Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Burning Korans, drawing Mohammed, avoiding hypocrisy, creative vs. destructive protests — religion just makes the whole frickin' world crazy!

There's a truth about the upcoming Koran cookout planned by Dove World Church and its grandstanding (and light-fingered) pastor Terry Jones: they have every right under the Constitution to do this thing. Are they a bunch of dicks who don't care about the potential devastating backlash of their actions as long as they get the publicity they crave? Yeah, I suppose they are.

Recently, atheists proudly participated in an online event called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, which was as deliberate a middle finger to Islam as we could have thought up. Before that, PZ Myers famously threw a cracker in the trash, making him the bête noire of Catholics worldwide. (Though they conveniently forget that he also trashed a copy of The God Delusion at the same time.) As people who are not above acts of deliberate provocation ourselves — indeed, as people who are currently arguing amongst ourselves about the merits of "being a dick" in our encounters with religionists — it would hardly be honest of us to join the chorus of chest-beating outrage against Jones' church for the horrible offense of burning somebody's holy book. While most of us, I'm sure, take Fahrenheit 451 to heart and deplore book-burning on general principles as a disgraceful act of intellectual cowardice and the suppression of ideas, we should also acknowledge the legitimacy of the act as a form of protest speech. After all, I can't very well defend the rights of flag-burners while condemning a Koran-burner. Don't work dat way!

I suppose where the conversation ought to go from here for atheists is in whether or not Jones is motivated by a desire to conduct a legitimate form of protest, or if he's simply a crass political opportunist, playing into a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in order to increase his profile from "obscure pastor of an outcast hick church" to "internationally famous martyr and warrior for Christ". Well, what is legitimate protest in this context? Yes, radical Islamists brought down the World Trade Center. But all Muslims are not radical Islamists, and all Muslims did not partake in, let alone condone, the 9/11 attacks. So if Jones's idea is that he's protesting Islam for 9/11, he's clearly throwing his net way too wide. The thing is, I suppose he knows it, but doesn't care. He's getting the publicity he wants.

The potential for hypocrisy in criticizing the upcoming burning has been much on my mind, and I've been forced to think about the similarities and differences between what Jones is about to do, and, say, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And then I've been forced to question whether or not any of my ideas are simply bullshit justifications I've been making up to feel better. I don't think they are. But I do think it's a positive thing, overall, that I'm willing to be self-critical. This is an advantage the godless life offers, I think, over the brazen certainties of God-botherers like Jones, who confidently assert that God (i.e., their projection of themselves upon the universe) truly wants them to do what they're planning.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest. It was a response, not only to the real Islamist violence and threats of violence that erupted in the wake of the publication of a few innocuous (and not especially good, when you think about it) cartoons, but to the arrogant assumption on the part of Islamists that non-Muslims were somehow obligated to follow Islam's rules. Also, at the end of the day, what you had were a bunch of silly cartoons. While there was a little huffing and puffing about EDMD, in the end, the message I think got across (to the general public, if not to radicals) that taking someone's life over a lame doodle was both insane and pitiful in equal measure. Lame doodles themselves can't possibly hurt a fly. EDMD might have offended some Muslims. But in the end, no one killed anyone.

Now, piling up a couple hundred copies of the Koran and torching them — that would be a destructive form of protest. Furthermore, it's hypocritical of Jones to justify it by condemning Islam as a hateful, intolerant religion, when he has a history of hate speech (against gays, the usual suspects) and intolerance. While I think Jones has the right to go through with his speech, I don't think his motives are honest. He's exactly what he condemns, except that his religious radicalism wears a cross rather than a crescent moon and star. (The atheists who took part in EDMD might condemn Islam and Islamist violence, but we'd never want to deprive Muslims of their right to worship, as many right-wingers do right now.)

Could this event trigger more terrorist attacks and counter-strikes against our troops overseas? Yeah, I suppose it could, though it isn't as if they needed more reasons to do that. But if Jones ends up giving them one, the first such attack will be all the vindication he needs. "See, we were right about how violent Islam is!" Not caring that, in this instance, he threw the first punch. Yeah, it's entirely valid to condemn radical Islamists for doing what they actually do, which is kill people who aren't sufficiently "respectful" to their beliefs. But you limit your condemnation to those individuals and groups who do the violence. As has been pointed out to an indifferent Jones, it's absurd and dishonest as hell for him to suggest that he's only protesting the violent Islamists, and that "moderate Muslims" ought to support him, when it's their holy book he's burning too.

In the end, I think what we as atheists should take away from all this insanity is a sobering realization that this is the kind of world you get when religion runs the show. Belief pits us against our fellow man for the most absurd of reasons: failure to worship the correct invisible magic man in the correct way. And for all that defenders bleat about the alleged benefits of religion — that sense of charity, well-being, love and community we are told believers enjoy better than any of the rest of us — they always leave out the part about religion's innate tribalism. Whatever benefits religious beliefs confer are only enjoyed by those within that particular belief community. If you're an

We rationalists can only hope humanity outgrows its penchant for religious tribalism one day, and that all these vile superstitions are eradicated from our cultural landscape completely. (Not through violence, of course, but through intellectual and moral awakening.) There really ought to only be one tribe — humanity.

But until then...yeah, go ahead, burn that Koran. Whatever. I'll be at home that day. Let me know when the smoke clears and it's safe to breathe free again.


  1. Burning a book halfway around the world is hardly "throwing a punch."

    It might be throwing an insult, but it's not a punch.

