Terry Jones and the Afghan Riots

A discussion on Terry Jones' moral culpability for the crazed reaction in Afghanistan to his Koran burning stunt.

A satirical post trying to shed light on the question of Florida pastor Terry Jones’ moral culpability for the crazed reaction in Afghanistan to his Koran burning stunt has lost whatever humorous value it originally had in light of further developments unrelated to Jones. I’ve removed the post–something I’ve done perhaps three times in something like 30,000 postings in our eight year history–for a variety of reasons.

I’ve preserved the discussion thread below, since it was actually very good and only tangential to the subject of the original parody.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, World Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Wow., and I thought the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was a contentious one.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    James, you are so far off base on this one. I think it has much more to do with the tolerance and encouragement of drinking highly lucrative beer, the exorbitant personal seat license and season ticket prices that make management reluctant to throw out drunks, and the in-your-face influence of the 24 hour sports networks. To say that fans shouldn’t show up in rivals stadiums? That’s like the UK’s attitude. And UK fans are universally considered unwelcome thugs everywhere in the world.

  3. mattt says:

    This is a terrible analogy.

  4. Tano says:

    Ah, but if the Giants fans sent 100K troops to occupy LA, to bomb the city relentlessly, not always very carefully, killing hundreds of innocents in the process, with those military efforts designed to undermine or destroy the LA religion, lifestyle and culture (or so the Dodger fans are told by those hwom they foolishly trust) – and then the Giants fans went to the stadium and did something with the emotional weight of burning a sacred text –
    well, then maybe you might have a valid parable here…

  5. john personna says:

    Don’t you need someone to burn a Dodger penant?

    The Fail in your parody is that as far as we know the Giants fans were not there specifically to incite.

    In fact they are more like Christians who carry their own Bibles, rather than Christians who burn Korans.

    Sheesh

  6. anjin-san says:

    Assault is, of course, wrong. But it is a predictable response to the provocation of showing up in a Los Angeles sports stadium attired in paraphernalia of the home team’s most bitter rival.

    So if a guy goes to a baseball game wearing the wrong hat and is beaten nearly to death it is, according to you, his fault. The violence was predictable.

    But Dodgers fans are known to be especially sensitive and volatile

    If Terry Jones seeks publicity for his provacative Koran burning, and it, predictably, causes a violent reaction among some Muslims, he bears no responsiblity. I guess radical Muslims are not known to be “sensitive and volatile”.

    Welcome to the mind of a Republican.

  7. john personna says:

    Better: Christians carry their Bibles to interfaith meetings all the time.

  8. anjin-san says:

    Welcome to the mind of a Republican.

    I don’t think my comment is strong enough. I guess I did not see your attempt at parody – it is just too amazing that you would attempt it in this context.

    Your post is idiotic and reprehensible. Trying to be cute when someone is lying in the hospital with his head kicked in… you have really embarrassed yourself here.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Tano: In the case of the Danish Muslim cartoons, no foreign occupations were at issue. So you’re saying that it’s not just Jones who is morally culpable, but President Obama, the leaders of the NATO countries, and the troops?

    @john personna: The people being killed in petulant rioting in Afghanistan weren’t there to incite, either. Indeed, I’d argue that the victim here is actually slightly less innocent, in that there’s a well-known tendency for drunk fans to be abusive towards fans of opposing teams who make themselves easily identifiable. (I don’t actually blame him, of course–he’s got every right to support his team and abusing him, much less physically assaulting him–is reprehensible. But comparatively speaking, he at least did a little something to provoke whereas the UN victims are there to help those less fortunate.)

    @anjin-san: Nonsense. I don’t even use the victim’s name here. I’m illustrating the absurdity of blaming anyone but the perpetrator of violence for their actions.

  10. john personna says:

    James that doesn’t even make sense. No one has suggested the UN staff as instigators.

    When you flail you only call attention to the emotionality of your argument.

  11. anjin-san says:

    Nonsense. I don’t even use the victim’s name here. I’m illustrating the absurdity of blaming anyone but the perpetrator of violence for their actions.

    Well, I guess you think you are. Very disappointing that you would go this route. The LA attack victim is a father of two & works as a paramedic. I think he deserves a little better than do be dragged into your weak apoligia for a nutjob right wing preacher’s sick publicity stunt and it’s tragic consequences.

