Afternoon InquisitionReligion

AI: Book Burnings and Retaliation

The Rev. Terry Jones, a minister of a small Florida church, plans to burn the Quran on Sept. 11.

He’s been asked by several leaders, including President Obama, to reconsider. And elsewhere, hundreds of angry Afghans burned an American flag and chanted “Death to the Christians” to protest the planned burning of Islam’s holiest text.

But what do you think?

Is this an act of patriotism? Is the Rev. just doin’ the Lawd’s work? Is he making a terrible mistake? Just out of kindling? What are the consequences? Thought?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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57 Comments

  1. I’m a firm believer in freedom of/from religion. I respect everyone’s right to their own beliefs or lack thereof. As far as the book burning goes, I say add a Bible, Kama Sutra, Book of Mormon, The God Delusion and Origin of Species to show that no THING is sacred.

    But the thing I find most disturbing is the idea people keep insisting that other countries live up to “our standards” while advocating that we lower our practice of them to theirs.

  2. Tacky move on the preacher’s part. Stupid Gen. Petraeus called attention to it, everybody should’ve just ignored this stump-jumpin idiot preacher.

    The General, however, should have known better. Dick political move, or an accident on his part? That’s my AI.

  3. A stated objective of our military is to work with local government and their people. Part of that is to try to appear to be “good guys” in a part of the world where a portion of the population fucking flip out, riot, and promote/commit violence when they hear that a cartoonist drew their prophet or that someone flushed pages from the qur’an down a toilet.

    Doesn’t make it right, but that’s the kind of culture our military is trying to work with.

    I think he’s an idiot trying to get attention, and now that he’s in the media spotlight doesn’t want to back down.

    If burning a ton of muslim books would be a help to the military or if the objective had been to have a war against Islam, we’d have bombed Mecca by now.

  4. @davew: Yup.

    My plan is to go buy a copy of the Koran and read it on Saturday (or start reading it, anyway). Hope I don’t get any funny looks at the bookstore, though, I don’t want them thinking I’ll be burning mine. Maybe I’ll pick up a Bhagavad Gita, too, haven’t read any of that one yet.

  5. Goose-stepping morons should try reading books instead of burning them…but, as long as fire safety is taken care of and all proper permits and licenses are established (if necessary), go ahead and knock yourselves out, fundies.

  6. I always felt that when they start burning books it’s a sight of falling freedom. Trying to keep information from The Masses is one of the first steps of tyranny.

    Fortunately it’s only one nutjob. He may be the tyrant of his small church but I’m very happy to see that even other squirrels are not following suit.

    Now if only we could get the press to ignore him so the whole country doesn’t have to face the repercussions of his actions.

  7. Is this an act of patriotism? Is the Rev. just doin’ the Lawd’s work? Is he making a terrible mistake? Just out of kindling? What are the consequences? Thought?

    No
    No
    Nope
    Books are good kindling. Or joint papers in a pinch (bible joints taste the blasphemiest)
    Hopefully none physical, but the news machine is grinding away at the information.
    This made me order a free quran on the net to be delivered to me, I wonder if this will actually increase the publicity of the book (which as we all know is a good way to make people not believe a religion – read the holy book)

  8. I think this man has the right to burn any book he owns, provided he obeys all the local fire safety laws. I don’t think the Quran — or any religion’s scripture — should have any special status over other books.

    I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea, since it will not help his cause — it won’t stop Muslims from being Muslim, and it certainly won’t make him any friends. Perhaps he should ask himself if an angry Muslim burning a large number of Bibles would change his beliefs.

  9. To think, someone is still upset over the battle of Manzikert. The Rev. Terry Jones seems like someone who really wants to convince the world of the evil nature of Islam so he’s going to put on the mantle of Medieval Catholicism and poke all Muslims in the eye with a stick. When some nut-job cuts his head off his mission will be accomplished and the peace of Christ will reign.

    I can only hope that I’ll be above being entertained by what happens.

  10. I keep trying to write some deep thought on how I feel about this but it’s not working so I’ll just this.

    He has the right to burn the Quran if he wants, no one is threating to take that away, that only happens if you burn a flag. The issue is he shouldn’t, this is one of those case where he’s supposed to be the bigger person. Although he probably won’t be.

