Deja Vu: How Tone Deaf Atheists and Blockheaded Muslim Haters Cost Lives

by admin Posted on September 15, 2012

In 2011, The Revd Terry Jones put the Koran on trial and torched it in his church in Lake City, Fl. He live-streamed the proceedings to ensure maximum effect abroad, and within 48 hours, eight UN guards had been killed.

I suggested then that in the cyber-age Justice Holmes’s comment about “falsely crying fire in a theatre” needed a new interpretation. It was no longer about a prank at the Roxie in Middletown, Ohio, where patrons might get jostled or knocked down in a stampede at the exits. Now it was about religion- haters in the Bible-belt trying to do harm without being harmed themselves. And nothing was clearer than that Mr. Jones wanted to cause harm.

My suggestion was that if he went forward with his plan, and if remonstrations to cease and desist (there were many) did not succeed, a restraining order should be issued to prevent Mr. Jones from carrying out his act of incitement. Such orders are issued for many lesser threats, ranging from domestically violent partners to annoying stalkers. And it was more certain that Jones’s actions presented a real threat (if not “a clear and present danger”) to Americans living abroad in the Muslim world.

But religion-haters come in different flavours these days. The Florida cracker flavour is matched by the piquant sophistication of new atheist Islam haters–even Christopher Hitchens was one. The atheist tack, of course, was that the “greater principle” of free speech was at stake in this struggle, and that no matter how obnoxious Jones is (very), his right to be obnoxious, even dangerously obnoxious, was absolute. Of course, the fact that Jones’s views about Islam happened to coincide directly with the views of the hate-mongers was of no consequence: it was ONLY about the sanctity of the First Amendment.

–The blockheaded response from atheist heavyweights like Jerry Coyne and P Z Myers was immediate: “Hoffmann coddles Muslim”.  Eric MacDonald, in a singularly ill-informed piece, wondered out loud if I hadn’t paid attention to the “cartoons controversy,” evidently missing the fact that I had written extensively on the topic in 2008 and had conditionally defended the right of Free Inquiry magazine, where I was an associate editor, to publish the cartoons in the US.

Past is prologue and now we see how history can surprise us. The hyperactive Rev. Jones could not slumber forever, not when a man who likes a mirror thinks he can influence a presidential election–which is fact is what this trick is all about.

Jones promised he would do better, and he has: this time with deadlier consequences, through one of his more media savvy, Muslim-hating accomplices.

I have just one question for PZ: What are you thinking now? God save the First Amendment?

Arrest This Man

by rjosephhoffmann

First Published: September 8, 2010

And his little Dove, too.  With predictable ghoulish clarity, the American media is goading the Reverend Terry Jones to follow through with his Koran bonfire on September 11th, while politicians (both kinds) and religious leaders of all stripes are urging him not to do it.

Of course, there is no story if he doesn’t do it–and media hate that.  And if it’s called off he will be called a coward for capitulating to the “supporters” of a religion he has t-shirted as “of the Devil.” Jones has stated that if Jesus was alive he would light the first match.  And he has said, as all cultic leaders do, that a gunfight with the police wouldn’t faze him and his followers: “We’re prepared to die for what we believe in.”  Echoes of another Jones, another catastrophe.

Mr Jones is all the usual cultic suspects rolled into one.  He is a gay-basher, a hate-monger, and a crusader for the old time religious value of intolerance.

He founded the Dove World Outreach Center as a front for his hate-inducing sermons and grandstanding.

He is a Christian Triumphalist with a clear millennial vision, which he saw previewed on Septmber 11, 2001: the first fiery signs that the Antichrist was entering the world.  He considers the pastors and priests organizing “prayer” and loaves of bread protests around him “lily livered Christians” for failing to stand up to the the threat of Islam.  –Although it is not clear why, if Islam betokens the end-time, Mr Jones would want to oppose it: in his theology anyway, it’s the last act in a very big plan wrought by God himself.

And what do Gainesville officials do?  Besides praying and dissuading, they have denied Mr Jones a burn permit.  Perhaps the next recourse might have been for him to order a hundred porta-potties to the parking lot of the Church?

But no, Jones says the burning will go ahead as planned. There’s something, as every Klansman knows, about a fire.

Meanwhile, we are all missing the point and the President of the United States is missing an opportunity.  The same president who personally intervened in a squabble between a fumbling Harvard professor and a Cambridge cop when the former locked himself out of his house is staying away from this one.

Despite the fact that the country is in wars with Muslims all over ther world, both hot and cold, and that the burning of Korans is likely to be seen as the most vicious symbolic attack on the Islamic faith since Urban II called the First Crusade.