  12. mattt says:

    This analogy – which manages to simultaneously drape Terry Jones in a white cloak of good-natured innocence, belittle the tragedy suffered by the UN workers and others in Afghanistan, and exploit the victims of the LA crime for political/humor value – really marks a low point for the blog. Down there with the “sky waiter” rant.

  13. Lgbpop says:

    Is this an April Fools joke? If not, it should be. I mean, this wasn’t even a baseball game in the strictest sense, given what the Dodgers have been playing the past 20 years. They can’t even successfully beat someone to death.

  14. PD Shaw says:

    Well done James, but I’d be careful here. In my experience political satire (particularly editorial cartoons) annoy people more than a straight polemic. You have no idea what this type of post might incite.

  15. anjin-san says:

    You have no idea what this type of post might incite.

    True. It could incite folks to lose respect for James & OTB.

  16. PD Shaw says:

    Don’t make me shoot a mime!

  17. TG Chicago says:

    Very disappointing that Joyner would “respond” to john personna without actually addressing the point he made.

    Terry Jones was specifically hoping to incite violence with his stunt. But we shouldn’t call him to account when he is successful in inciting violence?

    Joyner: if you can’t rebut the most obvious criticism of your argument, you should probably stop making the argument.

  18. Trumwill says:

    Terry Jones was specifically hoping to incite violence with his stunt. But we shouldn’t call him to account when he is successful in inciting violence?

    This is an assumption that not everyone shares.

    As I understand it, Jones has basically said “Islam is a violent religion, the Koran is a violent text, and because of this we condemn it to burning,” which is not the same thing as saying “Watch Muslims get violent when we burn their text!”

  19. anjin-san says:

    which is not the same thing as saying “Watch Muslims get violent when we burn their text!”

    Of course it is possible he is not coming right out and saying that, but it is, in fact, his intention.

  20. Trumwill says:

    Quite possible! But it rests on assumptions that a lot of people do not share.

  21. john personna says:

    That begs incredulity, Trumwill. We have previous cycles, including the much more amusing “Dude, you have no Koran” episode.

  22. James Joyner says:

    @TG Chicago: “Terry Jones was specifically hoping to incite violence with his stunt. But we shouldn’t call him to account when he is successful in inciting violence?”

    First, I’ve seen no evidence that he’s hoping to do anything but call attention to himself and his anti-Muslim bigotry.

    Second, the fact that people thousands of miles away could be incited to murder and mayhem over mere speech is just reprehensible. Going back to some of the analogies in the “Terry Jones Not Responsible For Afghanistan Rampage” thread, people who can be provoked to violence by being called “dumbo” and having their picture spat upon should be institutionalized; I simply can’t bring myself to blame assholes who tweak them for doing so when the response is so disproportionate.

    @anjin-san: As to the “apologia for a nutjob right wing preacher’s sick publicity stunt,” I just don’t see how you get that. In the above-linked post, I introduce him as “imbecilic” and a “cretin” and said he was motivated by ” ill-informed, half baked, bigoted thoughts.” And specifically said, as I have on previous threads when this loon comes into the news, that he shouldn’t be doing this. My only point is that he’s not responsible for evil acts by psychopaths who can’t take their religion being criticized.

  23. john personna says:

    First, I’ve seen no evidence that he’s hoping to do anything but call attention to himself and his anti-Muslim bigotry.

    That nicely moves the argument inside Jones’ head. FWIW, I consider that the final retreat of the “Jones has no moral culpability” crowd. I mean, they’ve made it angels and pins, right?

    Hey, maybe the guys at the Dodger game just wanted a little horseplay! We don’t know what was going on in their heads ….

  24. john personna says:

    Actually, rather than focus on the retreat above, I should have focussed on the concession.

    Trumwill and James seem to have acknowledged, by moving their argument, that yes if Jones burned the Bible knowing that it would have violent repercussions, he bears moral responsibility.

  25. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: “Trumwill and James seem to have acknowledged, by moving their argument, that yes if Jones burned the Bible knowing that it would have violent repercussions, he bears moral responsibility.”

