Washington, DC - So Florida-based pastor Terry Jones is back for another bite at the 15-minutes-of-fame apple.
This time, however, the consequences of his campaign against the Qur'an has had fatal effects. His largely unremarked "trial" and "execution" by burning of a Qur'an occurred almost completely without notice in North America. One assumes that this lack of media attention in the United States/Canada was deliberate (one 15 minutes of fame per eccentric claimant) with the appreciation that publicity could have invidious effect.
But never daunted, Jones managed to get his video of the burning Qur'an onto the Internet where it had, so to speak, an incendiary effect in South Asia--and murderous consequences in Afghanistan. Three United Nations relief workers, including a woman, and four of their security guards were mob-murdered; riots with more deaths continued for two days and only slowly died (so to speak) down subsequently.
Once again, Jones was condemned. This time, at least, he was condemned for something that he did rather than what he had proposed to do.
And, once again, his critics are right--and wrong.
What Jones did was stupid, bigoted, malicious, and hugely counterproductive for U.S. and Western interests in countering Islamic fanaticism wherever.
That said, Jones had every constitutionally protected right to burn the Qur'an. Stupidity is not illegal.
If he could burn the Bible, the Talmud, the Book of Mormon, religious texts of every other religion, the Constitution, the Charter of Rights, the U.S. flag, MeinKampf, and the communist manifesto, why not the Qur'an?
Blaming Jones for the subsequent murders in Afghanistan is as misguided as blaming the 1989 rape and beating of the Central Park Jogger on the female victim--for having jogged alone late at night. She was foolish to have done so (and paid a horrible price in continued physical and mental limitations), but it was her rapist/assailant who bears total legal responsibility for the assault.
One can examine national reactions to Jones' Qur'an arson from two perspectives. One, the highly public condemnations by senior political and military figures is driven by the reality that trying to fight and win a war in Afghanistan is a terribly difficult exercise. With the most carefully devised military management and message manipulation, Coalition forces have made slow but distinct progress. Jones made it harder for our efforts to succeed and gave the Taliban another cudgel to use against our presence--so condemning Jones is perfectly understandable.
More problematic is the conditioning effect that such violence has/will have on free speech in the West. Clearly neither condemnation nor cautionary comment will mute Jones; he may be courting martyrdom. But more importantly, already journalists and publishers live in fear and frequently under protection from Islamic fanatics committed to killing them for publications that are either trivial or decades old--or both. Thus the still extant fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing the 1988 Satanic Verses. So far a number of the translators of the book have been killed. Likewise, the still smoldering global reaction against the 2005 Danish cartoonists depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed resulted in a reported 100 deaths. Efforts to kill individual cartoonists have continued. The level of courage required to continue such action or reprint the cartoons appears disproportionate to the risk. Discretion may not be valorous, but most journalists would rather live to write again.