There will be riots, there will be murders and bombings, there will be dead Americans and others.  All because one undereducated self-ordained cowpoke took refuge in the First Amendment’s free expression clause.

Loaves of bread, prayer marches and picket signs–”good religion” vigorously expressed–are not going to have an effect on this donkey of a man so deeply out of touch with modern religion that he may as well be Osama bin Laden’s cavemate.

Mr President:  You are a lawyer.  You know the Constitution. You know the difference between hate speech and incitement.  You know the line is thin, but that once it is crossed the damage cannot be undone.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes. During my time in Pakistan, in 2009, the mere rumour that some Christians had “desecrated” pages of the Koran led to disaster.

Four women, a man and a child died as Muslim militants set fire to Christian houses in the town of Gojra. Two men died later of gunshot wounds. Houses were burned and streets strewn with debris as people fired at each other from rooftops.  There were bloody riots throughout the country.  Then it was “revealed” that the rumours which led to the unrest were false and probably started by some children.

But Mr Jones is real. He will use real matches and real (if doubtless inexpensive) copies of the Koran.  This very dangerous man has publically announced his intention to flout the law and to cause riots, even gunfights.  He has already cried fire–real fire–in the crowded theater of global religious tension.

Mr President: Arrest this man.  Do not turn this discussion over to political theorists, Constitutional talking-heads and interfaith tweeps.

If the dignity of Henry Louis Gates was important to you and the chance to be seen defusing a “racial situation,” this is infinitely greater and a thousand times potentially more harmful.

Arrest him without delay.  Deploy the National Guard.  Surround the Church.  Be seen to be doing something courageous in this instance.

Your top general, not known for emotionalism, has already announced the consequences on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan.  But it will spread–you should pardon the expresion–like wildfire. You will have let it happen.

You will be criticized, but your critics won’t prevail in this argument: you are trying to prevent loss of life.  You are not trying to save Korans.

If you do not arrest this man, Christians in Pakistan, Lebanon, and corners of the Islamic world will be in jeopardy.  Some will be killed; churches will be torched.

If you do not do this,  American-Muslim relations, already lying in the dust will suffer an unimaginable blow.  And Muslim Americans will consider you weak and treacherous.

Please, Mr President: show us this man in handcuffs and a U.S. marshall doing his sworn duty before Saturday.

Thank you.

Bloody Fools

by rjosephhoffmann

First published April 1, 2011


It has been amazing and distressing to me that responses to this blog from a cadre of readers have focused only on the twin lunacies of Islamic extremism and Christian triumphalism.  Some of them want to vindicate Terry Jones as a kind of litmus test for their belief that a butterfly is enough to ignite the Muslim world–so why worry about an ox?  If there is logic there, it must be part of the initiation ritual.

Some have even taken the “What would you expect?” line, as though Mr Jones’s actions necessarily excited the “Muslim animals” and renders him, therefore, innocent.  From what tank is that slimy conclusion fished?  The further logic is that Islam is all about violence anyway, so a a little more (what’s the difference) can hardly be laid at the door of a Florida fundagelical.

Some respondents think that there is a moral equivalence, such that Terry Jones and the Afghan and Pakistani responders are cut from the same cloth. How that renders Jones innocent or raises the dead I am not sure. I find that kind of response both uninformed and worrying. Very worrying coming from nonbelievers, and maybe because it raises in my mind questions about whether a certain level of atheism isn’t also an impediment to moral reasoning–specifically that kind that finds all religions “naturally” guilty of atrocity and hence no one at fault and no one innocent of crimes.

Yet one wonders if Mr Myers–who also figures in this story–had been approached by NSS agents and told that his act of “desecration” would lead to the loss of life,  would have gone through with it.  Something tells me that the redoubtable Dr Myers would have relented. Because he knew his was a stunt.

Terry Jones’s acts were not a stunt: they were intended to light fires and kill innocent people.  Indeed they were done to prove that innocent people would be killed.  “For some of them,” he said, “it [the torching of the Qur’an] could be an awakening.”

…The world was reminded of the 30-person Christian congregation at Dove World Outreach Center on Friday, when a mob incited by the burning of the Koran attacked a U.N. compound in Mazar-e Sharif, killing seven U.N. employees. On Saturday, related protests in Kandahar left nine dead and more than 90 injured.