  2. I think it's meant as a punch. Religious hate knows no geographical boundaries.

  3. PZ Myers desecrated a Communion wafer, The God Delusions *and* a Koran.

  4. Not that I would agree with one who would argue it, but the case could be made that, due to images of Mohammed being offensive to Muslims, Everybody Draw Mohammed day was a 'punch' as well.

    Personally, I think that, once again, the fear of violent reaction dictates what someone can or cannot do. If Jones was threatening to burn copies of the Bhagavad Gita, I doubt there would be any medai coverage at all.

    The fact that the pope, Sec. of State, Gen. Petraus, et. al. are calling on Jones to stop the event just shows that fundie islamists are controlling the debate; they're also controlling the actions of one crazy dude in Florida.

    And by the way, things are terribly dangerous for the troops in the mid east, regardless of whether anyone is burning books. I don't buy the argument that this stunt endangers them anymore than they already are.

  5. I'll just repeat what I said over at [Bloomington-Normal Freethinkers].

    So what about these religious bigots in Florida, going toe to toe with a different group of religious bigots? They have every right. Frankly, I’m inclined to sell tickets and bring popcorn. I hope this church gets their event up to the level of a Nuremburg rally. Let them march in ranks around a roaring mound of green leatherbound books whose gilt inlays glitter in the blackened ash. Let’s put it on television so that everyone can see exactly how ugly this kind of thing is.

    I hope that the blowback is equally vociferous, so that people around the world see what a massive inferiority complex that Fundamentalist Islam suffers, and how thin-skinned they really are. I hope that people everywhere get a chance to see that hate begets hate, and that peaceful protest is the high road, and what happens when fear and self-righteousness are made to excuse taking the worst low roads. I hope neither of the Fundamentalist camps realize what it is to be better than that, so that people finally realize they cannot stand and be counted with people who carry such hate and fear wherever they go.

  6. You're right! I knew there was a third item but couldn't remember precisely what it was and couldn't muster the energy to Google it. ;-) He was, of course, pre-empting the "fatwa envy" response from Catholics. ("You'd never have the guts to attack Islam!" Pfft.)

  7. It was stated:
    “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest.”

    Do you think the Muslims see it that way? Simply because (in reality) burning a book is destroying it, and drawing pictures means nothing is destroyed, doesn't mean that your protest somehow takes on a different context in terms of offense to a Muslim – or has a different metaphysical status. Fact is by drawing and showing pictures you're destroying or throwing into the face something they believe one shouldn't do. In the case of book burning, what difference does it make that something is actually being destroyed? Surely the church in question didn't steal the books, right? No doubt the books were their property. In that case the act of burning their own property (which just so happens to have some “holy” words writen on it and is titled the Quran), should be no more or less symbolically offensive then drawing a picture of Mohammed.

    But let's suppose that on the other hand the church didn't purchase the Qurans. Suppose they transcribed it to notebook paper (college rule), or downloaded a PDF copy from the internet and printed out the pages. Suppose they then printed out 100 pages of each page in the Quran, then burned all the paper? How would that be any different then actually burning officially purchased copies with nice leather bindings, and how is burning words on paper somehow more offensive then actually doing something that's (at least to one form of Muslim) explicitly forbidden. Both forms of protest are a show of contempt. SO how can you give one a “creative” status, and the other a “destructive” status.

    Tell you what, I'd rather you burn pages of my wife's facebook page then draw pictures of her and paste them on the internet or television.

  8. I just had an idea while brainstorming nondestructive protests of Islam: Everybody Read The Koran Day.

    Details are fuzzy and it may not work in practice, but basically just read the thing out loud so people are actually exposed to the crazy it contains.

    Of course this should really be done for the Bible too. Maybe do that in December?

  9. PS (to restate briefly),
    whether one is burning or damaging a religions beliefs as they exist on paper, or going against their beliefs by drawing on paper, I don't see how the offense can be looked at as different, if only in the mind of the person who's committing the offense. However that's (what's in the persons head) another matter entirely. What a persons intent is can and often is separate from what the act itself may symbolize to the group of people who hold the given beliefs. SO in fact you have two separate issues and arguments on hand. The first (which is the act) I think would share a similar status. But I suppose in the end you'd have to ask a Muslim...

  10. Well, I agree that Terry Jones's motivations are very questionable but what if the event was organized by a person with a better reputation and dropped all the 9/11 political pretense and said that it was simply in protest to an inhumane religion that endorses human rights abuses against women? It would still be destructive, still possibly incite violence but I don't know that I would object to it to be honest.

    Religions all have their negative implications, but to obviously varying degrees. Buddhism is relatively mild and causes minimal harm while Islam is probably the most destructive in terms of costs on people and society. I mean, if someone insults you then you don't attack them for it, but if someone comes at you with a knife then you are entirely justified in escalating force in your defense. Does Islam go far enough to justify an escalated response? And escalated to what level? What kind of response? Those are the kinds of questions that are on my mind and I don't really know the answers.

    This question I think is at the heart of a lot of peoples Islamaphobia and fear of late. (That and simple in-group/out-group social dynamics, everyone needs a villain) Of course fears of the USA coming under Sharia law are silly and overblown, as long as we defend peoples freedoms we can always prevent ourselves from being subjugated in such a way and Islam's political power here is feeble at best. But that line between defending freedom and giving preferential treatment, indeed creating a safe place for ill ideas to ferment and grow can be a thin one. (Blasphemy laws, I'm looking at you) It is nuanced and that is why the work of people defending the separation of church and state is so important. I just wish more people could understand that.

