Thank goodness there are rare exceptions to the law but there is a point where freedom of speech can create life-threatening conditions and should not be legally tolerated.
The actions of a backwoods fundamentalist preacher in Gainesville, Florida has served as the match igniting the fuse that has caused riots in Afghanistan where some 20 people over the last two days are dead, including foreign UN emissaries, and over a 100 injured, many who were Afghan protesters. By holding a mock trial and accusing the holy book of Islam, the Koran, of being “a dangerous book” and associating Islam with the devil, innocent people have died from the actions of a man who is far removed from the people and culture he openly condemns.
Terry Jones of the small Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville proclaimed himself as judge of a book he knows little about other than what many other narrow-minded Americans have gleaned from the Koran and heard from equally narrow-minded opponents of Islam. To give the appearance that his decision was “fair”, Jones, who donned a judicial robe was accompanied by several other actors to stage a 6-hour event that was streamed across the Internet with Arabic subtitles.
One sympathetic blogger who witnessed the event “described it as a mock criminal trial attended by about 50 people: An Egyptian Muslim who converted to Christianity acted as a ‘prosecuting attorney. Another man, reportedly a devout Muslim from Sudan, served as a ‘defense attorney,’ with Terry Jones, the pastor, wearing a black robe and presiding as ‘judge.’ A number of so-called expert witnesses were called, including two ex-Muslim converts to Christianity, an Egyptian Christian, and a woman who had been married to a Muslim man who reportedly beat her.” (Pastor of church that burned Koran calls Afghan mob killings ‘very tragic’ by Richard Fausset, LA Times, 4/1/11)
What makes this whole things so reprehensible besides the fact that an anti-Islamic preacher has apparently little understanding of other religions, is his claim of exercising his constitutional rights as an American citizen. “[W]e live in America and people are free to do as they please within the confines of the law”, Jones told the blogger JoBeth Gerrard who appears to share Jones’ hate for Islam. Yet this claim could and should be seriously challenged in a court of law under the “clear and present danger” precedent established by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the 1919 Schenck v. United States case.
Speaking for a unanimous court Holmes stated that “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.
Though the impact of Jones’ actions were felt outside this country, the threat to American service personnel in Afghanistan is apparent and the actual deaths of non-Americans there should also hold Rev. Jones accountable. The volatile situation that exists in Afghanistan was a powder keg before his March 20th actions following a recent air strike on mistaken innocent Afghan civilians. The fervent anti-American and anti-Western mood of many Afghans was tender to a fire that needed only the ignition of Jones’ actions to erupt into a deadly melee.
Claiming ignorance of these conditions is also not allowed in a court of law and the fact that Jones would conceivably make such a claim is even more reason to severely reprimand his ignorance in order to prevent copy cat actions from other hateful groups in this country. But Jones was of course aware of the hazards that a Koran burning would result in. Last September when he vowed to do this as a protest to an Islamic cultural center being built near ground zero in New York city, many authorities, including Defense Secretary Bob Gates and the President himself made Jones aware of the negative consequences such action could effect.
For anyone who might give legitimacy to this offensive act by one of the largest religious groups in the world is to simply be blinded by the fact that what selective arguments they make against Islamic Sharia law could be equally applied to the Mosaic law in old testament scriptures. The reality that some fanatical fundamentalists in Muslim countries carry out heinous and extreme interpretations of Sharia is to overlook that the vast majority of Muslims condemn such practices and have made this known in the Amman Message; a document that was “unanimously adopted by the Islamic World’s political and temporal leaderships at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit at Mecca in December 2005.”
One of the three points agreed to in this message “set forth the subjective and objective preconditions for the issuing of fatwas, thereby exposing ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam.
The “Sharia threat” argument is based on an extreme type of scripturalism where one pulls out verses from a sacred text and argues that believers will behave according to that text. But this argument ignores how believers themselves understand and interpret that text over time.
The equivalent would be saying that Jews stone disobedient sons to death (Deut. 21:18- 21) or that Christians slay all non-Christians (Luke 19:27). In a more secular context it is similar to arguing that the use of printed money in America is unconstitutional— ignoring the interpretative process of the Supreme Court. (Understanding Sharia Law by Wajahat Ali and matthew Duss, Center for American Progress, 31/11)
We are a nation of laws that sadly may allow Rev. Jones’ action to go unpunished but we are also a nation supposedly founded in part by people who sought refuge from religious intolerance. However, based on the actions of people like Terry Jones, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Christians like those in Orange County, Calif., religious tolerance exists only for those people who profess a belief in the orthodoxy of the Judeo-chritain faith. All others are fair game to the prejudice and hatred that ignorance can arouse.
- The Koran-Burning Pastor’s Crocodile Tears (thedailybeast.com)