Jones, 59, had considered the possibility that burning the text might elicit a violent response and that innocent people might be killed. In his characteristic drawl — a slow-motion delivery that seems incongruous with the church’s fiery rhetoric — the pastor said the church also debated whether to shred the book, shoot it or dunk it in water instead of burning it. But in the end, his desire to shed light on what he calls a “dangerous book” won out. The Koran was burned in a spectacle streamed live on the Internet. To reach out to Muslims overseas, Jones included Arabic subtitles….”

As if we needed evidence. That, thankfully is the difference between an atheist Koran hater and a fundamentalist Koran hater: and if ever there were a clear bisection of the “rules” for blasphemy, this should be it–because people are dead as part of the definition.  Jones now plans to move house so to speak and put Muhammad on trial next month.

To my atheist colleagues, I say: please, before you snipe, try to understand.  We are not yet at the point where atheism is the “cure” for anything, least of all for the kinds of violence these acts have made manifest.  I know that it’s tempting to think that unbelief is the silver bullet cure for all the atrocities of religion [Imagine], and that a world free of it would be world in which neither Terry Jones nor Afghan extremists would hold sway.  Arguably that would be a more peaceful, reasonable, less violent world.

That is not the world we live in, so the question of what to do does not only involve the meager 1.6% of the population of America willing to identify as atheists, who have their answer and are sure it’s the right one, but the 1.66 billion Muslims in the world who want to differ.  The choice, frankly isn’t about No God or Your God; it’s about moving beyond the short-sighted religion-bashing of some atheists to a realistic position where criticism of religion can be effective.  That is the only business plan worth discussing.

Ultimately, the way forward is going to be a matter of tone and technique, not the outcome of the work of a few commando God-bashers writing from the safe haven of first world democracies telling the majority how foolish they are.


What do Professor P.Z. Myers and the Revd Terry Jones have in common?  Not very much, except both have desecrated the Koran.  Is it important that they did what they did for different reasons, and with different results? Do such distinctions matter when we’re talking about a book that neither man finds particularly–attractive?  Yes.

Terry Jones

As readers of this blog will know, I think the use of blasphemy to draw crowds and win followers is probably on a moral par with Jesus’exorcisms in the New Testament: you find something or someone that will grab people’s attention–a man possessed by 6000 demons will do– then you let fly, do the hocus pocus,  and hope the nasties will go into the pigs (like the trick requires) and not into the audience. When the pigs go shrieking in agony over the cliff and the “demoniac” is still in one piece, the crowd applauds wildly and proclaims you the messiah.  That is sort of what happened for both Myers and Jones.  But with different results.

Myers, simply an atheist showman, wrote a pretty nifty article about blasphemy on his site in 2008.  In it he documented the insidious reverence in which Catholics held to the doctrine of the “real presence of Jesus” in the eucharist in the Middle Ages and the violence shown to disbelievers, especially Jews, who were always getting on the wrong side of Catholics and always being accused of desecrating the communion host, or “cracker” as Myers snarkily likes to call the matzah used at Mass.

“That is the true power of the cracker, this silly symbol of superstition. Fortunately, Catholicism has mellowed with age — the last time a Catholic nation rose up to slaughter its non-Christian citizenry was a whole 70 years ago, after all — but the sentiment still lingers.”

Had he performed his oblation a couple of years later after the results of the 2010 Pew Forum Poll on Religious Knowledge in America, he could also have added that 45% of Catholics do not know their Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, though they like the Spaghetti suppers on Friday night.

Never was there a “mellower” target then than Catholics, who in the main seemed not to care very much when Myers drove a rusty spike through the cracker, some garbage (a banana peel and coffee grounds) and–importantly–pages of the Koran.  Of course, as soon as he did this, the eyes of the superstitious religious blind were opened, and the lame man leapt as an hart.

Crackers and Korans and peels, O My.

Myers’ antics made him the dark darling of full frontal atheists, those who hold to the curious view that the angrier you make people who believe in sacred books and objects, the likelier you are to win over people who hold a weak or no opinion on the subject.

Desecration, confrontation, Yo-mama style insult and blasphemy are tangible blows for reason, the commandos believe.

Though their training manual is being revised.  The Center for Inquiry, in its regular confusion over what fund-raising gimmick to try on next, made 2009 its first international Blasphemy Day and invited people to send in cartoons, jokes, slogans, and anything else to show just how lucky we all are to live in a country that cherishes free expression and where Nothing and No-one is sacred. The small difference between an inside joke that like-minded people think is funny and real blasphemy, which can only occur among people who take religion pretty seriously, and which might get your head blown off, escaped the organizers who soon enough put Blasphemy Day in the bottom drawer and rolled out Blasphemy Rights Day.