    I’d say that, if he knew it would cause evil people to commit murder, it makes him more of a jerk than if he did it simply for vanity or for the joy of tweaking people’s religious sensibilities. I’m pretty Kantian on moral responsibility: it belongs to the evil-doer alone. Jones has no duty to consider indirect and illegitimate consequences that might flow from his actions, only direct and legitimate ones.

  26. PD Shaw says:

    “That nicely moves the argument inside Jones’ head. FWIW, I consider that the final retreat of the “Jones has no moral culpability” crowd.”

    Why don’t you explain the moral universe you live in in which you spit on James Joyner, and Joyner responds in one of these ways:

    (a) turns the other cheak;
    (b) makes a verbal reprisal;
    (c) spits back
    (d) punches you
    (e) kills you
    (f) kills a U.N. peacekeeper from the Philipines

    In your world view, it appears that the morality of your action turns on what Joyner does. In my world view, it matters not. What Joyner does tells us about him.

  27. john personna says:

    Jones has no duty to consider indirect and illegitimate consequences that might flow from his actions, only direct and legitimate ones.

    I think a lot of reasonable, and respectable, folk in the other thread disagreed.

    What you are really suggesting with the “jerk/responsible” division is that he can play on the precipice. He knows what he’s doing.

    No one should defend that game as you just did in that last sentence.

  28. john personna says:

    If I did my moral calculus PD, I’d not spit because it would in no way make the world a better place, and I’d look for ways to communicate my message both effectively and non-violently.

    The trap in your questions to me is that you are setting up the spitting as something that should be somehow justified. There is no justification for it.

  29. john personna says:

    Go ahead, PD, name reasons that Jones had to burn a Koran to make the world a better place.

  30. john personna says:

    “If I did my moral calculus PD, I’d not spit because it would in no way make the world a better place …”

    BTW, this requires a little foresight on my part, but that’s kind of what makes civilization work.

    We should all (especially on a Sunday) avoid actions that trigger greater evil. The more aware we are of the risk, the greater should be our avoidance.

    Someone who baits the bear is doing evil.

  31. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t know enough about the Preacher to sit in judgment on him. I really don’t understand what he was thinking and don’t care to take the time to do so. Murder is easy to call.

    But my moral code does not depend on outcomes or consequentialism. Each individual is a moral agent whose actions and inactions rise and fall on their own. Whether the Preacher’s actions led to a chain of events in which innocent people murdered or not, really doesn’t matter to me.

  32. john personna says:

    Christian preacher Terry Jones, who after international condemnation canceled a plan last year to burn copies of the Koran, supervised the burning of the book in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida on March 20, according to his website.

    Oh no PD, he’s a big newbie, and didn’t understand the risks.

    (Quote pulled from this previous OTB story)

  33. john personna says:

    But my moral code does not depend on outcomes or consequentialism. Each individual is a moral agent whose actions and inactions rise and fall on their own. Whether the Preacher’s actions led to a chain of events in which innocent people murdered or not, really doesn’t matter to me.

    I don’t know, maybe you just need to take some time and think about the contradiction in this. Murder is obviously an evil action, but why have you got the burning of other people’s religious texts over there on the other side, as non-evil?

    It’s almost as if you are making the burning a “non-action” in order to make it all work.

  34. john personna says:

    BTW, I can’t remember where you were on “hanging Sarah Palin in effigy.”

    I was against it, for essentially the same reasons. While it did not directly hurt anyone, it was hurtful, and contributed to further division.

    Would you defend the effigy hanger in the same way?

  35. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: “Murder is obviously an evil action, but why have you got the burning of other people’s religious texts over there on the other side, as non-evil?”

    Perhaps because it actually is non-evil?

    The Supreme Court has rightly declared the burning of the American flag protected speech. It’s speech that I very much dislike, but mostly because I hate the message.

    Someone burning a book to send the message that they hate the book — or, say, tearing up a picture of the pope to show contempt for the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child molestation — is a very uncomfortable form of speech. And, depending on your view of the subject matter, potentially quite outrageous or insulting to you. But only because of your view of the idea being conveyed.

    Plenty of non-evil people think Islam teaches some immoral things. Many say the same of Christianity. Those ideas are not in and of themselves evil.

