Commentary: Book burning and verbal bombs at home and abroad

Apr 15, 2011

Murray, KY – On March 20, Florida pastor Terry Jones held a self-styled mock trial in which he burned a Quran at his church in Orlando. The desecration sparked a wave of protests in Afghanistan, which left dozens dead. Commentator Richard Nelson says the book burning is troubling, but pales in comparison to the violent response overseas, where the freedom of speech and the right to articulate opinions are not respected.

The old adage "where there's smoke, there's fire" may need to be amended in our day of instant communication to "where there's a Koran burning, there's a riot 7000 miles away." Such was the case when Florida's chief Islamic provocateur, Pastor Terry Jones, held a mock trial and found Islam's holy book "guilty" of inciting terrorism and violence.

When the report reached Afghanistan, it ignited a firestorm of real violence which led to several days of rioting resulting in at least a dozen deaths. Two were reportedly beheaded. The fact that more outrage on the blogosphere is directed at Jones and his confused cadre at the Dove World Outreach Center than at the perpetrators who ended innocent lives is a side-effect of the PC pill that our society swallowed long ago.

Jones, not entirely blameless, may want to consider changing his congregation's emblematic bird of peace to some kind of bird of prey. Think hawk. Did he really believe his stunt would achieve anything except animosity and possible violence with a people who issue death threats when they believe their religion has been insulted?

According to First Amendment court interpretations, Jones had the right to do what he did, however appalling it might be. Chalk it up to poor judgment, advice from Fred Phelps and the Westboro Funeral Protestors, or a limited repertoire in his ongoing diatribe against Islam, but one thing is certain: his actions are not supported by the tenets Jones claims to adhere. Christianity is supposed to be rooted in the idea of forgiveness and tolerance. Followers of Jesus believe that since they've been forgiven, they are compelled to forgive others; not incite them to further hatred.

The Afghani response was clearly disproportionate and unconscionable. It is the consequence of a closed society where the inherent right to articulate opinions is not respected. In fact, voicing opinions contrary to those established by the thought police could land one in jail or on death row. It did for Pakistani woman Asia Bibi who was sentenced to death for blaspheming Mohammed last November. Her crime was that she converted to Christianity.

Isn't it odd that there appears to be more outrage at Jones who was exercising his free speech rights than at those who have resorted to deadly violence with the demand that he not have them to begin with? I know, it's messy, but if Islamic people like those in Libya and Syria desire greater civil rights then they'll have to protect and respect freedom of speech.

Our leaders could take a lesson here. Last month, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) lobbed a verbal bomb at conservative Republicans who voted to defund Planned Parenthood in a recent spending bill. The 87-year-old senator told attendees at a Planned Parenthood rally that pro-life advocates don't deserve the freedoms granted by the U.S. Constitution. "There are a group of Tea Party Republicans and they have declared a war on women, and we are not going to stand for it! Those who don't respect the rights of women don't earn the rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution," Lautenberg said. ". . . They don't deserve the freedoms that are in the Constitution. But, we'll give them to them anyway."

Still-free citizens lit up the blogosphere and vigorously reminded Lautenberg that Congress lacks authority to restrict civil rights based on political opinion. Respecting a different opinion, whether in the U.S. or Afghanistan, is integral to public discourse. And public discourse is what allows a democratic republic to flourish. This may be obvious to some, but it is time to restate the obvious. The question is: Is anybody listening?

Richard Nelson is a Trigg County magistrate and a policy analyst for The Family Foundation. He currently lives near the Roaring Springs community with his wife and children. The views expressed in this commentary are the opinion of the commentator and don't necessarily reflect the views of WKMS.