But, predictably, no one died as a consequence of Mr Myers’ brainstormium.  And an unclimaxed Myers was reduced to pasting letters from a few lost souls who wrote almost pathetically of their upset:  ”As a Christian it is an insult for anyone to call my beliefs stupid shit. I have respected every religion and every idea for years.” To which Myers felt obliged to respond in derisive detail, defending himself against a volley of feathers by saying: “They [the pages of the Koran and the Bible] are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet.”

He observed that in addition to pages of the Koran he also used a few pages of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, which as far as I know is not yet considered sacred scripture by any group, and whose spiking would not likely ignite a revolt–especially since it was well known that the sympathies of the spiker were pro-Dawkins anyway.  The point was half-clever, but the whole incident was tasteless, and (as I’ve said before)  cowardly: to be effective, try it again, only this time in downtown Lahore after you send the memo.

Tried, convicted, soaked in kerosense, ignited

Which brings us roundabout to Pakistan and the Reverend Jones.  Jones is the intellectual Omega and pastor of the sixty member Dove World Outreach Center in Lake City, Florida, who threatened to burn the Qur’an in August 2010.

His reason for doing so was to bring the book to justice  for the violence and murder “it [sic] had perpetrated.” Unlike Myers, who began with the view that no book is sacred, Jones is of the opinion that Islam’s holy book and Islam itself is “of the devil.”

A jittery National Association of Evangelicals disowned him, local Florida fundagelical groups (some of them militia) distanced themselves from him, and condemned his statements.  In the War Zone, General David Petraeus explained that soldiers ”will be killed if this event happens.”  Jones demured, hedged, tried to stretch out his fifteen minutes to thirty six hours of fame (longer than a news cycle), then “postponed ” the trial and burning of the book while he “negotiated with the planners of the Ground Zero Mosque.”

The media being a fickle lover, lost interest in the story and almost missed more recent developments when Jones announced that the trial and sentencing would take place on March 20, 2011.  Funnily enough, the Interior Ministry in Pakistan was watching developments closely after a spate of incidents involving charges that Christians (about 3,000,000 in a country of 170,000,000) were secretly desecrating Korans and a spate of church-burnings and murders.

The trial was held, the sentence rendered by a Jury of 12 church elders, and a Dallas imam, according to reports, acted as a defense attorney. The book was soaked in kerosene for two hours,and was then ignited by Jones’s assistant pastor Wayne Sapp.  Further events are planned for Good Friday (April 22, 2011) in Michigan.  One thing that comes through clearly is that religious zealots know a thing or two about lighting fires. The Catholics Jones also despises are satisfied to light a Paschal candle on the night before Easter.

Reaction has been slow, because media attention has been erratic, but  in Afghanistan, thousands of outraged protesters stormed a U.N. compound killing at least 20 people, including eight foreigners–this at a critical moment in the Afghan war when America is trying to “win hearts and minds.” The demonstration in Mazar-i-Sharif turned violent when some protesters grabbed weapons from the U.N. guards and opened fire, then mobbed buildings and set fires on the compound. Demonstrators were also massed in Kabul and the western city of Herat.

So far, three attempts to burn churches have been thwarted by Pakistani security forces, but it is just a matter of time before death and destruction, related to the imbecility of a small-time Christian publicity whore, rears its snake-maned head.  Predictable but terrifying right-wing approval for Jones’s action is also beginning its viral crawl across the internet.

As to Myers, despite the development of a blasphemy fan club and admiration for the cowardly use of free expression rights in the safe haven of Morris, Minnesota, the only serious “threat” came from Catholic League president Bill Donahue.  The League (like B’nai B’rith) was founded as an anti-defamation society at a time when discrimination against Catholic immigrants was on a par with discrimination against Jews.  Donahue filed a complaint with the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, offering that Myers’ actions violated the University’s anti-discrimination policy: ‘Expressions of disrespectful bias, hate, harassment or hostility against an individual, group or their property because of the individual or group’s actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion…can be forms of discrimination. Expressions vary, and can be in the form of language, words, signs, symbols, threats, or actions that could potentially cause alarm, anger, fear, or resentment against others.”

It was a far-fetched complaint both in terms of accusation and in terms of consequences; Myers’ action only succeeded in cementing his hard-crafted persona as a jerk.  And even as a one-off expression of jerkiness, the actions of 2008 did not rise to the standard of blasphemy, which is usually understood as an interreligious act designed to malign or humiliate a religious opposite.  Secular “blasphemy” against religion is more problematical, and Myers’ showpiece proved it. That is because there was no real conviction behind the act.  ”Religion is sooooooo stupid” is not an impressive bumper sticker.  The defense of free speech is only relevant and brave when free speech is actually abridged, not when threats to its exercise are manufactured.