    Now, I happen to think Jones is motivated by hatred and bigotry. And those things are in fact evil and worthy of condemnation. I’ve in fact condemned him for that. But the form of the expression of those evil ideas he chose, while literally and figuratively inflammatory, are in no way justification for murdering anyone — let alone people completely unconnected to Jones.

  36. PD Shaw says:

    JP, perhaps you need to think about the consequences of your moral code here. If it was so foreseeable that the burning of the Koran would result in innocent people being murdered on the other side of the world, what responsibility does the media have in communicating it?

  37. James Joyner says:

    @john personna :

    On effigy hanging/burning, I apply direct incitement test. Doing it adjacent to a Palin rally — or on her lawn — is impermissible provocation and/or threat. Otherwise, it’s no different than holding up a sign saying “I Hate Palin.”

  38. john personna says:

    PD, what do you think that “international condemnation” was about, a year ago?

    James, I think you are taking refuge in “big evils” being different not just in scale, but in kind, from “smaller evils.”

    Burning other people’s religious texts is obviously, at least, a small evil. Doing it when you have been warned about international repercussions …. larger evil.

    Though, I suppose I need to enunciate this for people with binary thinking … no, while it is a larger evil, it is no where near as large as raising your hand to kill another.

  39. john personna says:

    BTW, don’t you love how you’ve “cornered” me where “all” I have is non-violence, and Christian charity?

  40. john personna says:

    What would Jesus do?

  41. James Joyner says:

    @john personna

    Was Sinead O’Connor’s tearing of John Paul II’s photo evil? Or was it merely effective speech in a good cause? I tend to think the latter.

    How about the Danish Muslim cartoons? Evil? Or just a robust statement of free speech?

    Jones’ burning of the Koran wasn’t per se evil. There’s no inherent moral reason that one can’t condemn religion generally or a religious text specifically. The evil was in bigotry, not dissent.

  42. john personna says:

    As I say, you are treating small evils as non-evils. You even brought in this other word “jerk” above, I’d argue as a placeholder for “doer of small evils.” We certainly don’t think of a “jerkish act” as “doing good.”

    So in order. Sinead made a strange protest, which struck me more as a cry for help. I don’t think she expected, and I don’t think there were, violent repercussions (against the backdrop of Irish violence.) As far as I know the Danish cartoons were in Danish tradition, and were not made with expectation of world impact. The burning of the Koran out of spite by a Christian is just as evil as the burning of a Bible out of spite by a Muslim. Note that “Muslims do it” has been used above as a justification. Tit for tat, not the higher moral ground.

    Do you suggest Hindus burn Korans? If not, why not?

  43. James Joyner says:

    @john personna

    As I say, you are treating small evils as non-evils. You even brought in this other word “jerk” above, I’d argue as a placeholder for “doer of small evils.” We certainly don’t think of a “jerkish act” as “doing good.”

    Your disagreement with me appears semantical. I use “evil” in a more medieval sense of “supreme wickedness” rather than in the weak sense of anything that’s not wholly good.

    I tend to think of burning of books others consider holy as a bad way to advance an argument, since you’re only going to alienate them. But perhaps your goal is to get the attention of adherents to your own faith and to convey the message that there are fundamental ways in which the other sect is different and worse than yours. That’s not inherently bad.

    In Jones’ case, my sense is that he did it mostly for publicity and to rub devout Muslim’s nose in what he was doing. That’s at best dickish. To the extent that he seems to truly hate Muslims, it’s even a lesser evil.

  44. john personna says:

    “That’s not inherently bad.”

    It depends, do you have to play dumb about likely outcomes?

    We oppose bigoted cretins because we know that for 10,000 years they have been spawning cycles of violence. That said, when we actually capture an example, with cause and effect, where one bigoted cretin did spawn some specific violence … some will tell us we must play dumb. No no no, the bigoted cretin is in no way morally responsible.

  45. anjin-san says:

    > Jones has no duty to consider indirect and illegitimate consequences that might flow from his actions,

    Really? I am curious, why is inciting to riot a crime?

