Do We Have the Right to Burn the Koran?

April 1, 2011

The New York Times reported today that at least ten UN aid workers have been murdered by an Afghan mob. This senseless savagery occurred in Mazar-i-Sharif, “one of the most peaceful places in Afghanistan,” in response to news that a Florida pastor, Terry Jones, finally made good on his threat to burn a copy of the Koran. Pastor Jones and the members of his tiny congregation in Gainesville appear to be religious crackpots of the first order, but anyone tempted to condemn them for provoking this violence has lost the plot. As I wrote previously in defense of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders (“Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks”):

Wilders, like Westergaard and the other Danish cartoonists, has been widely vilified for “seeking to inflame” the Muslim community. Even if this had been his intention, this criticism represents an almost supernatural coincidence of moral blindness and political imprudence. 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. The controversy over Fitna, like all such controversies, renders one fact about our world especially salient: Muslims appear to be far more concerned about perceived slights to their religion than about the atrocities committed daily in its name. Our accommodation of this psychopathic skewing of priorities has, more and more, taken the form of craven and blinkered acquiescence.

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. When they burn your embassies or kidnap and slaughter your journalists, know that we will hold you primarily responsible and will spend the bulk of our energies criticizing you for “racism” and “Islamophobia.”

Will moderate Muslims defend Pastor Jones’s right to burn the Koran?