Jones is a different story.  A more dangerous one.  He is the ugly Id unchained from the soul of an America I’d hoped had died.  It is moronic, armed, and dangerous.  It does not question the ontological correctness of its religious and political views.  It burns a book in Lake City, Florida, and Muslims (and others) die in Afghanistan and soon Pakistan and elsewhere.  Jones does this knowing they will die, praying to his defective God that they will die, in order to prove his belief that the devil is with us.  He is with us, and he needs to be charged with and convicted of murder.  His name is Terry Jones.

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The Devil in Mr Jones

by rjosephhoffmann

First Published: April 4, 2011

Codex Gigas (The Devil Codex)

Since I posted my commentary on the Terry Jones case I’ve received lots of feedback–mainly attempts to vindicate Jones and wondering why I am “coddling Muslims.”  I like the term feedback because it doesn’t discriminate as to the quality of responses.  Some were actually very insightful–the ones laying out, for example, the conditions for incitement and sedition; some less so–the ones that simply insist that we are citizens of a democracy that values free speech above everything else. I’ve received no recipes for coddled Muslims, but I’m sure they’ll be coming soon.

Often misquoted, in the United States v. Schenck case (1919: involving a man’s distribution of anti-draft flyers during World War I), Justice Holmes wrote that

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

“Falsely” is the word that is often omitted. What emerged was the “clear and present danger test,”  since weakened and greatly modified.

I’m reliably informed by no fewer than three lawyer-respondents and my buddy Guido that its successor, the “imminent lawless action” criterion, cannot reasonably be applied in this case because the damage and the loss of human life, even though preventable, did not transpire on American soil and that under current law (Hess v. Indiana [1973], Brandenburg v. Ohio [1969]), Jones would likely be given a pass.

And even though Americans, according to groups claiming responsibility, including Afghani Taliban, were the target (United Nations workers were an easier and softer hit), so far (April 5th) American soldiers did not die as a result of this provocation.  On the other hand, those who have replied that it was not Jones’s intention to do harm have not been following the story closely enough: he is quoted in the Washington Post as saying that after due consideration he felt he had no choice, and was only indecisive as to the method of execution (drowning, shredding, or shooting).  Fire is always the first choice of southern Christian bigots. And there is the small matter of his careful plans to broadcast the events in English and Arabic.

But my guess is that Terry Jones will become a kind of hero.  He already is to his congregation and thousands of well-wishing ultra-conservative Christians around the country. And much more cheaply than buying billboards, his gallon of kerosene has ignited his “Stand up for America” campaign.

But I hope he will not become a culture-hero to people who see his actions as brave and somehow correct–as a test case of the right to express hatred in equal measure to the religious population of a country where American lives are being lost each week in defense of democratic principles that the Afghan people, like the Iraqis before them, have shown no natural interest in pursuing on their own.  I am highly distrustful of the respondents who say they “disagree” with Terry Jones, but approve of the principle.  What principle?  That Islam is evil and he is no more evil than it is?  Or that his example serves as proof to the world (as if it cares) that America is the beacon for the unfettered right to speak even the most hateful and dwarfish ideas openly?

Terry Jones is not fighting for a principle.  He’s merely hiding behind one. It seems plain tawdry to invoke the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on behalf of a listless cracker who wants to see people killed seven  thousand miles away from his sanctuary.

A weird  undercurrent of responses has seen Jones as a symbol of the cowboy freedom to shoot the people who get on his nerves. It’s hardly a mariage de covenance (like the one between anti-abortion Catholics and fundamentalists), but Islam is regarded by right wing Christians, as well as by many atheists, as a toxic faith, so the symbol works for both constituencies in slightly different ways. When Jones sells the movie rights to his saga of upward struggle against the forces of Satan and his lonely coup de grace for freedom and democracy in this sin-loving land, the part should go to (no relation) Tommy Lee Jones.

There are two propositions that keep me away from reducing this episode to just another example of hate speech or civil disobedience, on the analogy of the Klan marching through Skokie in 2000 or burning draft cards in 1969 or the Haymarket riots of 1886.   The difference may not be immediately obvious, or compelling, but it is a difference.