  11. I'm not personally outraged or offended by the act of burning the Koran (beyond, as you said, the general distaste I have for book burning in principle). What infuriates me about the protest is the rank hypocrisy underlying it. If ANY group -- Muslim, atheist, Hindu, whatever -- organized a "burn a Bible" day, the Christian majority -- including Jones -- would be incoherent with rage, spitting flecks of foam on anyone nearby with cries of "PERSECUTION!!"

    I don't care that they're doing it, so much as the fact that they can dish it out but don't have the spine to take it.

  12. Burn Bible Days actually aren't as rare as you may think, they just don't get the press. It's more likely to be a church doing it through burning off heretical bibles (anything not the king james basically).

    I'm sure if a muslim group did it for the publicity, they could drum up some publicity though.

  13. @Dorkman
    Personally, I'd love to see people follow these guys around, and whenever they want to do a "burn a koran" day, have a simultaneous Burn a Bible Day, just to see.

    Also for a long time I've had the desire to tour the South and running "Harry Potter" burning sessions, I'd send actors portraying crazy preachers (cause finding real ones would be waaaaaay too hard....) to go to the towns 2 weeks or so beforehand and ramp up the anti-occult fearmongering stuff, and then partner with a local bookstore so that if people didn't have harry potter books to burn they could get them at the event, at a premium of course.

    Also it would be a barbeque (there's gonna be a lot of fire, why not use it) charge a bit for it, and me and the bookstores make out like bandits.

    That's just one of the "if skeptics didn't have morals" kinda plans, also I'd want to make homeopathic ionized emotion-infused water cooling systems for computers (which would be exactly like regular ones, except their magic, so they not only improve the speed and reliability of your computer, but it protects you from viruses*)

    *for entertainment purposes only, not approved by the fda

  14. If ANY group -- Muslim, atheist, Hindu, whatever -- organized a "burn a Bible" day, the Christian majority -- including Jones -- would be incoherent with rage, spitting flecks of foam on anyone nearby with cries of "PERSECUTION!!"

    The best response might be to turn up to the protest armed with a backpack full of Christian bibles, and after the fire gets started throw them in too... make sure they see you do it. Their subsequent reaction to this should be studied carefully.

  15. I honestly think they have every right to burn the Koran.
    I also honestly think I have every right to burn the Bible.
    If the document was one of a kind, and precious knowledge would go up in flames, I would be outraged.
    But, that isn't the case. Both the Bible and the Koran is abundant.
    Feel free to burn, "Origins of species", "A brief history of the Time", or "The magical world of la la land". As long as it's your copy, enjoy the BBQ.
    Bottom line is: Don't expect me to uphold or fall in line with your superstitious values and unjustified beliefs. It's my book, I can burn it if I want to.

    I think I'm gonna roast me a duck with my bible tomorrow.

  16. I don't buy any of your justifications except for the argument that the reason they are burning books is fundamentally hypocritical.

    Everybody Draw Mohammad day was a protest for free speech, which is something worth defending. This protest isn't really "for" anything, it's simply hate speech against Muslims, falsely equating them with terrorists.

    That said, I'm glad to live in a country where hate speech is legal. I think they are assholes, but other than saying that, I don't really have the right to get involved in their little "protest".

    The constructive/destructive argument and the argument regarding fear of retribution, those things don't really strike me as terribly different. I guess this action is more clearly an insult to Islam, but if there are some Muslims that react to such insults with violence, that's a deficiency in those Muslims, not in this backwards church of asshats.

  17. "Everybody Draw Mohammad day was a protest for free speech, which is something worth defending. This protest isn't really "for" anything, it's simply hate speech against Muslims, falsely equating them with terrorists."

    I think that's exactly the difference. What this people are doing is dehumanizing musilms, making them part of the 'other'. EDMD was a specific response to a specific reaction off some muslims. It wasn't meant as an attack but as a defiance on the limits they wanted to impose on free speech. It was, as PZ desecration, a statement that nothing is sacred. This, on the other hand, is just gratuitous insult and a dehumanizing act against all islam.

  18. Thanks for starting the discussion, Martin. I was struggling with my own potential hypocrisy on this one too. I think most arguments for and against both EDMD and the Koran burning are a wash. But the one distinction I keep coming back to is the specificity of the protest. EDMD was a reaction to very specific threats based on a very specific point of Islamic dogma. The Koran burning seems much less focused. If it is a response to 9/11, why wait 9 years?

  19. Regardless of whether or not this is a valid form of protest, hypocricy, etc. I can't help but have one quote go through my head. Dr. Henry Jones to Nazi Col. Vogel: "It tells me, that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try *reading* books instead of *burning* them!"

  20. Draw Muhammad Day was in protest of Islam extremists who sought to force the Islamic law of not depicting Muhammad on non-Islamic people. That would be like Jewish extremists trying to make everyone Fast for Yom Kippur and then giving out death threats. Would it be a dick move for people to turn Yom Kippur into the "all you can eat buffet" day in protest? NO! Would it be a big insult to all Jews? Why would THEY CARE?! There laws are for THEM, not EVERYONE ELSE. Non-Extremists know that.
    Drawing Muhammad was only a punch to Muslims who want to force there beliefs on everyone else. The same way a Gay Marriage is a punch to Christians who hate gay marriage.
    Some of you are just being silly.

  21. Jones is getting the publicity of his life. His congregation in Germany kicked him out when it became obvious that he desired to get his face on screen more than to advocate the "correct" theology. Now he's getting attention from, among others, the President, the Afghan president, the German chancellor, and all the news networks.