  46. TG Chicago says:

    @Joyner: The difference between Jones’ act and the Sinead O’Connor and Danish cartoon examples is simple. Jones was warned that his act would have dire violent consequences. He was warned repeatedly, by a group of people including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, John Boehner, John McCain, David Petraeus, Sarah Palin, and many religious organizations.

    Often in court cases, the “reasonable person” standard is used. Would a reasonable person believe that wearing an opposing team’s jersey at a ballpark would incite violence? Of course not, since that happens regularly without incident. Would a reasonable person believe that this Koran burning would incite violence? Well, look at the panorama of public officials who believe it would. There was even some violence in the fall in advance of the burning event which was eventually cancelled. You would have to be unreasonable to believe that violence was unlikely.

    So Jones knew full well that his actions would probably incite violence. Yet he has no moral responsibility for the outcome he knew was likely? I just can’t buy that. You seem to say that if Jones went to Afghanistan and burned a Koran in front of Islamists, then he would be guilty of incitement. But if he does it in a situation where he is relatively safe, but others (innocents) are still at risk, then he’s absolved. That strikes me as being backward.

    Tell me how morally culpable Jones would be in these situations:

    1) He goes to Mazar-i-Sharif and publicly burns a Koran there, amidst assembled Islamists.

    2) He sets up a live video of his burning in Florida to be broadcast on a jumbotron in a public square in Mazar-i-Sharif.

    3) He burns the Koran in Florida, knowing that the burning will be covered by worldwide media and news will quickly get to Mazar-i-Sharif.

    Your response to the Palin effigy scenario seems to indicate that you’d find Jones morally culpable for scenario #1. So what technicalities are you using to absolve him from culpability in scenarios #2 and 3?

  47. anjin-san says:

    > The Supreme Court has rightly declared the burning of the American flag protected speech. It’s speech that I very much dislike, but mostly because I hate the message.

    Could not agree more. And if someone burns the flag in public, perhaps even seeking publicity about his actions, and gets the crap kicked out of him as a result, I will not really feel sorry for him. Because it is a pretty predictable result of the action. Grown ups are supposed to understand cause and effect, and factor it into their behavior. In this case, my sense is Jones was counting on it.

  48. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: “Inciting a riot” has a very, very limited definition. Pretty much, it only applies if a leader urges followers to commit specific, immediate, illegal action. It’s an adjunct to conspiracy.

    @TG Chicago:Burning an effigy of someone is actually somewhat different than burning a Koran, in that the former could easily be construed as a threat or harassment under certain circumstances. But I would imagine that under scenario 1, and possibly even under scenario 2, it would be construed along the lines of “fighting words.” Even that’s not entirely clear, however, in that burning a Koran has much more expressive content than “fuck you,” even though the two might be construed the same way.

    @anjin-san: But I would expect the person committing the assault to be arrested and hold him fully responsible for his actions. Further, I would fully expect the police to protect the person burning the flag from violence. There is no acceptable restraint on pure speech on the basis of its content–only on time, place, and manner.

  49. Trumwill says:

    Trumwill and James seem to have acknowledged, by moving their argument, that yes if Jones burned the Bible knowing that it would have violent repercussions, he bears moral responsibility.

    That’s funny, cause I don’t think I have actually stated what my views on the subject are.

    Substantively, I am somewhere in between you and Joyner. On the one hand, I don’t think that we can absolve Jones of any moral culpability and I think your comments about lesser evils and greater evils are spot-on (though I wouldn’t use the term “evil”, even to describe what’s going on in Afghanistan). On the other hand, I find it really problematic how a lot of people are quick to say that the “takeaway” here is that it’s your responsibility not to do things that will send Muslims into an unreasonable, violent rage.

    how a lot of people seem to think that the real “takeaway” from this is not to piss off Muslims or be disrespectful towards them cause violence might happen and if violence happens you bear some responsibility to be really problematic.

  50. anjin-san says:

    > There is no acceptable restraint on pure speech on the basis of its content

    Of course not. But if one uses their free speech rights to try and start trouble, and they succeed, they certainly bear a moral responsibility for the consequences. And, as TG pointed out, the distance issue does not grant Jones any absolution. It simply shows him to be a coward who poked a hornets nest by remote control, at a nice safe distance from the results of his actions.