    And really there’s so many better choices of books to burn, The Secret, Sphere, everything written by, Dr. Laura, Dr. Phil, Oprah, Kevin Trudeau, the list goes on.

  11. To any christians who approve of the pastor’s actions… turn it around. Suppose that a small group of muslims chose to burn copies of the bible to protest the KKK (who, after all, claim to be exemplary christians). Would that bring people closer together or would it drive a wedge?

    I’m neither christian nor muslim but it is just stupid to carry out an act that has no upside and lots of downside.

  12. @prfesser: I’m neither christian nor muslim but it is just stupid to carry out an act that has no upside and lots of downside.

    No upside? I can see one. What if the good reverend is working for the radical islamists? Agent provocateur is a time honored profession.


    davew

  13. Do I believe this guy has the right to a Quranic bonfire? Yep. The First Ammendment has his back.
    Do I think he’s a dick and it’s dick move? Oh yeah.
    Is there any purpose to it? A dick is making a dick move – it’s his nature. That is all.

  14. I believe the event was canceled, but I was in favor of it for two reasons. First, I like the idea of burning holy books, second I like that this makes christians look like extremist fools for burning the book and muslims look like extremist fools for reacting to it.

    However, this remains my favorite example of christian book-burning. What’s better than christians burning bibles.

  15. The elephant in the room, here, has always been the strong undertones of nationalism and racism running through this stunt.

    The fact is, Islam is a minority religion in this country, and it’s also a religion mostly embraced by minorities. It’s not like there are a ton of WASMs (White Anglo-Saxon Muslims) running around the US.

    Provocative acts like this Quran-burning thing foster a climate of intolerance. Whether or not you think religious affiliation is something worthy of tolerance (PZ Myers obviously doesn’t), you can’t deny that it’s an act that would have made a small, already-demonized minority feel even less comfortable in this country. Hell, even now that the thing got called off, I’m sure there are plenty of Muslims — practicing, lapsed, or otherwise — who are looking at the majority with even greater fear after seeing the support this thing got.

    Jones had the right to burn his own property, if he wanted to, and I would never have said otherwise. And it’d be wrong to invoke the slippery slope and say “next they’ll be burning people!” But whether WE believe in a particular symbol or not, symbols have MEANING.

    Burning a mess of Qurans, for instance, has an unmistakable meaning: Go back where you came from; you are not welcome. I don’t, for a minute, believe this whole “We’ll show them terrists we ain’t a’skeered!” BS. And I don’t buy PZ’s “Let him burn stupid magic books” angle, either. This thing was just the latest example of a growing trend of anti-muslim, anti-minority, anti-immigrant sentiment, and it makes me feel ashamed.

    To not have opposed this (thankfully cancelled) book burning would have been to ignore all of the racist, nationalist baggage that came with it. You can’t, in this case, take the event out of its context, especially after the furore over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque. ”

    I’m as comfortable an atheist as you’re ever going to find, and I have no love for any particular faith. But I recognize that, as nice as it’d be if no-one followed these fairy tales, that day is a long way off. Until then, we have to live together. Why support something that would SO OBVIOUSLY make that more difficult?

  16. Yes, the man is a racist. Absolutely. And he’s doing his best to make his point, and do so nationally with full media attention. However, it is NOT racist to stand up for his right to freely express himself.

    I remember as a kid watching Phil Donahue (okay, I’m not proud!) with my dad. They had on David Duke and I believe he was running for Governor or some such. I remember saying that he shouldn’t be allowed to run, and my dad told me that if they could stop him from running due to his beliefs, then they could just as easily stop black people from running due to their skin color. Racists, though deplorable in my opinion, have rights too.

    I wouldn’t have bothered burning a Koran in support of this, but had a group of muslims violently clashed with his church, I’d have gladly told them they were wrong. Yes, the man is a loathesome prick, but he still has rights. You wanna hear the best way to deal with racists? Follow the example of Wade Watts.

  17. A couple of years ago, I was one of the few on “our side” who disagreed with PZ Myers desecrating the communion wafer. I still disagree with it.

    He had his reasons, to be sure, and he was very good at coming up with justifications for it.