    No matter how this ends, he's already scored the winning goal - either he's provoking a landmark decision on free speech, putting his name in a precedent case forever, or he's going to trigger a widespread wave of retaliation against the West. Because that's exactly how muslims perceive this: the West willingly allows hate against Islam to flourish and endorses it by remaining passive. Burning hundreds of Korans without interference is from the view of a muslim no better than if Obama would hand plane tickests to a company of soldiers wearing crosses and sending them to conquer Mecca.
    We can't honestly sit there and hope that the Muslim world will learn something about the fine line separating free speech from assault on a person - the Koran is more holy than any person. Yes, it's ludicrous, but seriously, I'm not willing to accept that the free speech of one small group of fundie nutjobs is more valuable than the life of even one person who will be murdered in retaliation.
    I'd welcome if the US made a decision refining the edge of free speech. The Phelps's were prohibited from a specific form of expression, so this guy can too.

  22. It would be interesting to see what the reaction would be had it been "burn a Holy Text day" organised by Atheists...

  23. Hey, at least these guys are consistent! Don't you all remember them burning bibles on the 9 year anniversaries of the murders of abortion doctors?

    ....Oh, wait....

  24. And by the way, things are terribly dangerous for the troops in the mid east, regardless of whether anyone is burning books. I don't buy the argument that this stunt endangers them anymore than they already are.

    Yes, it probably will not endanger the troops any more. But it will certainly endanger aid workers and other foreign civilians all over the world. People were killed last time, and there's no reason it should be different now.
    Just doing the same thing over and over just to see if all muslims suddenly decide to let it slide is plainly insane, and it is some breathtaking cowardice to do so safely sitting thousands of miles away from any probable physical threat.

  25. @ Andrew Cooper: Everybody Read the Koran/Bible Day would be a good idea! It's incredible how the deeply religious are ignorant of the darker parts of their own holy books. There should be an occasion to expose people to all the bad parts of religion (and not just cherry-picked parts). Of course it wouldn't help the deeply religios (or who knows), but it could help out many of the swamp of religious beliefs.

  26. I really don't buy the attempts to conflate DMD and Burn a Koran Day, because in order for people to make them they have to butcher the point behind DMD.

    Put it this way:

    If someone had burnt a Koran, and then received death threats for doing so (or other attempts to prevent free speech occured), then I would be right behind a Burn a Koran Day organised to show support, and defiance against censorship.

    If, on the other hand, there had been no death threats involved in the creation of DMD, then my feelings towards it would be much the same towards Burn a Koran Day:

    I'm not going to stop you - I've got no right to - but I think it's a stupid, ill-advised thing to do. (For a variety of reasons, none of which are important to my point.)

    What some people are doing is trying to say that as Muslims take offence from both actions, they're the same, or at least similar, which is ridiculous. That's like saying shooting a man in cold blood in an armed robbery is the same as shooting a genocidal maniac with his finger on the launch button of a nuclear weapon*.

    The result of both actions is the same - the man is dead - but the justifiability of each action is completely different.

    *Hyperbole added to better make the point.

  27. I didn't think DMD particularly helpful, but at least that was for free speech and telling extremists that we don't let them set the rules. But where they burn books they burn people next. Or they'd like to, only they can't get hold of them. To burn the Qu'ran says: I am against Islam and muslims and I don't give a damn if the majority of them are just decent people trying to get on with their lives"
    And the media should stop giving them all that damn publicity. I live on the other side of the Atlantic and by now people are under the impression that this is somewhat a new American tradition like the 4th of July, only that you burn the Qu'ran instead of fireworks. It's 50 nutjobs and they should rightfully be ignored for not being part of a democratic 21st century society.

  28. Andrew: You aren't the first person to make the entirely sensible point to me that the distinction between a "creative" (drawing cartoons) protest and a "destructive" one (burning a holy book) is completely irrelevant to the people on the receiving end of the protest, who will be equally offended either way. This is why I take the view that free speech in whatever form ought to trump the fact that someone will inevitably be offended by it (particular protest speech, as offending someone is basically the goal of it).

    If there's a difference between EDMD and Jones's Koran burning, it's not a meaningless one: and that's the fact that EDMD day was a much more focused protest, targeting something very specific, and using satire to do so. If anyone had been murdered as a result of partaking in EDMD, the killers would have looked deeply villainous in every way. Conversely, there's no real focus to Jones's protest other beyond his usual "Islam is of the Devil!" ravings. If there's anything specific about his protest, it's that unlike EDMD, this can be perceived as an act of war from one religion (Christianity) towards another (Islam), and if Muslims react violently, many more moderate Muslims will see their reaction as justified than they would have over EDMD.

    Ultimately none of this means anything at all when it comes to someone's right to protest against something they don't like. But if anything, I think atheists can take comfort in the fact our own protests generally take the higher road (drawing cartoons, holding up a sign now and then). I wouldn't see anything especially helpful to the cause of secularism if someone wanted to sponsor a public Let's Torch a Church Day, or a Let's All Piss on Paintings of Jesus Day. "Rights" aside, from a sensible-ways-to-solve-a-problem standpoint it's the difference between spraying a hornet's nest from 25 feet away and walking up to the thing and grabbing it.

