologies for the slowness in posting comments. I haven't had secure internet access most of today, and that's likely to remain true a good ways into Wednesday.

05 April, 2011 16:27  
Blogger John Myste said...

OK, the second article I have seen on this in the last few minutes. I have more work to do, but I must respond briefly. I did not read the whole thing, so I will return later, which may mean nothing to you, but it is of utmost importance to me.

Infidel, “the minute we decide that free expression can be limited because people offended by it might react violently, we've given a veto to whoever is most violent.”

Nudity is considered perfectly fine by some and yet prohibited in public by law. The law may have been originally established as a moral issue, but it certainly is not always considered such in secular society. I don’t mind nudity in public, so long as it is the nudity of others. Burning a “holy” book is considered a moral issue, but not always by secular society. We must try to weave our way around the violation of the “public’s” rights with that of private citizens who have no choice but to be in public. To me the question of whether a woman can remove her shirt in public as a protest of something, or whether a man can burn a Bible or other holy text in public, are similar. On the one hand, I think your point is well said, very well said. On the other hand, there has to be a minimum said of evolving laws that accommodate the tolerance of the general public.

So, after all that, my point is, I am ambivalent. I do not have moral issues with this. I am an atheist. I do have some issues with both the allowing of burning holy texts in public and with the disallowing of it.

Robert, I agree that you cannot offend me without my permission, but I give my permission and now I must fight back. You should not have done it, just because I authorized it, sir.

05 April, 2011 17:09  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Interesting posting Infodel ... coming from a person who claim's to be "liberal", and much truth to it as well. Just look at alot of the responses to this. And the pastor knew good and well that there would probably be lives at risk doing this as well ... despite any weeping he may give in the future. I know for one how sensitive Muslim's are to these thing's, but most likely wont kill over it, at least not in America ... I know from spending quite a bit of time over the last 5/ 6 year's with Muslim immigrant's from some of those countries. No ... I wouldnt do what the pastor done only because I know what the response would be ... but on the other hand ... this is why I explained before that I wouldnt want any of these folk's even as neighbor's or around my familia, we are culturally different, and many on both of these right/ left side's would disagree with me there, say I'm racist and/ or say that I should be more loving and invite these parasite's into my home even and love them. However, even though I wouldnt publicly burn their Quran ... make no mistake ... that doesnt mean I am liberated by pop culture standard's and am NOT a redneck Texas SOB ... I am ... I mean ... I am well armed for instance myself, more than the average citizen/ gun owner, even ammo with explosive tip's/ point's, that are designed specifically to get the job done ... so ... whether it is Christianity, Islam or any of these fanatic group's ... just come on my property bringing that trash ... and try me ... and see my response. Thank You ...

05 April, 2011 17:51  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

JM: Nudity is considered perfectly fine by some and yet prohibited in public by law.

Your point would be relevant to my argument which you quoted only if the law against nudity stemmed from a fear that people offended by nudity might react violently, which is not the case. Laws against nudity stem from the fact that many people would find it unpleasant to the senses. It's thus more analogous to laws against smoking or excessive noise in public places.

There have been cases where people have used nudity, even public nudity, as a form of protest, and the authorities have generally tried to accommodate this.

It's usually possible to accommodate both the right to free expression and the right of the general public to avoid excessively-obtrusive nuisances. For example, I wouldn't support Jones in burning a Koran in the middle of a busy street where he would obstruct traffic. His protest could be accommodated by his right to burn the Koran under circumstances that caused no immediate trouble to anyone, but with the act being well-publicized.

There is no such thing as a right of the public to not have someone desecrate a "sacred" trinket or otherwise insult religion. It would be impossible for such a fictitious "right" to co-exist with freedom of expression.

Every demand for progress -- for the abolition of slavery, for the civil equality of black people 100 years later, the push for gay marriage today -- has been highly offensive to the feelings of somebody.

The Koran, like most "holy" books, is nothing but a vomitous compendium of bigotry, lies, threats, and worthless superstitions. Such "holy" books deserve no more respect than Mein Kampf does. Religion, like slavery in an earlier age, is an evil to be expunged from the planet -- and I consider ridicule and insult to be crucial weapons in that fight.

