Saturday, April 02, 2011

Hatred begets murder

What is one to think? I sometimes just despair about the utter evil that people engage in, carelessly inciting hatred against each other and wreaking havoc upon the innocent. So-called pastor Terry Jones put the Qur'an on trial on March 20 at his church in Florida. It was defended by an imam from Dallas (I feel sorry for that man!). The certainly not-impartial jury of his church declared the Qur'an guilty, and decided that the punishment was burning. The whole event was video-taped and can be viewed on the internet. (Search for the video yourself, I don't want to link to it).
On the video, a pastor named Wayne Sapp is seen igniting a kerosene-drenched copy of the Koran with a plastic lighter. Members of the church watch the book burn for several minutes while several photographers snap pictures. Finally, Mr. Jones says, “That actually burned quite well.”
How vile.

I am irresistibly reminded of the medieval disputations that Jews were forced to engage in, defending Judaism and its holy books from Christian accusers (often Jews who had converted to Christianity; the accuser of the Qur'an in Florida was a Muslim who had converted to Christianity). The Talmud was tried and found guilty in Paris in 1240, and then burned in 1242 and 1244. It was also burned in Italy in 1553 (see The Jew in the Medieval World, pages 163-169 and 191-193).

12 people working for the UN were killed by a mob today in Afghanistan in response to the burning of the Qur'an. The UN workers were people who were working for the rebuilding of Afghanistan, who came to create and not to destroy. The mob attack began because three mullahs at the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif "urged people to take to the streets to agitate for the arrest of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who oversaw the burning of a Koran on March 20. Otherwise, said the most prominent of them, Mullah Mohammed Shah Adeli, Afghanistan should cut off relations with the United States. 'Burning the Koran is an insult to Islam, and those who committed it should be punished,' he said." The mob hunted for Americans to attack, but not finding any, went to the UN compound and attacked it.

Terry Jones, the so-called minister, reacted in this way:
Mr. Jones said in an interview with Agence France-Presse on Friday that he was “devastated” by the killings of 12 people in a violent protest in Afghanistan when a mob, enraged by the burning of a Koran by Mr. Jones’s church, attacked the United Nations compound in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. “We don’t feel responsible for that,” he told the news service.
I know that the First Amendment precludes arresting Jones, but I feel that he is morally responsible for the killings in Mazar-i-Sharif, along with the three mullahs who incited the mob and the people who actually did the killing.

Jones pretends to be a minister of the Gospel - the same Gospel that teaches Christians, in the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (5:44-45): "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." He also says (5:39): "But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."

Instead of doing what Jesus commanded his followers, "Mr. Jones demanded that the United States and United Nations take 'immediate action' against Muslim nations in retaliation for the deaths. 'The time has come to hold Islam accountable,' he said."

I'm not a Christian, but I can imagine how they feel when they see how Jones has twisted the Gospel he pretends to believe in and uses it to incite hatred and violence. I know how I feel when other Jews use Judaism to incite and justify hatred and violence against Palestinians - shame, and anger that my religion has been hijacked to bring more evil and violence into a world that is simply reeling with it. May God have mercy upon all of us, the righteous and the unrighteous together.

Update, Saturday morning, April 2

Apparently there were other people involved in the incitement to murder. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan who to me seems increasingly like he's making a play for Taliban support, spoke publicly about the Qur'an burning last Thursday.  
The latest demonstrations were sparked by sermons at Friday Prayer this week over the Koran burning. A week earlier, Friday Prayer had not provoked such reactions, even though the Koran burning had already taken place.

Both Afghan and international news media had initially played down or ignored the action of Mr. Jones, the Florida pastor. This Thursday, however, President Hamid Karzai made a speech and issued statements condemning the Koran burning and calling for the arrest of Mr. Jones for his actions. On Friday that theme was picked up in mosques throughout Afghanistan.

There is no provision in American law for arresting anyone for burning a Koran, or for that matter a Bible, which the courts would consider protected free speech.

