The Irony Of Terry Jones’ Continued Existence

Terry Jones knew, or should have known, that burning a Koran here in the United States would cause riots in places like Afghanistan. He did burn a Koran, and riots did happen, and people died. Legally, Terry Jones broke no law. He is an American citizen, and American citizens are allowed to burn the Koran to make whatever damn political, religious, social, or artistic point they want. If you don’t like what he has to say or how he chooses to say it, tough noogies to you.

If the Afghans who rioted had possessed even the remotest bit of adult perspective about the fact that a man burning a book literally on the other side of the globe could not possibly have affected their lives in any way unless they chose to pay attention to him, of course, they’d have gone about their daily lives instead of setting their nation’s progress towards building something resembling an economy and an infrastructure back by at least a month. If they had the benefit of a civic culture that incorporated the concept of free speech, they wouldn’t have rioted at all. After all, when the Afghans burned Bibles, no one here in the United States responded by rioting. If they were going to riot at all, they should have been rioting to demand civil liberties because a culture of civil liberties is one resilient enough to withstand the insult of a copy of its holy book being burned more 10,000 miles away by someone who is already an infidel.

With that said, I would not have done what Jones did and I won’t provide a moral gloss to apologize for it. He demonstrated something we all knew before he ever did anything, which was that ignorant, uneducated, unemployed men under the sway of fundamentalist religion and within a fragile culture will do unreasonably violent things when their belief structures are insulted with sufficient intensity.

Now, at the end of the day, Jones didn’t actually kill anyone. He did something that he knew was likely to cause death, but he wasn’t the killer — the unreasonable response of people to the mere notion that a Christian cleric in the United States might do something to evidence disrespect for something relating to Islam was what killed people. They are the killers, and they bear the ultimate moral responsibility for what they did.

Jones, however, ought to realize that he set in motion a chain of events that lead to deaths which would not have happened but for his intentionally provocative and malignantly narcissistic gesture. And he ought to realize that by inciting those riots, he set back the possibility that Afghanistan will evolve a culture in which dissent and free speech are at least minimally tolerated. And he also gets to live with the knowledge that a bunch of nutjobs in Afghanistan called out a fatwa on him, although like any narcissist would, he no doubt finds the fact that he elicited such intense emotions in other people to be deeply thrilling and psychologically satisfying. He cried out, “Look at me! Look at me!” and a lot of people did.

But the thing is, he will never get to see the actual proof of the point he wanted to make. Jones wanted to show the world that Islam is dangerous and that we ought to fear it. So the extent to which Terry Jones is executed, Theo Van Gogh style, is the extent to which we Americans are vulnerable to those same nutjobs that Jones thumbed his nose at, the ones he tried to prove are dangerous. If he lives, it proves that the fatwa is toothless. If he is killed, well, he’ll then be dead and therefore unable to say “I told you so!” to the rest of us.

He’ll never know success, only failure.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. “The U.S. media should review the way its “if it bleeds it leads” editorial attitude skews the view Muslims in the wider world have regarding how Americans view Islam. Afghan Muslims should never have known cult leader Terry Jones’ name because U.S. media should never have deemed this small-town man worthy of coverage.”

    That is what I ORIGNALLY wrote in a Letter To The Editor. When the Los Angeles Times published the letter, they scrub my reference to Terry Jones being pathetic as well as making some other peculiar edits. See for yourself:

  2. First Sarah Palin and now Terry Jones. I am not looking forward to the right-wing Cleese.

  3. He cried out, “Look at me! Look at me!” and a lot of people did.

    Very well said.

    What a deeply wearying reality, requiring one to defend the rights of someone one would far rather kick repeatedly in the yarbles.

    • Nice ad homemen attack, but one that proves nothing for the purposes of this discussion. He may be a narcissist, but whether he has a personality disorder has as much to do with this discussion as whether or not Obama is a narcissist.

  4. You’ve got to be joking.

    This is the problem of the world’s response to Islam in a nutshell. Every time the goat-fucking followers of a 7th century pedophile rapist get all up in arms and start killing people and burning things, we start apologizing to them?

    Where is their apology for the burning of Hindu temples? For the torching of every one of the ancient Persian libraries, such that even the very few tidbits of real Persian culture (such as the tales of Scheherazade) that survived have been 5th- or 6th-generational handwritten copies infested with Xtian monk insertions or Islamist cleric insertions?

    Where is their apology for the destruction of the magnificent Buddha statues at Bamiyan? For the burning of temples and churches all through “Islamic” taken-over lands, like Indonesia and Malaysia?

    Please. The best we should do is enact a policy of containment until the goat-fuckers grow the hell up.