05 April, 2011 18:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RC: Interesting posting Infodel ... coming from a person who claim's to be "liberal",

"Liberal" traditionally includes supporting individual liberty against the constraints of tradition and taboo. Liberalism also is normally anti-religious, or at least secular. It's conservatives who believe in the sanctity of religion.

And the pastor knew good and well that there would probably be lives at risk doing this

He certainly does, since everyone from the President to the military told him so, back when he originally threatened to burn a Koran back in September. He's a publicity-seeker and a nasty character, I have no doubt of that. But that doesn't affect the freedom-of-expression issue. As I said, the First Amendment is for people like him -- expression that doesn't shock or offend doesn't need any such special protection.

I know for one how sensitive Muslim's are to these thing's, but most likely wont kill over it,

This is another important point. I don't hear about riots over this by Muslims in Egypt, Indonesia, Algeria, Turkey, Iran, etc. -- only in Afghanistan. If Koran-burning is so inherently provocative to Muslims, why do we see such reactions only from small groups of people in only one of dozens of Muslim countries?

05 April, 2011 18:20  
Blogger John Myste said...

“Your point would be relevant to my argument which you quoted only if the law against nudity stemmed from a fear that people offended by nudity might react violently, which is not the case.”

Touché, sir, that is a good distinction.

“The Koran, like most "holy" books, is nothing but a vomitous compendium of bigotry, lies, threats, and worthless superstitions.”

I have not read the Koran, but the Bible fits that description.

“Such "holy" books deserve no more respect than Mein Kampf does. Religion, like slavery in an earlier age, is an evil to be expunged from the planet -- and I consider ridicule and insult to be crucial weapons in that fight.”

The books are worthy of ridicule. Good people who find the good in them, probably are not.

Every demand for progress -- for the abolition of slavery, for the civil equality of black people 100 years later, the push for gay marriage today -- has been highly offensive to the feelings of somebody.

True, but abolishing atrocity does not require burning Bibles.

There have been cases where people have used nudity, even public nudity, as a form of protest, and the authorities have generally tried to accommodate this.

Also true, sir.

As I said, I see the argument from both sides. Christians are not my enemy. The God of the Christian Bible is, but He is also the enemy of Christians. Many of them embrace the good and ignore the rest. They live by the same moral code that I do, but they attribute their morality to God. Some do, anyway.

05 April, 2011 19:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

JM: I have not read the Koran, but the Bible fits that description.

Trust me, the Koran is at least as bad.

The books are worthy of ridicule. Good people who find the good in them, probably are not.

I am generally careful to attack the ideas rather than the people. But wouldn't you consider a person who claimed to "find the good" in Mein Kampf worthy of ridicule? There probably is some good in Mein Kampf if you use non-literal interpretation and ignore the vast preponderance of hateful crap, but.....

True, but abolishing atrocity does not require burning Bibles.

But the basic principle of freedom of expression requires us to allow people to burn Bibles. And we cannot eradicate religion unless we attack it on every front.

Christians are not my enemy. The God of the Christian Bible is,

No, the God of the Bible is a fictional character. Belief in God is the enemy.

Many of them embrace the good and ignore the rest. They live by the same moral code that I do, but they attribute their morality to God.

But in doing so, they are embracing an impossible position, because the morality of the Bible flagrantly contradicts real morality. So long as people claim the Bible as a source of morality, there is the risk that they will ultimately decide to base morality on what the Bible actually says -- and that means endorsing slavery, genocide, subjugation of women, and murder of anyone who violates taboo, as moral.

Religious morality and real morality are irreconcilable. Ultimately only one of them can prevail.

05 April, 2011 19:37  
Blogger John Myste said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

05 April, 2011 20:50  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

06 April, 2011 03:24  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PS: Pat Condell has a message for "polite and deferential atheists".