  29. Don't you just L0V3 the brotherhood and caring of Christians?

    Here's what I L0V3 about the Koran burning debacle:

    - how The Lord's people seem to accept His law as absolute and divine sometimes and sometimes not. Turning The Other Cheek and the Golden Rule seem to apply only willy-nilly, subject to the personal whims of His followers, including His idiot leaders like this moron pastor. Does God's Word as laid out in the bible inform the morals and actions of Yaweh's people or not? (Hint: apparently not).

    - how nice it is not to have to sort out my life based on some book of static, untouchable fairy tales. I've always thought that The Lord's People have always been the best advocates available for abandoning Him and His Holy books - this is another instance of that principle at work. As an atheist, I'm free to simply bypass the mythology altogether and go directly to my own morality and sense of human decency for the answers on what to do. I don't have to struggle with the intermediate steps of a) er, ok what does the bible say about this? b) shit, it doesn't seem to say anything definite - seems like I'm free to defile, even murder, non-believers in one place, but here... looks like I have to Turn The Other Cheek. c) fuck it - let's rock The Towel Heads' world and burn their books regardless!.
    That's a lot of useless, wrenching work that is easily avoided by simply ignoring the fairy tale books to start with.

    - how the more decent among The Lord's people end up going outside His word for their morals anyway also. The more criminal elements don't care, but many of the good ones _do_ wake up and realize their Holy Book really isn't guiding them in any practical way. They realize they're picking and choosing based on an external morality just like the crooks do and really _do_ do the right thing instead of The Lord's thing. Many of those become atheists too!

    So part of me laughing at these fools fighting over their Big Books of Myths, and the other is saddened by the struggle which often also involves good people as well as bad.

    Meanwhile, I'm just going to hide and watch the Christians Love One Another - the popcorn is popping right now!


  30. "if Muslims react violently, many more moderate Muslims will see their reaction as justified than they would have over EDMD."

    Yeah, they may in reality feel more justified but it doesn't address the issue of SHOULD they feel that way? Religion always gets a pass on their irrational, over the top reactions. If there were some believers that were out burning "The Origin of Species" I might think that's a sad waste of book but I wouldn't get pissed off about it. I mean, really who cares? And that should be the response of people to this burn a koran thing in my opinion.

    I think it is different than the Westborough people because the WBC injects themselves into other peoples lives by showing up at funerals and directly harassing people. If the WBC kept their gay hate speil to their own churches then who cares. If the burn a koran people did it outside a mosque and flung insults at the muslims going there to pray then I would say they are comparable and that they were being assholes but as it stands now I just can't get that worked up about it.

  31. Maybe those offended by this petulant little act should just burn the bible on the other side of the world. then we can have a competition so see who's faith is stronger based on who reacts the most heinously. Different faiths arguing is inherently funny

    At least until someone gets hurt.

    I admit that some people used EDMD as an excuse to simply "offend". But I think the actual point of the exercise was something entirely different. This book burning doesn't even seem to pretend to be anything more than being offensive. Does that make sense? It seems a very basic distinction of intent. Sure, offense may still be taken in both cases. But offense can be taken for just about anything, that does not make every act equal.

  32. Yeah, burning Korans is really going to piss off the Muslims way more than bombing them into the Stone Age with killer robots.

  33. Well, certainly, no one is arguing that Muslims "should" respond with violence to any form of protest, whether it's cartoons or a Koran burning. And as for what may or may not spark a violent reaction, well, you can never predict that. Theo van Gogh made a movie and was stabbed to death by a Muslim for it. So clearly, the radical Islamists are an unhinged bunch, period.

    Jones's motives may be more self-serving than he's willing to admit. As I've said, I think all he's doing here, instead of engaging in an honest protest against anything specific, is riding the wave of anti-Islam feeling in this country in order to increase his own stature and popularity among the teabagger crowd. But that still doesn't impede his rights, nor would that make it more acceptable for Muslims to react to his bonfire with violence than if his motives were of the purest.

    In short, the Hitch said it best: Religion poisons everything!

  34. Well done Martin. (Great title, too!)

    On the creative vs. destructive protest thing:

    The elements of good protest draw upon destructive and creative impulses, upon the friendly and the anti-social. The seasoned protester knows that she must simultaneously appear both reasonable and angry. Indeed, the whole idea behind any protest is, at bottom, "We are angry, and our intense anger and outrage is completely reasonable and rational, and you should be angry, too!" Anytime you have a “destructive” protest, it means the protesters (even if they are not very enlightened) are saying that their destruction (of a Koran, a flag, an effigy, etc.) is justified by their cause. The objective of many a good protest is not to be creative-but-not-destructive but to be creatively destructive. The idiot pastor down in Florida is destroying something as an act of protest, which is to say he’s doing it to make a point. I don’t agree with his argument, and I think he’s an immense hypocrite who is stupid and bigoted, but I acknowledge that he is using the same tools in the protester’s toolbox that we all use—namely, destruction of a symbol to make and draw attention to a larger point. A certain kind of (non-violent) destruction is simply another tool in the protester’s toolbox. If someone uses the tool to make a statement we think is infinitely stupid, that’s not the tool’s fault, and it doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with the tool. It just so happens that, this time, it’s being wielded by a vacuous idiot with a silly mustache.

  35. My question is, that if the problem is that the Quaran HAS evil things in it. Why is he burning copies so his followers now will either never know what it actually says or have to go get a new one, instead of you know..publicly reciting the passages he finds offensive to raise awareness of them?

    Islam makes a lot of claims about peace and not a literal jihad and that, and having a big rally to read aloud form the Quran or the Satanic Verses or Infidel to raise awareness of the problematic points of the doctrine would be better. It is educational, still offensive in protest yet no one can criticize it for just being thuggary it's using what's in the Quran, and would make the people on that side better able to refute or debate Muslims.