    And I had my reasons for disagreeing; I have friends and family who are Catholic, I like to think of myself as something of a more diplomatic type, and after all, it was someone on “our side” who was being an ass, which I didn’t think would reflect very well on our side. Sure, we’ve already got an image problem, but I don’t think it helped. And whether they started it or not is just childish.

    And I don’t think it helped Webster Cook very much either. The Catholics couldn’t reach PZ; he was several states away, and was a tenured professor. But it was Cook who had his neck on the block. Cook eventually got off with what amounted to a slap on the wrist, which PZ and his apologists argued was due in part to his little stunt. I’m not convinced. The issue might well have petered out out without ever going to the student senate, if the Catholics were ever given a chance to come to their senses, accept Cook’s apology, and drop their complaints. Doubtful? Perhaps. But possible. But instead, they were incensed by PZ’s stunt, and they already had Cook within their grasp.

    That’s just speculation. But so is the other argument.

    This isn’t much different, really. The difference is, it’s not someone on our side being an ass; it’s their side. Do they have a right to be an ass? Sure. Why not? But exercising one’s right to be an ass is still being an ass. Would I speak out and defend their right to be an ass? Damnit, I suppose I’m stuck with it. but with the caveat that I also have the right to voice my disagreement.

    But it would be hypocritical of me to speak out in disagreement with PZ’s actions, and to ignore the Qur’an burning. I’ve been a hypocrite before, but I try to avoid doing it intentionally. So let’s see if I can articulate it better this time.

    I had several reasons for disagreeing with PZ’s stunt, but among them were alienating allies, pissing off moderates for no reason, I don’t remember all of them.

    In Buddhism, there’s something called “Right Speech”. I tend to prefer “Skillful Speech”, as a more precise translation. It’s part of the eightfold path. And since desecration of sacred objects and incineration of one’s own property as a political statement is protected under freedom of speech, then I suppose the concept of Right Speech applies.

    It doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not you have a right to say something, but rather whether what you say is a useful or skillful thing to say. Do I try to live by that principle? Absolutely. Do I always succeed? Fuck no.

    But the question I would need to ask before being complicit or even apathetic about something like this is; is it conductive to dialogue?

    I would have to say no. PZ’s stunt, burning the Qur’an, (I’m sure their are other examples on many sides, but I can’t think of any of the top of my head, and in the interest of brevity, I’m not going to try) the message they convey isn’t “let’s be rational about this”, or “let’s sit down and talk about our differences”, or even “let’s return to our own corners of the sandbox and leave each other alone”. The message is “I’m a flaming asshole, and I’m not even remotely interested in dialog, in fact I really don’t like you, and wish that you would go away.” The most that you can say about that is, at least they’re being honest.

    So no, I would have to say that I disagree with it. Maybe they have a right to do it, and they’re probably going to do it, and I don’t think there’s any plans to try to stop them, so there’s no point in getting too upset about it. But it’s not useful. It’s not skillful. It’s deliberately divisive. It doesn’t really get a point across that I’d tend to agree with. And really, the potential is that it could do more harm than good.

  18. @biguglyjim:

    However, it is NOT racist to stand up for his right to freely express himself.

    Absolutely. Which is why I said one would be ignoring racism — rather than engaging in racism — by not opposing the event.

    There IS a difference between opposing the event and opposing its right to take place. I’d never say he COULDN’T do it. Just that he SHOULDN’T. Big difference :)

    The right to free speech and free expression does not imply that your views must go unopposed. Just like the “God Hates Fags” crew — I don’t have to want to shut their protests down to say that I think what they’re doing is wrong.

  19. It’s like, what, a 50-person congregation? It’s just a small-time church that’s doing something motivated by hatred and racism to get national attention … and what do you know. They got national attention and people are FREAKING OUT.

    They just succeeded in their stupid, attention-whoring plan, which is ultimately to stir up shit and hatred and cause fear in people about THE OTHER (in this case, Muslims). Good job, America. You let fear and hatred win again.

  20. @Expatria:

    I agree with you 100%. Thank you.

    Yes, he has the right to burn the books. But that doesn’t mean his reasonings aren’t racist, or full of hatred, or fucking scary. We should be speaking out against the burning, and the reasonings behind the burning. We have that right as well, and as reasonable people, we should be practicing that right — and not just blindly nodding and saying, “Sure, sure. He has the right to do it!”