If Mr Jones had staged his execution of the Koran, “a work of the Devil,” in 1969, it would have been the shot heard round Lake City, Florida.  No one would have cared; few people would have known.  It would have the resonance of a wooden clapper.  As a Florida boy myself, I can easily imagine a woman outside the Lake City Winn-Dixie store saying, “He burned the whut?” But it did not happen in 1969.  It happened in the age of rapid information-transfer, and sudden celebrity–the age and space that Jones is counting on to raise him from evangelical crackerdom to national guru.  I see Dancing with the Stars down the road for this guy and I pray that his partner will be someone named Aisha.

The Amendment we depend upon to protect us from slander while, at the same time, defending our right to blaspheme, criticize, oppose, peaceably assemble and demonstrate was carved at a time when America was relatively isolated from the foreign effects of domestic action.  Even though the polemic was hot and strong throughout the pre-Revolutionary era (one of the reasons the First Amendment exists at all) reaction was slow because news traveled that way.

I think there is something qualitatively different about Jones and the way he does business, and it has to be acknowledged. There is something different about what constitutes “imminent and likely lawless action” in an age where cause and effect have been reduced to days, sometimes seconds.  And one day the courts will have to deal with it–but not yet. Jones’s only miscalculation in this case was that the media wasn’t paying attention to him anymore, so he had to try doubly hard to get the word out.  He was duly abetted by Hamid Karzai.

As to preserving free speech against the odds of too much sway in the direction of controlling it: As a Christian triumphalist, Jones would like nothing more than an America in which the very thing he was permited to do could not be done.  A sheer increase of the Terry Joneses of this country–among people who now see his action as noble–would lead to a Christian state wherein it would, at a minimum, be illegal to burn a Bible or insult a man of the cloth, or more precisely, the evangelical cloth. Atheism in Jonestown, USA? As likely as a women’s right to education act under the Pakistani Taliban.

No one realistically thinks that this kind of America is coming, least of all me.  But it is an interesting test of priorities that condemning Jones’s action as being fundamentally opposed to the cardinal American values of freedom and tolerance  should be immediately seen as a complaint about hypothetical ”infringement” of Mr Jones’s rights, without any equivalent assessment of what he did and the way he did it.  –I’m reluctant to mention the one muddled response that compared Jones’s burning of the Koran to the 1933 (fol.) book burnings in Nazi Germany because, frankly, I couldn’t understand the premise.

The way the Rev did it was to make sure that Muslims were paying attention.  When he streamed the “trial” and execution of the book, with some hapless imam from Dallas acting as a defense atttorney, he dressed in judge’s robes.  He streamed the proceedings with Arabic subtitles.  Those are the facts; I am guessing, but cannot know for sure, that he was also trying to convey an impression of “authenticity” to the web-viewers, as though to suggest this was a real trial.  Given the limited sophistication of the Arab street, this would not have been a difficult thing to do.

So, this was not an act confined to the churchyard; this was a belligerent act designed to do harm, to substantiate his weird metaphysic about Islamic violence, and he was right: harm was done. People are dead. or should I say, more people are dead.  Now to search “Koran Burning” on Youtube will link you to dozens of copycat rituals going on all over the world.  Congratulations, Mr Jones: you are a success because this is how we now measure success, the degree of lunacy that a single image can generate.

After further thought, however, I have decided that Mr Jones is really being judged by the wrong criteria.  His case falls between free exercise and free speech, and so it falls between the stools.  Holmes’s aphorism about “clear and present danger,” and all later refinements, are not going to help us with the Terry Jones case, unless he magically appears in Kandahar and starts shooting Muslims.  Even then, alas, he would likely find supporters back home and die a hero.

I’ve asked a number of respondents if they think Jones is “guilty” of anything other than bad judgement.   Law and ethics are not only two different areas but fields that often collide on principles. If law does not help us with this one, is there a moral position that can be condemned–or vindicated?  Is Mr Jones “just a cracker” and his actions as predictable, and thus as unremarkable, as the predictable response of angry young men in Afghanistan?  After all, we have become accustomed, to the point of dozing off, to images of angry, mainly young Muslim men all over the Islamic world.

I don’t fully understand the pathology of their anger, but I do know that the symbolic respository for what they are willing to die and to kill to defend is the Koran. I also think I know that lectures on God’s existence or their foolish and superstitious ways are not going to get their attention.

13 thoughts on “Deja Vu: How Tone Deaf Atheists and Blockheaded Muslim Haters Cost Lives

  1. The Pussy Riot affair involved desecrating a church, with outrage that Putin had them jailed.

    Outrage in the press; but methinks that in the general population the opinion was that the kids should find another place to play.