    If I wanted to protest Glen Beck I would show clips of Beck doing what Beck does. If I wanted to point out that Palin is a nut who believes people who disagree with her are on the side of Teh Devil I'd read the statement of faith from her church. It seems kinda authoritarian of "it's bad, trust me...don't read it yourself just trust me!" which is what book burning was about. Doing it this way looks bad, it makes the side look like a fascist nut and there's no reason to. The literature stands or falls on its own. Give the demonstration and than defile a book at the end for emphasis, this just seems dumb to me.

  36. Andy, very well put. Much of my original post was me in the throes of still working out my thoughts on this whole issue. A lot of the comments today have helped me see things much more clearly.

    The salient point I think in all this is that we are in a chaotic situation overall, which underscores Hitchens' thesis that "religion poisons everything." The hysteria over the non-Ground-Zero non-mosque, this Koran burning, the Christofascism of the Tea Party and their desire to turn America into a Dominionist Reich in which all the gayz are carted off to camps, Islamist nations cutting women up and stoning them to death... It's all just fucked up, and it's all about religion. There is too little reason in the world, and it's because no one can bear to stop clutching the skirts of their cherished myths.

    In America we have Team Jesus, in the mideast they have Team Allah. And both sides would be only too happy to blow each other (and any innocent bystanders unlucky enough to be in the vicinity) to smithereens for the crime of failing to worship the correct imaginary magic space pixie. I know it's not as if this is anything new, but that's the point. After all these centuries, why can't humanity get a clue for once, let the scales fall from its eyes and see how horrible this crap is, and just stop having religion!?

  37. If I'd have known the sort of publicity you could get for burning a stack of Korans, I wish I'd thought of it first. I'm jealous. It's so stupidly in-your-face, who'd have thought it would be taken so seriously and get this level of attention around the globe--including the Whitehouse? For just burning a book (not calling for a ban)--not even a human being?

    He's got a right to do, so I don't care if he does. It's nothing to me. I'd like to burn a few hundred copies of the Constitution on the Whitehouse lawn in protest of the Whitehouse asking him to refrain.

    The more offensive the legal action, the more protection it needs. The more I hear Jones shouldn't do this, the more I want to go to Gainesville for a tailgate and bring a six-pack, marshmallows and weenies with me.

    I think it would be excellent to have a burning of Korans, Bibles, God Delusion, Green Eggs and Ham, Bhagvad Gitas, Rig Vedas, Tao te Chings, Dharmapada, The Communist Manifesto, the U.S. Constitution, my to-do list hanging on the fridge, and a few dozen Human Rights International docs.

    Burning a book isn't banning a book. It's just a statement. And the law protects the free speech even of people who claim they're channeling statements sent to them in magic bubbles from the mind of the Loch Ness Monster. It protest the statements of self-serving publicity hounds and bigots and hypocrites. It even protects the statements of people who hate the Constitution and vehemently disagree with US policies. There is no sanity test or intelligence test for free speech.

    The sheer controversy he's fueled is reason enough to justify it in my head. Anything that pisses people off and drives a huge controversy in public dialog--that's as inocuous as building a bonfire--has clearly hit a nerve that needs hitting--repeatedly and hard.

    Religious people pissing one another off? hahaha. That's how much I care.

    Again, I only wish _I_ could ever think of an idea that could get people debating around the globe. The act itself was so simple surely anyone could say "I could have done _that_." But hey, _I_ didn't do that--_he_ did. Power to him for a million dollar publicity idea, whether he's a wingnut, publicity whore or just a hypocritical bigot.

    I was invited to "buy a Koran day" on Facebook. I think I may support both--buy it then burn it. After having wasted a couple nights of my life reading the first quarter of that garbage (it wasn't beautiful, it wasn't poetry, it wasn't insightful or intelligent--it was pure repetitive raving) I deserve some pay back from that book wasting my time. It could at least help me with my s'mores?

  38. Tracie: regarding the "publicity" angle, you guys may be amused to know that Westboro Baptist is apparently butthurt about Burn a Koran Day -- because they burned a Koran two years ago and nobody cared.

  39. @afterthough_btw

    DMD and Koran Day are very similar.

    The (Very) First Punch:
    DMD: Muslims claiming that nobody can draw Mohammed.
    KD: Muslims claiming that nobody can burn their Bible. (You can go back a few steps and add in every other religion that has done so, if you wish).

    The Second Blow:
    Both Cases: Somebody breaks the rule. In both cases, the people involved have received death threats.

    The Retaliation:
    DMD: Everybody draws Mohammed.
    KD: ?????

    I am still trying to work out the differences in my mind.

    1. Both cases involved people conflating Islam with terror (DMD involving a joke about Mohammed hiding a bomb under his Turban)

    2. DMD revolved around a joke. If there was a serious message, it was couched in humor. KD was a serious expression using symbols of oppression and intolerance. (I can see this being like the difference between a racist joke, and a noose hung from a tree. You can't dismiss the later as simply "boo hoo! Somebody got offended.")

    3. Both events use symbolism that is offensive to all Muslims to protest the actions of a subset of said community. This, combined with the last factor, can make KD seem a little more threatening.

    I'm leaning toward the notion that KD is worth defending, legally, but not morally, because of factors 2 and 3. Thanks Martin, for bringing this up. It has been bugging me too.

