Radio Freethinker

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Burning the Koran

Posted by Ethan Clow on April 8, 2011

On the Tuesday’s show we discussed the recent burning of the Koran in Gainesville Florida which provoked deadly riots in Afghanistan. The situation which has resulted in the deaths of at least 14 UN workers, murdered as a response to the burning of a Koran.

The controversy began in July and through early September when the pastor of the small Christian Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, U.S., declared he would burn 200 Korans on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. This ignited a media firestorm and the pastor, Terry Jones, became the centre of it.  The resulting attention gave rise to international outrage and pleas from world leaders to cancel the event. In early September 2010, he did cancel the burning and pledged never to burn a Koran.

However, on March 20, 2011 he presided over a mock trial of the Koran, which was found “guilty” by a mock jury composed mainly of church members—after which a Koran was burned. On April 1, 2011, protesters in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, angered at Jones’ burning of a Koran, attacked the United Nations Assistance Mission, killing at least twelve people, including at least seven U.N. workers.

The number of those killed is still being determined. As of April 2nd that number appears to be 14 but that number could go up.

There was a chance that few would have even heard of the event but then Hamid Karzai the Afghan president, publically announced it on March24th to the population of Afghanistan which ignited protests.

Following that, there were two suicide bombers disguised as women detonating themselves and a third one who was gunned down during an attempted attack at a NATO base on the outskirts of Kabul.

On April 1st, three angry mullahs urged worshippers to avenge the burning of a Koran, thousands of protesters overran the compound of the United Nations where at least 12 people were killed.

(Note, in the show I quoted from Susan Jacoby’s article in the Washington Post regarding Qymaudin Kashaf, one of the Mullahs who was to have been quoted by the New York Times saying:

“We expressed our deep concerns about this act, and we were expecting the violence that we are witnessing now. Unless they try him (Jones) and give him the highest possible punishment, we will witness violence and protests not not only in Afghanistan but in the entire world.”

However, I couldn’t confirm the location of the of that quote in the New York Times. I’ll keep looking into this.)

On the show we noted it was odd that nothing had happened in Pakistan, however there has been a strong reaction from Pakistan, however it simply hasn’t been (as) violent.  According to an article in the Union of Catholic Asian News, on March 22, there were protests in the Punjab neighbourhoods of Pakistani Christians, and tyres were burned in front of a church. On 22 March 2011, Amir Hamza, the leader of Pakistan’s banned Islamic organization Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, issued a $2.2 million fatwā for anyone who kills pastor Terry Jones. There was also widespread protesting but it doesn’t appear to have been violent.

Of course the potential for violence is clear, especially when a fatwa is issued for the assassination of Jones.

On April 4, 2011, it was reported in the U.S. Catholic Magazine that the president of the Pakistani bishops’ conference has called for the arrest of Jones. So it is quite clear that the Koran burning has had far reaching consequences.

Many free speech advocates and secularists are viewing this tragedy with an added concern.

It’s my opinion that reacting to the burning of a book with murder is a demonstration of profoundly misguided and warped sensibilities.

However many proponents of multiculturalism are suggesting that burning the Koran is deliberate provocation and the offense it causes Muslims justifies the riots.

When we look at the facts of this situation a few things become clear.

Terry Jones is a bigoted fool. The man has a chequered past of lies, deceit and abusive behaviour. He founded a charismatic Christian church, the Christian Community of Cologne (CGK) in 1981, he received an honorary degree from an unaccredited theology school in 1983, and began using the title “Doctor”, until he was fined by a German administrative court. Jones was kicked out of his Church in 2008 due to the “climate of fear and control” that he employed which included elements of “brainwashing” and telling congregants to beat their children with rods.

Jones assumed full-time duties at Dove World in 2008 after leaving the German church. By September 2010, Dove World was said to have 50 members, with about 30 members reportedly attending services.

In 2010 Jones published Islam Is of the Devil, After Jones announced the Koran burning, The German Evangelical Alliance denounced his theological statements and his craving for attention.

The idea that anyone should listen to Jones or grant him the attention he receives now is ludicrous. This is sort of like going to the KKK for an unbiased opinion on the revolution in Egypt. Jones is a quack. But even if he wasn’t, he’s not a political scientist, nor an expert on religious studies, he’s not equipped with expertise to argue about the role of women and minorities in the Islamic world. Suffice it to say, even if wasn’t a raving racist, I don’t see how his opinion or views would be at all helpful.

Equally disturbing is that President Hamid Karzai has called upon the US to punish Jones for burning the Koran. He has yet to denounce the violence and nor has any of the mullahs. I’m sure that many moderate Muslims condemn this violence, unfortunately the media doesn’t often go to moderate Muslims for sound bites and quotes. Instead, Karzai, who’s position as President is so tenuous he needs to appeal to the hard line fundamentalists in Afghanistan, provides more fodder for racists abroad to label Muslims as likely to resort to violence when their holy book is burned.

So what we appear to have is a foolish bigot exercising freedom of expression and burning a book. A group of people so enraged by this act have murdered a bunch of innocent people.

A lot of people are trying to figure out who to blame in all this. I argue that you could deal out a fair bit.

Jones can be blamed for stirring up trouble for sure. People like him have caused a rise in racist action against Islam, not just in the US but around the world. Europe is full of people like Jones, getting people worked up over the fear that Muslims are going to invade and force Sharia law on everyone. (Population of Muslims in Europe is estimated to be around 5%)

Karzai can be blamed for announcing what a fringe idiot did with a Koran to country with little or no control over its radical elements.

The mullah’s, second only to the perpetrators themselves, can take the majority of the blame for inciting violence and provoking a riot that killed innocent people.

Riots in Mazar-i-Sharif

But some are arguing that Jones is not at fault at all. No one denies he’s a racist, but the issue is rather that free speech is under threat, if someone “speaks with hate” does it give others a right to act with violence?

We’ve mentioned in the past how many religious believers have been pushing for a notion of religious criticism, both satire and serious, as a crime against humanity. A true believer must not/should not/ have to tolerate someone making fun of their religion, or having their belief system questioned.

Sam Harris, wrote about this on his blog, to quote him:

“The point is not (and will never be) that some free person spoke, or wrote, or illustrated in such a manner as to inflame the Muslim community. The point is that only the Muslim community is combustible in this way.”


“There is an uncanny irony here that many have noticed. The position of the Muslim community in the face of all provocations seems to be: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn’t, we will kill you. Of course, the truth is often more nuanced, but this is about as nuanced as it ever gets: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn’t, we peaceful Muslims cannot be held responsible for what our less peaceful brothers and sisters do.”

This leaves us with some issues to consider:

How far does free speech extend when compared to criticism of religion?

To what extent can we place blame on someone like Jones for provoking hate compared to the people to act out violence against innocent people?

Are we faced with a cultural road block when it comes to free speech and free expression when members of the Islamic community are willing to condemn burning the Koran but not the violence that erupted in Afghanistan?


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