    Just because someone has the right to do something doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing to do.

    This blind acceptance makes me very, very uncomfortable. I do not like it. I’d have rather they had been ignored completely, but now that they are getting national attention and people are taking them seriously (!) and many people will be agreeing with what they are doing and saying (SCARY), we should be speaking out against it.

    Jay Smooth said something that’s very on-topic, I think:

  21. @biguglyjim: I don’t stand up for his right to be a racist jack ass and I’m kind of tired of people basically being lazy and mistaking “someone has a right to do this” as meaning “it’s totally cool and totally fine”. It’s NOT fine, no matter what his rights are. Should he be arrested? No, of course not. Should he be called out for what he is? A racist moron who is doing and saying awful shit that should not be acceptable in a reasonable society? YES. A thousand times yes.

    You can’t ignore this kind of shit, not when thousands, if not millions, of people will be listening and watching.

    There needs to be something to counter the hatred and the idiocy.

    Just like we do every day with anti-vaccination nuts. We shouldn’t just stop advocating against stupidity just because *gasp* it has to do with religion.

  22. Jones is a useless, hateful, evil sack of shit. I don’t believe that he is doing this because he is trying to make some kind of christian point. I think he is doing this because he wants publicity. I think he would burn a pile of babies if it would get him media coverage. He didn’t have the proper permits to have a bonfire. I hate the idea of burning books. I would prefer to see these and all religous books consigned to the mythology sections. But book burnings are so distasteful.

    I hate the fact that it seemed that everyone in the media who was objecting was saying that this self important piece of shit shouldn’t burn books because some fundamentalists would resort to violence. Fuck that and fuck anyone who uses violence to enforce their bronze agez vies onthe world.

    All that said it does seem to be a freedom of speech area. The right to be an absolute asshole. And we have the right to call them absolute assholes. And tell them to shove the burning books up their asses as long as we don’t push them up ourselves.

  23. Has this clown actually said anything demonstrably racist though? Admittedly, I (thankfully) have heard and read relatively little about him, but from what I have seen, he actually hasn’t said anything explicitly racist. (though, given his other demographic traits, I would be unsurprised to learn that he was in fact a racist)

    In the news clips I’ve seen, I haven’t actually noted any racism. His comments, when coherent, surprisingly appeared to be entirely restricted to believers in Islam. Most of the highly religious people of his ilk veer into “camel-jockey” and “towel head” territory pretty quickly when asked of their opinions on such matters, but I didn’t see that here.

    I often see an eagerness on the left to conflate criticism of Islam with racism and it bothers me. They are not at all synonymous and to suggest so in my opinion, is actually tacitly racist itself; because as we all know Muslims come in all different races, and race, unlike religious ideology, is obviously unchosen. So claims that anti-Islam sentiment or demonstrations are actually forms of racism appear to me to insinuate that we shouldn’t expect Muslims to be as capable of revising their deluded beliefs in the same way we expect, for instance, Christians to do the same when we protest, or mock, or make art denouncing that religion. Additionally, these suggestions that criticism of Islam and its followers is equal to racism is a dilution of the term “racist”. It’s insulting and offensive to people who’ve experienced persecution at the hands of actual racists.

    Yeah, he’s a religious nutbag and a dick and an unintelligent blowhard, but he has every right to express those unfortunate character traits in a manner consistent with the law – which, insofar as I can tell, is what he’s doing. Obviously I think it goes without saying that what he’s doing is CERTAINLY not patriotism though. PZ’s commentary is EXACTLY right on this one.

    Anyway, that’s my 2¢. And now I would like to trash any thoughtful dignity my above comments may’ve had and cheapen this entire thread by turning Skepchick into my own personal dating service and mentioning what a totty #24 up there is. srsly dude. rawr.

  24. I suppose why we hate book-burning is because there’s a slippery slope somewhere in the back of our heads, a quiet fear at the possible prospect that books will be blacklisted and burned on sight, whether one book, all on a concept, or, goodness forbid, all of them. Lovers of literature are very concerned at the prospect of book-burning because of its history of serving cultural suppression and subjugation of a subculture or belief system.