  40. Tracie, you put it succinctly and I couldn't agree with you more on all points!

  41. Gah. Dang it, Dorkman, I just found that myself and was going to post it. *shakes fist* ;-)

    But yeah, the Westboro event from 2 years ago just goes to show that the 'controversy' about this whole thing is largely just a result of the overblown media hype.

  42. Much of my original post was me in the throes of still working out my thoughts on this whole issue

    This seems normal for us atheists on this issue, Jerry Coyne said basically the same. I think it is just overcoming a gut reaction. For example if you see a puppy getting hit on the nose your immediate reaction would be "Hey! That's not nice, why the hell did you do that?" But if you see the same event and add a context of it being in response to the puppy inappropriately biting a child you would revise your gut reaction.

    I think this is sort of the same, as decent people our gut reaction is negative when we see an event that is clearly provocative and destructive, but then our rational side kicks in and we start to evaluate the situation and we decide "Well, maybe the guy is a glory hounding douche but there isn't anything particularly wrong about what he is doing." and so we eventually overcome the gut reaction and come to a revised, dare I say, more rational position.

  43. Thomas - I don't buy it. In fact, I disagree with many of your premises.

    You're going the other way to other people I've heard trying to justify conflating the two of them, in saying that Burn a Koran Day is a protest because people got death threats for having burned a Koran. As I said, if this were the case, I would support Burn a Koran Day, instead of just supporting their right to do it.

    Thing is, I am 99.9% certain this isn't the case.

    For example, Hemant over at the Friendly Atheist did an email interview with Terry Jones where he said:

    "Q. Who is the audience for your event?

    A. We hope to reach Moslems and Non-Moslems to awake and awareness that the Koran is a book of lies and that the only true salvation is in Jesus Christ."


    There's no mention of doing this because someone burned a Koran and got death threats. I see no reason to believe this is a retaliatory action. DMD was defensive, Burn a Koran Day is aggressive.

    Secondly, I have yet to actually hear the claim that Islam forbids people burning the Koran. The reason offence is likely to be taken is the symbolism involved in the destruction of their beliefs, perhaps even the threatening of hell, and the threat of future violence. The offence caused by drawing a stick figure of Muhammad is radically different to that.

    Also, you say that DMD was caused as a result of equating Islam with terrorism citing the cartoon with the bomb under the turban. Again, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the case. Was not DMD provoked by the death threats sent to the South Park creators?

    Of course, if it were the case that it was provoked by the turban picture, DMD would only have made sense if everyone had drawn similar pictures. But they didn't - a huge number of the pictures drawn were deliberately inoffensive stick men.

    Finally, you say:

    "3. Both events use symbolism that is offensive to all Muslims to protest the actions of a subset of said community. This, combined with the last factor, can make KD seem a little more threatening."

    Once more, I don't think this is the case when it comes to DMD. Whenever I've heard the reasons for Muslims not wanting Muhammad drawn, it has only applied to Muslims, and not non Muslims too. (It's part of an effort to prevent the idolising of Muhammad over Allah.) Also, (and please correct me if I'm wrong) I believe these instructions aren't actually in the Koran, but rather in the Hadith (of which Sunni and Shia'a have different ones). That being the case, it stands to reason that infidel drawings of Muhammad would not be offensive to all Muslims.

  44. This is just beautiful. Crazy Christians calling crazy Muslims crazy while crazily burning a crazy book.

    Of course this will offend some people. If you're goal is not to offend anyone, you'll be very busy. The thing is, for some Muslims/Christians, you're offending them right now. Just by existing. Sure, things like Draw Mohammed Day and Koran burning may cause some Muslims to make death threats, but being the biggest prick at the party doesn't mean they get to control other people's freedom of expression.

  45. In case people haven't seen it yet:
    Florida pastor calls off burning of Qurans

    So the soap opera goes on. Jones canceled the event, said he was promised that the "ground zero mosque" would be moved in return. Iman Rauf said that is not true but they are willing to talk. Also the web hosting company that Terry Jones's site was on dumped him last night. Another story mentioned that Defense Secretary Gates called Jones to try and talk him out of it. Jones also said that the mosque moving would be a "sign from god" not to burn the korans.

    All I can think of in response to all this is it's the stupid leading the dumb.

  46. A sign from God?

    Fuck now if he doesn't I'm tempted to just because he said that bullshit.

  47. Well, now he's backtracking on his cancellation.

    Five'll get you ten he's just reveling in his 15 minutes and is looking forward to when he gets asked to be keynote speaker alongside Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck at the next teabagger hoedown.

  48. The thing that I can't forgive is that now this numbnut shows up on Google ahead of the Monty Python Terry Jones.

  49. @ afterthought_btw

    1. Maybe I wasn't clear in my point.

    DMD: some guy writes a political cartoon portraying Mohammed with a bomb under his turban. This was not in protest of anything. It was a racist joke, with perhaps some political statement behind it.

    Then he got death threats, and people who would have denounced him as racist were now defending his right to free speech.

    BKD: Some preacher decides to burn Korans, purely to convert Muslims to Christianity. He gets death threats for exercising his free speech rights.

    So, no, I am not saying that Terry Jones' event is like DMD. I am saying that he's similar to the guy who drew the comic. So why aren't we defending him?

    (And for the record, my conclusion was that it is the use of imagery that can be construed as threatening, combined with his inability to tell Muslims apart. I think our views might be similar, here)

    2. I may be wrong about which cartoonist drew Mohammed, but the one with the bomb under the turban cam first, and I was under the impression that that is the one that started it.