    • I don’t know where you got from my post that we owed anyone an apology. But just because Jones didn’t personally riot in Afghanistan does not absolve him of all moral blame.

      • I’m curious to know how GGTCI can be so sure that Terry Jones doesn’t fuck goats.

      • Why should Jones be blamed for anything? He exercised his free speech. He rightly pointed out Islam as the most evil religion on the planet except for maybe Satanism. Fuck even scientology isn’t that crazy, they are criminal but not goddamned homicidal.

        The blame is on the rioters.
        The blame is on the muslim clerics who egged them on and told them to do it.
        The blame is on the goat-fuckers and the pedophile who wrote that evil damn book and the ancillary “hadith” in the first place.
        The blame is on the centuries of people who have enabled these primitive assholes to spread their ugly, despotic, hateful, evil, homicidal “religion” over the globe.

        • I’m done here. Fanatics are incapable of nuanced discussion.

          • Oh, so that is your little game, Burt–insult and refuse to answer. Talk about a preening, self-absorbed narcissist! You fit the bill.

          • There’s nothing to answer. This, and GGTCI’s comment below, add nothing of substance to the discusion that was not previously there.

            Repetition is not argument. Invective is not argument. Name-calling is not argument. Your emotions are not argument. I have nothing to say in response to what’s been offered, because nothing of intellectual substance has been offered. Thus, the discussion has reached an end, because nothing new is being added to it.

            If there is something else to say on this subject other than 1) the rioters and not Jones have the blood on their hands (something I agreed with but to which both of you seem deaf; I place a different sort of moral blame on Jones), 2) reciting atrocities committed by various Muslim figures throughout history, and 3) accusing, without evidence, a large group of people identified by their common religion of engaging in habitual caprine bestiality, then feel free to advance the discussion. Those three points have already been made and responded to; repeating them does not add any rhetorical force to that side of the discussion or any intellectual value to the discussion as a whole. Give me something new and chances are, I’ll respond to it.

            No doubt one or both of you will attempt to justify calling me names so as having been a response to my use of the word “fanatics.” I used that word following Sir Winston Churchill’s wry definition of that word and I’ll allow others to decide if that was a fair cop or not.

            And both GGTIC and Samuel Dijk should take a moment to review the League of Ordinary Gentlemen’s comments policy. In my opinion, you’ve both run afoul of it, and should you do so again in the future, I will take appropriate action so as to protect the commenting culture that prevails on this blog.

            Disagree all you like, but please disagree without being disagreeable.

      • Alright, you lame, dishonest, wortheless snot. You decided to wipe off my response – for what?

        Here it is:


        Who is to blame?
        – The 7th century pedophile rapist who started the Muslim religion.
        – The 8th century goat-fucking pedophile “clerics” who wrote down the koran and hadith.
        – The violent, hate-filled racists who have spread this evil joke of a “religion” around the globe.
        – The wimpy, limp-wristed morons who have enabled them to do so for 14 centuries now, pretending that we can find “common ground” and “live in peace” with a religion that says your only options are to convert, die by the sword, or live as slaves – and the third option ONLY available to Christians and Jews and ONLY at the discretion of the pedophile cult’s leaders.

        That’s where the blame belongs. Jones doesn’t deserve any of it for telling the truth about the violent, evil cult surrounding a 7th century pedophile.

  5. Terry Jones burnt a copy of a book in owned in his own church and now he is the worst person in the world.


    Because he believes that Islam is a false religion–and we aren’t supposed to believe that anymore–and acts on his belief? (Then Martin Luther would have been a “scumbag” when he publicly burned Pope Leo X’s Bull. I’m sure if they had youtube in the age of Luther, he would have made sure that it got posted.)

    Because he exercised his constitutional rights?

    Personally, I think Rev. Jones, about whom I know nothing, should be applauded. He and his small band of 50 followers, have performed the most brilliant act of political theater in the last 50 years. By burning one copy of the Koran, he has exposed the contradictions and fissures in American political thinking about why and what we should be doing in Afghanistan.

    Here we are in Afghanistan, spending a hideous amount of money in support of a Democracy that does not believe in individual rights–one in which a person can be put to death for converting to another religion. Why? What value does such a democracy have?

    What exactly are we fighting for?

    He has catalyzed conservative thinking on this topic. If you don’t believe me, go look at the opinion poll on the Power Line blog. Over 75% of the respondents think it is time to give up on this country and come home.

    One “outrageous” act can bring more moral clarity to an issue than all the debate club speeches in the world.

    He threw a hand grenade all right–but one that needed to be thrown. It has exposed the folly and sloppy thinking behind the hubris of “nation building. We have been in Afghanistan about 10 years, and the nation is still such a backward hell hole that one man burning one book can set it alight.

