Thursday, September 23, 2010

Defending the Indefensible: Part II

I regret, in a way, that Terry Jones did not go through with his plan to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11.  I normally prefer to avoid provocative gestures, but the overreaction to his announcement was so thorough that I found myself rooting for him to complete it.  It was hard, I imagine, for liberals to condemn him in good conscience, since they have such an absolute ideal of free speech that includes, even promotes, provocative gestures against Christianity; nevertheless, they did so.  Conservatives have long advocated positions of "you have a right to say it, but I don't think it a good idea" (along with "I don't think the government should fund you"), so I wasn't surprised to see them objecting.  I was surprised, however, at seeing Jones condemned so uniformly in such drastic language.  National Review was all over him, including editor Jonah Golberg, who called it "stupid, irresponsible, and repugnant."

Let's think about it.  Repugnant?  It doesn't seem particularly Christian, at least by today's definition.  (Probably 17th century Europeans would have had a different idea.)  I have Muslim friends, and I would not want to insult their faith in this way.  Stupid?  How so?  If he aimed to draw attention to himself, he did a brilliant job of it.

Irresponsible?  There's the crux of the matter.  Would burning the Koran result in increased Muslim violence?  Petraeus said that it would endanger the troops in Afghanistan.  First of all, I seriously doubt whether burning a few Korans would significantly alter the battlefield picture.  I'm sure the Islamist terrorists are already doing everything they can against our troops already.  It might trigger a terrorist attack on civilians, which is a concern.  But should it be?  I don't want to be put in danger because of something a pastor in Florida is doing.  On the other hand, I don't want to have to restrict my activities because I'm afraid of a terrorist reaction.  It seems that our whole society is built on the idea that we can say whatever we want.  Jones is not advocating violent action against Muslims (as far as I know), which means that there is no fuzzy line here between acceptable and unacceptable speech (in a legal sense).  That's what Petraeus is over there fight for, in other words.  Far from urging Jones to stop his action, Petraeus should be defending his right to do it.  I realize that those two are not mutually contradictory:  he might defend Jones's right, but still wish that he wouldn't do it.  What we got, however, was all reticence and no defense.

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