    And my point with the "conflating" statement was that both the cartoon and Terry Jones seems to conflate all Muslims and 911. It was more of a "that isn't the answer" statement, than anything. Sorry if my ramblings have given the wrong impression.

    3. You may be right about the claim that not all Muslims are offended by drawings of Muhammad, but I will take this with a grain of salt. Some Muslims are offended, but they accept that death threats are not an acceptable response. I do not believe that DMD was targeting these people.

  50. *I'M* defending his freespeech.

    I just also reserve to point out the speech he has freely chosen has shown him to be a braying jackass.

  51. @Thomas:

    DMD: some guy writes a political cartoon portraying Mohammed with a bomb under his turban. This was not in protest of anything. It was a racist joke, with perhaps some political statement behind it.

    Then he got death threats, and people who would have denounced him as racist were now defending his right to free speech.

    This is just SO WRONG that I just have to step in and explain what really happened to you. I am Norwegian, the cartoonist you're talking about (Kurt Westergaard is his name, he is living under 24 hour police protection) is Danish, so I had almost a front row seat when this actually happened. You clearly didn't, but please take a moment to educate yourself on why these cartoons really came into being.

    Jyllands-Posten (JP), the newspaper that first printed Westergaard's drawing, along with 11 others by other political cartoonists from around the country, did this as part of an article they were doing about Muslim oversensitivity and free speech in Denmark. They ran the article because of a problematic situation that Kåre Bluitgen, an award-winning Danish author, had found himself in. He has published a number of novels for both children and adults, as well as a lot of non-fiction, and is highly praised. He had written and was going to publish a book entitled The Koran and the Life of the Prophet Muhammed, which was going to be an explanatory book for non-Muslim children that they could read and learn more about Islam, how it originated, etc, and that could be read in classrooms with mixed origin children. He is in favor of immigration and would be certain to write a book that would be friendly and open-minded towards Islam. Of course since it was for children, it had to be illustrated - this goes without saying. But Bluitgen couldn't find anyone willing to do the drawings. I'll repeat: he is an award-winning author. He usually has people eager to work with him. But for this book, he couldn't find anyone. He finally did, but that person stipulated that they must be anonymous in the published book. Their work must not be credited. How messed up is that? When the others declined, they mentioned people like Theo van Gogh. JP wanted to write about this, because they thought that this was problematic - was there a perception in Danish society that Islam cannot be critized because people are afraid of the results? (Yes, there was.) That was why they delved more deeply into the issue and asked for these cartoons to be drawn, and printed them in connection with their article. Because this is a real problem in this part of the world. NOT because anyone involved was racist. (They may have been, but that is totally irrelevant.)

    I am willing to bet good money that you know nothing about Kurt Westergaard; I take exception to your calling him a racist and making totally unfounded assumptions about his motivations. Not in protest about anything?? What do you know about the influence of Islam in Denmark, and the activities of Muslims there? Did you know that less than a year before Westergaard drew his cartoon, a lecturer at a Danish university was physically assaulted by five Muslims (five to one, how tough and brave) for the 'crime' of reading parts of the Koran out loud to a group of non-Muslims?

    You clearly don't know what you're talking about here, because in the quote from your post above you are wrong about literally everything. It's a good idea to get some information before you start shooting your mouth off ... things usually aren't as simple as they appear from the other side of the world.

  52. I am starting to get offended by people who are easily offended,

  53. On my vacation on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls last month I threw the Book of Mormon I found on the night stand into the garbage pail.

  54. Tommy shame on you!

    You missed a prime opportunity to throw it over the falls!

  55. @ Leisha

    I deserved most of that, and wanted to let you know that I'm not ignoring you. The truth is, however, that I don't care if he is the saint you make him out to be. I supported EDMD even when I thought he was just some right-winger, because I don't think people should receive death threats over a joke.

  56. @Thomas: Not a big deal if you ignore me or not - my comment wasn't so much directed at you specifically as intended to clear up the misconceptions you were spreading. But since we're talking, can you point out where I'm making him out to be a 'saint'? I reread my comment and I totally don't see that. In fact I barely even mentioned him. All that stuff about being award-winning and so on relates to a totally different person - the author Kåre Bluitgen, not the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. Maybe read more carefully next time you want to show how you're not ignoring people. o_O

    To be totally clear: Westergaard is not a 'saint', he is a man who was employed by a newspaper to do a job for them, which is what he did. I don't personally believe that he is a racist - but if he had become one after being assaulted by an axe-wielding Somali man in his own home while babysitting his 4-year-old granddaughter, I'm not sure I could entirely blame him - but whether he is or not is totally irrelevant. He was hired to do a job, he did his job, that's it. Sainthood is neither here nor there. Nor do I quite see how I painted Bluitgen as a saint ... he is highly praised as a writer and has won a number of awards, that's just the plain facts. I've never read anything by him, but he is highly praised.

    Finally, just for the record, not liking Muslims doesn't make someone a racist. 'Muslim' isn't a race.

  57. Here we go again. Has everyone seen this?

  58. Okay, there are lots of comments here, but I thought I would put my two cents (or my one penny as I am in England). Here is my stand on this: you should not burn books, no matter how bad the book is, no matter how much you hate it. Not the Koran, not the Bible, not Harry Potter, not the Origins of Species, not Sartre, not Sade, not The Last Temptation of Christ, not A Clockwork Orange. Burning books is an act of cowardice, of ignorance, of obscurantism, it is vile and despicable. If you don't like what a book says, criticise it, ridicule it, but never ever burn it.


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