    In the interest of free expression, it’s important to have it in our cultural mindset that the written word is precious, and that even when we violently disagree with something, the answer is to respond, not ever to burn the word.

  25. He as every right to do what he is planning on doing. However, I don’t think he should. Not because of extremist reactions, they hate America not matter what we do. Hell, we could hand out puppies to orphans and they would be mad because we were giving out unclean animals. Nor because the Koran deserves respect or protection. I don’t think it does. In fact it deserves to be ridiculed and mocked like any other religious text. If this pastor was planning on doing something like making origami pigs out of the pages of the Koran, I might have joined in.

    Burning the Koran should not be done because of the message it sends to local Muslims. This is not about the holiness of the Koran, but it is about sending a message to American Muslims that they don’t belong here. This is about making them afraid. This is about saying Christians are Real Americans and Muslims are not. This is about racism, fear and nationalism. I see this as no better that burning a cross.

    Also, has the Pastor ever consider that no matter what books you burn, you also end up looking a bit like Hitler?

  26. Burning books is just a bonfire – except its not.
    Its a symbolic gesture. In this case it was an intentional gesture of hatred and fear. The good reverend has a book, a road sign and a blog based on his clever phrase “Islam is the devil”.

    His actions are certainly motivated by his own self interest for attention, whether he admits it to himself or not.

    But the media is essentially the true culprit. A low IQ hate monger with 50 followers would have gotten a small bonfire on his lawn. Instead because the media made it into a ridiculous circus our troops were put in greater danger, a tenuous withdrawal from Iraq was made more fragile, citizens traveling abroad were in danger, and somehow Israel was blamed?
    One mouth breathing attention seeker somehow controlled the world. Why? Because the media gave him attention.

    I don’t know the answer. I think a free press is absolutely necessary. But I also think turning the press into an entertainment industry has changed the game into one where the press is directing the world events.

    100 years ago this man might have gotten a small write up in the local press after the bonfire. There was only so much news space, only so many papers and a very small number of editors deciding what to share. That has flaws, but I think I prefer it to our current media.

  27. Everybody seems to be criticizing this pastor, as if he were the real problem. While I think that burning the Koran is in bad taste, retaliating with acts of violence is a thousand times more worthy of condemnation.

  28. I think it is way more scary that the FBI “convinced” the pastor to stop the Koran-burning. So now our government is refereeing our rights, when they think they are politically incorrect? That is a lot more un-American than burning a few books!

  29. I watched a clip of this on the news last night. They showed a protest in Pakistan (I believe) where they were burning the American flag and saying that they would rain holy death down on all Americans if we did this. So the Koran is sacred but the flag is not? Anything you can do, I can do better?

    I have a great idea. Let’s first take everyone who would be pissed off about burning an icon and give them three punches in the nose. Then we’ll take everyone who thinks burning an icon is excuse enough to act like a tit and punch them three times in the nose. Something tells me a lot of people will get six punches in the nose.

  30. @icewings: From what I read the FBI relayed credible threats that had been made against the pastors life if he went through with the burning. That seems like a nice responsible thing for them to have done IMO.

    Also, I’m not necessarily going to jump on the pastor is a racist bandwagon; I’ll vote for naive and stupid man taunting violent stupid religious people. There does seem to be some remarkable symmetry in this whole thing from a non religious perspective.

  31. Sorry, meant to say “I have a great idea. Let’s first take everyone who would be pissed off about burning their chosen icon and give them three punches in the nose. Then we’ll take everyone who thinks burning a someone else’s icon is a valid thing to do when you’re mad and punch them three times in the nose. Something tells me a lot of people will get six punches in the nose.

  32. I think he’s an asshole. I think he’s a FLAMING asshole. I think he’s probably a racist. I say this knowing Central Florida bumpkinness. I think burning ANY book is malignant and consider Qu’ran burning totally different from stick figure drawing. But I think this national security bullshit is a bit over-reaching. However, if he can stay stopped and not be martyred and I don’t have to listen to more fucking whining about how Christians are SO OPPRESSED!! it will be a great thing.

    That said, violence against Christians is trending up elsewhere. We should be trying to reduce ethnic conflict, not celebrate it. Religious people fighting over religion puts us all at risk.