  2. Pingback: Hoffmann loses the thread of the story all over again « Choice in Dying

    • ‘What is more important: people or books? … Evil prospers when good men do nothing.’ How ironic that this choice and claim and MacDonald’s grasp of each, demonstrate that he has lost, not that he ever had, the plot. It’s nothing to do with Islam being a so-called ‘religion of peace’ or not. It’s about people, historical politics and foreign policy. It’s about responsibility and consequences. ‘Muslims need thicker skins’? MacDonald ought to learn more about people. MacDonald ought to learn that atheists can be as dangerous as the minority that are Islamic extemists. Anyway what’s his point? It’s not about protecting religion. It’s about responsibility and consequences of actions for people’s lives.

  3. The terrorists who perpetrated these crimes may hate the speech of muslim-haters and atheists . . .

    But they LOVE articles like this!

    The people responsible for terrorist deaths are those who plunge the knife or pull the trigger. When we blame the free speech that they cite as their reasons, the terrorists win.

    The fringes of free speech have always been ugly. But far worse are the terrorists who commit violence to deny free speech.

    You are naive and a fool if you think that terrorists commit their acts because of a few atheists and muslim-haters. Terrorists will always be able to dig up “reasons” for the atrocities they commit, until they have subjugated the world.

      • Have you read the polemics of islamic extremists against Americans? As far as they are concerned, we are ALL inciters! Burning a holy book may be as despicable as sleeping with your best friend’s girl. But neither act is illegal, and neither act causes middle east violence. Terrorists cause violence in the middle-east; they look for reasons to make us blame ourselves, but their violence is of their own making.

  4. You have much to say about Terry Jones that is very illuminating. And it was very tempting at first to go along with your suggestion of arresting him. But only at first, and the more I think about it the more opposed I am to it. You say “no one realistically” believes that a USA is coming where it would be a crime to burn Bibles. But because the law is a great stupid lumbering beast, and not an ethereal spirit with all of the wisdom of Oliver Wendell Holmes, arresting Terry Jones for his hateful stunts would be a big lurching step in the direction of that USA. That’s how this beast works: crack down on expression you don’t like, and it makes it easier for them to crack down on yours. Sauce for both goose and gander. Blind justice, a stupid lumbering beast.

    And if we’re going to arrest people for inciting Muslims, we really need to arrest W and many members of his administration before we get around to relatively small fry like Jones. They did much, much more damage than Jones, and holding them accountable for their crimes would do much, much more to show Muslims that we respect them.

    Although it would involve chiming in to some degree with people we find quite ghastly — indeed, although it would involve to some degree chiming in with Terry Jones himself instead of arresting him as we would like to do — we need to address those mostly young men who are angry and falsely pious enough to kill for any real or perceived insult to their religion. Yes, Jones is inciting them. But it’s a problem which must be addressed that they are so easily incited that an empty-headed bumpkin like Jones, or the mention of a stupid YouTube video which I’m sure most of them have never seen — have you seen it? I haven’t — or the pronouncement of one of their leaders about a fine novel by an Indian-British-American which neither the leader nor they have read, will induce them to murder. Something needs to get their attention. Just as Western bumpkins need to be educated about crucial facts such as that the great majority of Muslims, even including the duly-elected heads of state of the Arab Spring, condemned with the usual ignorant haste by Western bumpkins great and small, really do condemn the actions of those mostly-young fanatics.

    (Btw I know that my facebook picture is 22 years old and that I don’t look anything like I did in 1990. So why don’t I replace the photo from 1990? In part because when I look at more recent pictures, I get so depressed that it’s hard to do anything.)

  5. “My suggestion was that if he went forward with his plan, and if remonstrations to cease and desist (there were many) did not succeed, a restraining order should be issued to prevent Mr. Jones from carrying out his act of incitement.”

    Yes, Dr. Hoffman. God save the First Amendment.

    This is the amendment that allows you to write staggeringly stupid stuff, such as what I’m quoting, above. (A restraining order? Really? So it’s not even that you want to punish him for saying something YOU find heinous, but that you want to prevent him from saying it in the first place?)

    Were you asleep in 6th grade Social Studies?

    You want to use force to stop people from saying things that you find odious. How are you different from any extremist who wants to do the same thing?

    It’s the First Amendment that keeps every damn one of you oppressors from silencing the rest of us. Please re-read a Social Studies book, only this time, read it for comprehension.

