I was late getting to the Terry Jones story Burt posted the other day, so I’m going to reprise my comment here along with some additional thoughts.
As is well known by now, Terry Jones’s fulfillment of his tasteless publicity stunt to publicly burn the Koran apparently triggered five days of protest and mob violence across Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of more than 20 people. Meanwhile, back stateside we seem to be struggling to come up with the appropriate narrative to frame the problem. Is Terry Jones to blame? To what extent? Should we blame the Afghanis? Islam? Or are Afghanis and Muslims just “animals who can’t be controlled” anyway?
On this score, I’m always a little unsettled when Bill Maher says something I agree with:
All this talk of people who burn the Koran and nothing about the people who reacted in such a stupid way. We are always blaming the victim and not holding them — most Muslims, but at least a large part of Muslim culture that doesn’t condemn their people.
There is one religion in the world that kills you when you disagree with them and they say ‘look, we are a religion of peace and if you disagree we’ll (expletive deleted) cut your head off. And nobody calls them on it — there are very few people that will call them on it.
It’s like if Dad is a violent drunk and beats his kids, you don’t blame the kid because he set Dad off. You blame Dad because he’s a violent drunk.
I think this is basically right, and it ties into a longer post I’ll have up soon.
Really, nothing good can come from talking about Jones’s moral culpability for the rioting and vicious acts of Afghanis on the other side of the globe. His act was sick and repugnant in itself, and that ought to be the end of the story. If there is some link to be drawn between his immoral act and others’ immoral acts, that’s a private matter for Jones to mete out with with his conscience and with God, and something for which his congregation and community should censure him. But this certainly does not meet the “imminent lawless action” test under Brandenburg v. Ohio: there was no intent to cause the rioting, and I don’t believe the doctrine applies to lawless action that happens in another country.
Putting aside the legal connection between Jones and the riots, I think the analysis of the moral connection is basically the same as in the case of a woman of poor virtue who falls victim to rape. Her poor virtue and promiscuity may be immoral. And the act of rape is certainly immoral. But whether there might be any link between the two has such little relevance, and carries such a strong suggestion that the latter act was in some way justified or mitigated, that it is simply not worth even mentioning. In lawyer-speak, its probative value, if any, is substantially outweighed by the substantial danger of undue prejudice or confusing the issues. It’s not to say promiscuity is not a problem, but when we talk about it in the same breath as rape, it tends to suggest that the rapist is in some way off the hook. And that’s a terrible suggestion to make.
In the same way, laying blame on Terry Jones for the lawless riots and killing in Afghanistan suggests that the murderous mobs, to some degree, should be let off the hook. They shouldn’t.