  33. The act of patriotism is to support the Constitution and the First Amendment rights of every American, no matter how distasteful the act.

    And in celebration of the First Amendment: “The pastor is a nutcase.”

  34. @Non Believer: “100 years ago this man might have gotten a small write up in the local press after the bonfire. There was only so much news space, only so many papers and a very small number of editors deciding what to share. That has flaws, but I think I prefer it to our current media.”

    Actually, 100 years ago, there were vastly more newspapers (every town had several.) There were some big chains (Hearst, Pulitzer, Scripps, etc.), but the vast majority of papers were independently owned and operated, and there were thousands of editors.

    I think it is because there are so few people now (at least in the traditional media) deciding what is news, is why this idiot got so much attention.

    Of course, on the eve of the Spanish American War, W.R. Hearst told his correspondent in Havana “Don’t worry. You provide the stories. I’ll provide the war.” because the reported had said there was nothing much going on there. (Unchecked, possible Urban Legend, but even if untrue or exaggerated, people at the time believed it was true.) Yellow journalism is nothing new.

  35. I’m on the side of what seems to be the thread’s general consensus: he’s an asshole with no tact, and probably a racist, but we can’t (and shouldn’t) stop him. We should, however, denounce his xenophobic motivations. I think it would be lovely if every group were secure enough in their own faith to take PZ’s approach of “let ’em do what they want with their own property”. The world would be a much more peaceful place if folks weren’t threatened by such obviously juvenile and deliberately provocative actions. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore what this pastor is trying to do. I firmly believe that we should call this situation what it is: an attempt by a petulant child to pick a fight because “she’s on MY side of the car!” Giving it any more attention or credence than that, however, is counterproductive.

  36. I don’t think I’m adding anything new here to say that this reverend is firmly within his rights as given to him by a free society, but he’s making a monumental ass out of himself and he’s liable to feed the fire that will kill more innocent people in the future.

    It’s his right to stand up and say whatever fucking stupid thing his twisted brain can come up with and to act it out in any manner he can think of provided it doesn’t physically hurt anyone or step on someone else’s rights.

    That being said, the right to do or say something isn’t an endorsement of any of it nor does it lend any sort of credibility to this man, but this is completely lost on those who are going to retaliate using this incident as a rally point.

    If I could, I’d lock every religious extremist in the same room and the only criteria I would use for letting them out is when they’ve agreed to behave themselves and play nice. If they have to kill each other off to reach an agreement, then so be it.

    My only problem with religious extremists is that they usually drag everyone else into their fight, either by hiding behind “religious freedom” or because they don’t care who they kill as long as it’s not the people who believe in their own brand of superstition, or because they actively target everyone who is “not them”

    You’d think we’d have figured out by now that as a society, we can’t afford any more religious wars, that we can’t afford to tolerate anyone trying to kill others because of whether or not they pray or who they pray to.

    On the other hand, it actually makes me feel good that almost EVERYONE on the planet believes in some kind of deity, yet we have already become aware that religious extremism is VERY dangerous and that even blind faith is dangerous. Imagine what will happen when half the population has turned it’s back on silly superstitions.

  37. @ James Fox: Thanks for the clarification on the FBI’s role in convincing the pastor to give up.

    But seriously, did the pastor think he wouldn’t get death threats for burning the Koran? He really needed the FBI to tell him that?

    And, is the FBI doing us a service, to pass on that information to the pastor? Or would it have been better to just let him burn the stupid books, and get killed by a Muslim extremist? I sure wouldn’t have shed a tear over that outcome.

    I’m an orthodox atheist and this religious wrangling confounds me. It’s a book, people! The Koran, the Bible, the Cat in the Hat. Books. Read them, burn them, wipe your butt with them. Whatever!

  38. It’s strange, how on this issue I find myself hopping back and forth to either “side” based on the detail of what is being said. I was all for “Draw Mohammed Day”, being a refusal to submit to religious bigotry and threats. However the community centre two blocks from Ground Zero should be allowed. However a Kuran book-burning is totally inappropriate. However, the enforced respect for Islam through censorship and law in countries like England is unacceptable and frankly disturbing.

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