    For such a “stupid,” “ignorant” man, he sure has exposed the stupidity of our leaders.

    • Ending the war in Afghanistan was not Jones’ intent. In his own words, his goals were to “make an awareness of the radical element of Islam” and “continue our campaign raising an awareness of this dangerous religion and this dangerous element.”

      Isn’t it fair to say that Jones wanted Muslims somewhere in the world to riot in response to him? Isn’t it fair to say that he was substantially certain that his actions would provoke a riot? He said he was “very saddened and devastated by” the deaths, but he didn’t say he was “surprised.”

      The ultimate moral blame for the deaths rests with the rioters, to be sure. But was achieving the result of “catalyz[ing] conservative thinking on this topic” worth the cost of twenty human lives? Is knowingly setting in motion a chain of events with a high probability of resulting in human death an act devoid of moral gravity?

      I don’t think Jones is stupid or ignorant; I think he’s quite clever. Had he acted out of stupidity or ignorance, I would be more hesitant to assign moral culpability to his actions. But he clearly knew what he was doing and consciously weighed that the benefits of publicity to himself and the polarization of American political opinion against Islam to be worth the likely cost of innocent blood abroad. I don’t think he’s “the worst person in the world”, but I’m also unwilling to absolve him of acting immorally for acting thus.

  6. And he ought to realize that by inciting those riots, he set back the possibility that Afghanistan will evolve a culture in which dissent and free speech are at least minimally tolerated.

    I disagree. If his act of speech, however repugnant, had any impact in causing riots and death, the riots and death are symptoms of a much greater cultural or systemic problem for which Jones certainly cannot be assigned blame.

    As for the rioting and deaths themselves, I tend to think nothing good can come from talking about Jones’s moral culpability. 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 another’s immoral act, that’s a private matter for Jones to mete out with his congregation, his community, and God.

    I think the analysis is basically the same as in the case of a woman of poor virtue who falls victim to the horrifying and despicable act of 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, confusing the issues, or misleading the jury.

    • If the consequences of an act are predictable, the actor is responsible for them. In Mississippi in 1930, someone who mentioned that he’d seen a certain black man admiring a white woman was committing a murder; the fact that the resulting lynching depended on the existence of a horrifying social pathology would not lessen his culpability.

      • My problem with this particular take is that “we” (for whatever definition of “we” you’re into) are the only moral actors in the equation.

        Well, of *COURSE* the Muslims exploded (no pun was intended). Of course they rioted. Of course they killed people. Of course they did.

        Of course the cattle stampeded during the thunderstorm.
        Of course the birds flew away when you left the cage door open.
        Of course the dog ate the steak you left lying on the counter.

        Of course they did.

          • I thought “horrifying” made my opinion of the lynchers clear. If not, then sure, there’s plenty of guilt to go around.

          • I’m sure you think that the guys rioting in Afghanistan are horrifying.

            But their actions also follow naturally from a Koran burning just as lynchings followed a man saying that he saw a colored fellow leering at a white woman.

            As night follows day.

            Or am I still misreading what you’ve said?

          • “Don’t look at me. I had no idea they’d lynch this guy the same way they lynched the other twelve. They really need to learn better.” is a pretty weak defense.

          • What other defense is there?

            “Dissent against ugly philosophies is a good in and of itself and if it results in an explosion of violence, then that demonstrates the need for further dissent rather than silence despite the costs imposed by the violence.”

            That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure that I could put something together with more time.

          • While I don’t think Tim Kowal made that argument at his blog he does offer his own reasons for bypassing Jones’ role in the situation, one which flirts with the argument here.

            It is a difficult and ambiguous moral question, to be sure, and some have difficulty with ambiguity. (Tim is not such a person.) But at the risk of sounding repetitious, a significant degree of moral blame is appropriately assigned to Jones for setting this horrific chain of events in motion; he is within the sphere of what lawyers might say is the “proximate cause” of the deaths.

          • Dissent against ugly philosophies is a good in and of itself and if it results in innocent people getting killed, well, it’s a small price to pay for my being able to feel morally superior.

          • Yeah, similar arguments tend to be used by the government against, for example, war protests. Remember what they said about Jane Fonda?

            Good times.

            Anyway, you’re on board with that?

        • Jane Fonda would cause the North Vietnamese to kill Americans?

          • Footage involving war protests and celebrities sitting at North Korean artillery were shown to POWs to help break their spirits to give up more than name, rank, and/or serial number.

            Had you never heard this argument before? It’s been around a looooong time, dude.

          • “Well, crap, if the girl from Barbarella’s against the war…”

            I try out of common charity to think of conservative Republicans as misguided rather than brain-damaged, but sometimes it’s just too difficult.