06 April, 2011 04:18  
Blogger tnlib said...

Well, back to the subject at hand which, I believe, has to do with "Pastor" Jones and his right to freedom of expression and to the so-called related events in Af-stan. An excellent article and many equally good comments. Basically, I agree with your premise Infidel, as offensive as both incidents are to me.

I think Skeptic hit the nail on the head with his observation that the rioters "merely exploit an opportunity to be offended, using it as an excuse to indulge in behavior." I think we've seen a lot of this in our own country, for example, during the race riots. BTW, that is a quote from E.R.

This former media person who thinks the MSM has lost its way remembers the last brouhaha over Jones and how there was much commentary on his publicity seeking just as there has been about crazy Phelps. He's only been given the barest of mentions over the last few months. So, I wonder if that was the thinking behind not mentioning the burning - or possibly they didn't even know about it. Brian Williams did a segment on it last night - wondering how the news of it reached Af-stan when it wasn't mentioned here. Unfortunately, I didn't hear what he said but probably it can be found on their site.

I think the TP has received too much publicity (free), so I kind of welcome ignoring the antics of nuts like Phelps and Jones. This may be interpreted as selective news gathering but had not these heinous killings occurred the world would never have known about it and I think that would have been all to the good.

06 April, 2011 07:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

TNLib: Thanks. The looking-for-an-excuse-to-take-offense point has the corollary that if they weren't being outraged over Pastor Jones, they'd probably be outraged about something else. Islam isn't called the Religion of Perpetual Outrage for nothing, and Afghanistan doesn't exactly suffer from a lack of infuriated religious nuts killing people over something or other.

The media most likely had Jones pegged, correctly I think, as a publicity hound, not worthy of much attention in and of himself.

06 April, 2011 12:37  
Blogger godlizard (aka dotlizard) said...

I've been arguing about this for days. In one argument, someone actually compared Muslims to bears, as in, you wouldn't poke a bear in a crowded campground. People really do seem willing to consider the Religion of Perpetual Outrage as existing outside our social, moral, and legal requirements we hold ourselves to, and I don't understand why. If I take hostages and threaten to kill them unless (for instance) Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron stop spreading stupidity and lies, the police won't back away politely and go try and convince Banana Man and his moron minion to shut up, they'll haul me off to prison for a good, long time.

Don't get me wrong, I think Pastor Jones is an idiot -- and "attention hound" is a much more polite phrase than the one I use. But I support, and even celebrate, his right to be an attention-seeking idiot. In a corner of my mind I think I even harbor a little admiration for him, knowing that his actions no doubt make him a target for violence and death threats. Maybe admiration is too strong a word.

It's really better if we all do this -- like Draw Mohammed Day (the second annual DMD is coming up this May, btw). They can't kill us all. And if we cave in and appease them, we are affixing the stamp of approval on their actions, and encouraging them to continue.

07 April, 2011 12:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

GL: In one argument, someone actually compared Muslims to bears, as in, you wouldn't poke a bear in a crowded campground.

That's what it really amounts to -- by exempting Muslims from the same absolute responsibility for their own actions that other humans have, one is really treating them as sub-human.

Good analogy about Comfort and Cameron -- and of course freedom of expression applies even to idiots:-)

It's really better if we all do this -- like Draw Mohammed Day (the second annual DMD is coming up this May, btw).

I'll be sure to note that:-) In the meantime, there's this for inspiration.

07 April, 2011 13:10  
Blogger dmarks said...

I think Jones is detestable.

But he should have complete freedom to do this. It's not his fault that there are unhinged rabid dogs on the other side of the globe.

Face it: these savages will slaughter at the drop of a hat. If not for Jones, they'd kill over cartoons.

Robert said: "There was NO coverage about this pastor's intent or act in this manner"

Does it really matter? Nope.

11 April, 2011 19:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

If not for Jones, they'd kill over cartoons.

And if there's no provocation available at all when the mullahs want to trigger a riot, they'll just make things up. Some of the "cartoons" the rabble-rousers used to stir up the mobs during the Danish cartoon conflict weren't even real cartoons, but pictures they'd added themselves.

12 April, 2011 13:20  

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