Monday, April 4, 2011

Who's to blame? (Koran burning and the reaction thereto)

Koran burning: Afghan Taliban exploits riots sparked by Koran burning -

Afghans burn Obama in effigy. Image via LA Times.
Is lunatic provocateur Terry Jones responsible for the lives lost and other reactions to his stupid stunt? Of course not. His actions are exactly as idiotic, insensitive, and inflammatory as they were before the Afghans found out what he did, but the reaction doesn't change his responsibility for his actions. Neither Jones, nor the press who reported the incident, nor the bloggers (like me) who linked to coverage of the event are responsible for the reaction. That he was provocative doesn't change the nature of the appropriate response to that provocation.

I think Jones knew what might happen as a result of his burning the Koran, and if he didn't he's an even bigger moron than we all think. Doesn't change the fact the appropriate response (universally, regardless of how you feel about sacredness of the Koran) was to deride Jones and his followers, to mock them mercilessly for being the deluded [expletive deleted]s they are, maybe even burn some Bibles in childish tit-for-tat, if it would make you feel better. but violence was never an appropriate response here. He destroyed a thing, not a person, not the property of someone who might have an interest in preserving the thing, not a unique or valuable thing. Now, you might dispute the value of the thing, especially, I suppose, if you think the thing is sacred but consider there is no moral obligation on anybody's part to hold sacred anything you hold sacred except those universal rights (life, liberty, etc.); because, if you think some book is sacred, then your definition of sacred is so cheap as to be useless.

If someone destroyed the first book to ever roll off a printing press, or the only existing copy of a text that would otherwise be lost, then some sort of criminal liability can and should apply to protect the individual or collective rights of people to preserve artifacts of historical value, or even their simple property rights. I'm not saying it's never appropriate to place some value on a thing, I'm just saying that nobody should ever die because a group of people had risky, violent reaction to something somebody did to a thing that wasn't theirs, and they wouldn't have missed had nobody ever told them about the destruction of the thing.

I think I'm going to burn some cheap, worthless things I've got lying around. Not going to tell you what they are, except to assure you they are my property, they have no historical significance, and they are not unique in any meaningful way. I'm not going to post a video of it, nor tell anybody when it's done, nor talk about it again. Are you quivering with rage? You might be if you knew what they were. Might be something you, or someone somewhere, call sacred. If you're concerned I might be fixing to burn a copy of your holiest text, or a flag which is involved in some ritualistic behavior to which you ascribe some importance, then you should consider the possibility there's something wrong with you and your value system, because it seems to me you care way too much about things that don't matter.

You might be saying you don't care because there's a difference: Jones filmed his Koran-burning to rub it in the faces of those who do care. OK, but if that's your position, then what you're telling me is actions are good or evil only when someone is watching, which may explain why you think there needs to be a god. Is there a difference between doing something privately and rubbing the same in someone's face? Of course. But this goes back to my point about letting the response to the offense suit the nature of the offense.
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