          • This says “She behaved horrifically, but the only consequence was that people justifiably loathe her. Some stories were spread that her actions led to POW abuse, but they were lies. Oh, and bad stuff happened in 1999 because Obama was president.”

            You usually make sense, so I’m very perplexed.

          • Did you read the part where it said It is also undeniable that some American soldiers came to harm as a direct result of Fonda’s actions, an outcome she should reasonably have anticipated.?

            Or was that something to gloss over and dismiss?

          • Not that I’m defending her visit to North Vietnam in any way.

          • So you, at least, understand how someone could say “hey, I don’t see any substantiation for how I’m responsible for deaths in Afghanistan for my engaging in free speech here today. You can point to riots but I can point to any number of riots. They’re using me as an excuse for something they were going to do anyway.”


            Or is that completely different?

          • The logic for Jones is that there were riots that resulted directly from his actions, so stated by the rioters themselves, and that people got killed in them.

            I don’t even know the theory for how soldiers came to harm as
            a result of Fonda’s visit.

          • She argued that POWs were being treated humanely despite the fact that they were not.

            This gave cover to the North Vietnamese government to do whatever they wanted to soldiers because they knew that the soldiers themselves would not be believed when the soldiers spoke of mistreatment (indeed, Fonda called the soldiers who said that they were tortured “liars”).

            There’s also a story talking about Michael Benge’s experience which was interesting enough to not ignore entirely.

          • Because Fonda had more credibility than the soldiers? I’m dubious.

            As for Benge, he’s a brave and admirable man, who took Fonda’s visit as an opportunity to tell his jailers to fuck themselves. Good for him. I don’t see how that’s something that could reasonably be anticipated.

            By the way, here’s Benge on David Harris:

            I held Joan Baez’s husband in very high regard, for he thought the war was wrong, burned his draft card and went to prison in protest. If the other anti-war protesters took this same route, it would have brought our judicial system
            to a halt and ended the war much earlier, and there wouldn’t be as many on that somber black granite wall called the Vietnam Memorial. This is democracy. This is the American way.

          • So it is your position that the North Vietnamese did not use the cover being given by celebrities (“The POWs are being treated very well!”) as license to treat other POWs poorly?

            This does not jibe with the opinions of the POWs that were treated poorly, you know.

            I don’t know how much weight I ought give your/their opinion in relation to the other… perhaps you could help with that.

          • I wasn’t there at the time, or even old enough to be aware of much at the time, but it seems unlikely to me that Jane Fonda gave them the ability to become more brutal than they had already been. Note that the Snopes piece you quoted largely debunks untruths that made Fonda’s actions seem to have specific consequences.

            That Jane Fonda would become the focus of the POW’s ire is entirely understandable, and I don’t blame them a bit.

          • Their ire includes such things as “the North Vietnamese knew that they could do things and people would deny that they happened even in the face of soldiers saying that they did.”

            Do you not see how this could lead to the North Vietnamese doing things that they would not have done without apologists?

            Do I need to instead give examples from the War on Terror to get you to acknowledge that apologists make certain things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be?

          • Sure. Tell me what Bush, Cheney, and Woo did that they wouldn’t have dared without some foreign bimbo making excuses for them.

          • Is “foreign” necessary now?

            Because I’m under the impression that there is a large number of folks out there who say such things as “well, it’s okay… so long as it’s to keep Americans safe” who give a great deal of cover for Obama and future presidents to keep up the whole rendition thing and if there weren’t folks giving this cover, it’d be a hell of a lot more likely to stop.

            Or do you believe that the fault lies in the hands of Bush, Cheney, and Yoo alone and does not extend past the hands of the bad actors?

          • Remind me what we’re talking about. I thought it was Jane Fonda.

          • No.

            We are talking about moral culpability on the part of people who “inspire” immoral actions in others.

            This thread was started by discussing whether that jerky guy was culpable for deaths that took place in Afghanistan because he burned a book in Florida.

            This led to questions regarding whether Jane Fonda was culpable for the beatings of soldiers in North Vietnam and then whether Bush/Cheney/Yoo were the only folks culpable for waterboarding/rendition.

          • Jones’s actions led directly to the riots by a chain of causation attested to by all involved, and which was easily predictable by similar chains occurring in the recent past. Bringing up other circumstances which were more amorphous doesn’t alter that.

          • Bringing up other circumstances which were more amorphous doesn’t alter that.

            Amorphous is in the eye of the beholder.

            As for the “chains” of causation, I return to my first comment:

            My problem with this particular take is that “we” (for whatever definition of “we” you’re into) are the only moral actors in the equation.

          • I’ve explained why I don’t see that as the case. I don’t see a lot of point in going around again.

Comments are closed.