    • For some of the tone deaf comments above, actions have consequences. We’re not condoning the terrorists. Neither are we condoning people who are inciting terrorism with their irresponsible and ignorant actions. It’s just the same old thing over and over again and some people garbling repeated misunderstandings of an American consititution. Perhaps those tone deaf above, should read the following post, not that their ears will hear anything other than their own echoes.

      • I see far more symptoms of tone deafness in hoffman’s articles.

        This article and the one you cite may not condone terrorists, but they ignore the real culpability of terrorists for all practical purposes. There was a similar twisting of priorities in the media when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwah against Salman Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses. How does writing a book critical of the scripture morally compare to the threat of literal assassination? And yet the international outcries against Rushdie’s writing far outweighed the outcries against the Ayatollah’s violence.

        Hoffman is the one who is tone death to the atheists he cites, everyone of whom has strong critical words against idiots like Terry Jones. But they have far worse words for terrorists and those who enable terrorism by failing to denounce it.

      • “They have strong critical words against idiots like Terry Jones”? So PZ writes on his blog,”Terry Jones is an intolerant ignoramus, but I don’t worry about him.” In other words perhaps, tell Terry he’s a naughty boy but he’s not the Messiah? PZ is more worried about those who riot and murder when offended (and PZ is terribly upset by his ‘comrade’ Professor R Joseph Hoffmann, who keeps criticising the ignorance of arrogant loud mouthed atheists like him). He doesn’t worry about those who deliberately offend knowing the consequences at all. The irony as always is that they don’t, can’t, won’t see the fact that Terry’s actions will provide a useful target for extremists to exploit in their efforts to gain support. We’re not comparing mandarins with tangerines, apples with oranges or elephants with tomatoes. Terry’s actions don’t help counter terrorism. They encourage more. PZ’s defence of Terry’s freedom encourages more. The film maker was not naive when he made the film. He deliberately provoked and incited the inevitable reaction of extremists. Terry Jones was not naive. He deliberately provoked and incited the violence which eventuated. Meanwhile, all PZ and fellows can do is whine and shout about their rights to free speech, something other cultures don’t have to respect. Yet. And efforts to encourage global recognition of human rights and freedoms are only compromised by the likes of idiotic nutbags like Jones, the film maker, PZ and his echoing blog buddies. To suggest that Professor Joe Hoffmann fails to denounce terrorism is imagined fantasy with no evidence at all.

  6. (Remembered how to log in with WordPress again. No, that’s not me in the picture, it’s a cat.)

    All of the info above about P Z Myers was new to me: his stunt with the wafer and garbage and pages from books, and his unhinged reaction to your calling for legal action to stop Jones’ action. I’m gaining more sympathy for the view that New Atheists, some of them, are fundamentalists of a sort. And it’s clear to me now that I never was one of them. Stunts like Meyers’ don’t impress me, they seem to illustrate some of Freud’s views on infantile regression. Sometimes a banana peel is more than a banana peel, Anna. I’m with you, Myers can go try that kind of stuff in Lahore and then ask me if I’m impressed. I’m still anti-religious, I still believe that people’s continuing, at this late date, to believe in a deity or deities can, on the whole, only interfere with our well-being, but I don’t want to be associated with people like Myers. I hope I have more profound means of persuasion than his at my disposal. I destroyed a book once in my life, during a temper tantrum when I was four years old. I’m done. Indeed, I’m very much concerned with preserving books.

    (On a somewhat related topic, having to do with you and Meyers’ fellow FreeThoughtBlogger Dr Carrier: I first began to notice people such as Carrier and you, and Myers, and Coyne, and Price, and Wells, and Morton Smith, and many others, both academics and non-, who speculate about the origins of Christianity, in March of this year, in the wake of the brouhaha over Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? I was led astray for a little while by Carrier, about you and about some other things, and read Carrier’s disingenuous, Oh-my-what-a-nasty-man response to this blog post of yours: without knowing anything of the history of how he had poked and poked at you until you quite understandably exploded just a bit. Knowing more of your history with Carrier, I now find your “little rant” thoroughly reasonable. Back in April, however, I included you in a snarky little rant of my own. I have no idea whether you’ve ever heard of it. For some reason it’s one of the more frequently-read posts on my blog. I haven’t altered my rant, because I know that reasonable readers can see changes in opinions as the result of learning, while the unreasonable will accuse you and me and Nietzsche and Kant and Marx and anyone else who hasn’t stopped learned when they achieved their full height of flip-flopping. But today I did add a PS to it: Mea culpa. I shall go and sin no more.)

  7. Pingback: Actually, It’s Not A Bad Idea For A Movie

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