“Karzai brought this issue back to life, and he has to take some responsibility for starting this up,” said a prominent Afghan businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concern over retribution if he was publicly critical of the president. “Karzai’s speech itself provoked people to take such actions,” said Qayum Baabak, a political analyst in Mazar-i-Sarif. “Karzai should have called on people to be patient rather than making people more angry.”
There were also riots in Kandahar today, where nine people were killed. Rioters rampaged through the streets, and seem there to have been directly led by the Taliban. "Zalmai Ayoubi, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the rioters attacked the Zarghona Ana High School for Girls, burning some classrooms and a school bus. The school is supported by the United States Agency for International Development. The Taliban have opposed girls’ education."

Mark Potok writes in the Hatewatch blog:
And, ultimately, responsibility for this atrocity obviously rests mainly with the murderers who committed it and those who encouraged them to act in  response to Jones’ provocation. But as barbaric as the crowds were, it’s hard to avoid assigning a great deal of the blame to Jones, even though his despicable actions are protected under the First Amendment.


  1. The opinion you speak is no different from asserting that blasphemy is a legitimate concept. It is not. Burning books, while wrong on its own terms, is not any more reprehensible than burning the flag. If you say, it is ok to burn the US flag - because you do not see it as a sacred symbol -, then you, by necessity, ought not be condemning Mr. Jones in the way you do.

    I object to the burning of books because I think it a bad thing to do. However, placing this in the same context that you place the burning of the Talmud - something that occurred centuries ago -, is nonsense. Were a copy of the Talmud burned today, you would not fret and you know it. The same for the scriptures. They are a book and the fact that others do not respect that book is a private matter, not something to be responded to by killing people.

    So, why not treat this as you would no doubt treat flag burning: as the mere expression of an opinion? Muslims, in fact, need to live in the world that is and should not be protected from blasphemy. Otherwise, people will die - as occurred when the same logic was used against Mr. Rushdie - for expressing blasphemous views. And, to side with those who kill over the burning of a book is pretty reprehensible, all things considered.

  2. There is a very thoughtful analysis of the issues raised by you on the Family Security Matters website. I think it addresses your issues as well as noting that it is an insufficient point of view because, in the end, a book is never worth taking a life. Here is the link:,css.print/pub_detail.asp

  3. How do you know how I would react if either the American flag, a Bible, or the Talmud were burned? I would be upset.

    The reason I cited the medieval trials of the Talmud was that Jones did exactly the same thing with the Qur'an. He held a trial of a book (not of a human being), and the result was foreordained. The big difference, of course, is that Jones was not operating with the power of the state behind him, unlike those who burned the Talmud in the middle ages. Medieval Talmud-burnings were spectacles imposed by the state, not mere personal opinion. The goal was to stamp out Judaism as a religion.

    I imagine that Terry Jones has the same goal with his pathetic trial and burning of the Qur'an.

  4. Rebecca,

    No one with any ability to do so is trying to wipe out Islam - and no Muslim reasonably believes such to be the case. With that in mind, you have now explained exactly why it is that Jones bears no moral responsibility here; the actual moral responsibility goes to those who preach that Islam the religion is under attack and that the way to fight back is to kill people.

    The cause is not the nasty Rev. Jones. It is lunatic preachers who tell their ignorant flock that their religion is under attack, when that is not only untrue but a lie.

    By the way, I, for one, would not go kill anyone if a Bible, flag or the Talmud was burned. Would you? Obviously not. You and I believe that books are made of paper and that, if burned, another copy can be obtained. However, in Islam to those who devoutly take it as inerrant, the Koran is not a book, it is literally the uncreated recitation of Allah's word. Hence, burning it is properly punishable by death, as Islamists see the matter.

    Now, Islamists with an eye for realizing the absurdity of claiming that Islam is literally under attack, claim that the US is the Great Satan - as in seducer, as in one who seduces Muslims away from the one true faith. On that definition, Islam is certainly under attack. But, that is not what is told to ignorant people in places like Afghanistan. Such people are told that Islam is literally under attack, as shown by acts such as our troops being in Muslim lands and our desecration of what Muslims are told to take as sacred.

    That, not Jones, is the cause here.