Monday, April 04, 2011

Terry Jones and the Afghan Riots

What happens if Person A knows that Person B is a moral monster who will inflict great evil if Person A should do something Person A would normally have every right to do.

Case in point - a group of thugs takes a classroom full of kids hostage and says, "Transfer $30 million into this account I will kill all the kids."

There is absolutely no sense in which we can consider such a person to be anything other than a moral villain and, if the opportunity arises, "take the shot" (as they say).

Giving in to these types of demands does not make anybody any more safe. Indeed, it increases the risk of harm to all of us by rewarding and, thus, promoting this type of violence.

Or, let's take a similar case. A group of violent Muslim thugs threaten to go around killing innocent people any time somebody burns a copy of the Koran. For the most part, this second case is morally equivalent to the first. We have a group of violent thugs who threaten violence as a way of forcing others to act - or not act - in particular ways.

Ultimately, the people involved in these murders ought to be condemned without qualification and, where possible, caught and punished. Yes, they will call themselves martyrs, but a part of this particular campaign needs to include investing sufficient expert into getting people - particularly the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan - to explain why they are not martyrs but, instead, murderious thugs who got what they deserved.

I want to point out . . . these thugs are a small portion of the overall Muslim community. When Terry Jones burned his Koran, over one billion Muslims did not respond with violence. While they may have viewed Jones' actions with contempt, they do not hold that his contemptible act warrants violence - and, in particular, doesn't warrant violence against innocent people.

I suspect a sizable number are acutely embarrassed, shocked, and outraged at the acts that Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan have carried out.

We are, in fact, dealing with a group of thugs in a culture of thugs in a backwards and primitive part of the world - a part that still lives in the 1500s in terms of science, culture, and morality. They are clearly a threat to decent human beings - some of whom they murdered.

It would be worth the while of civilized populations to call their experts together and determine the best strategy for bringing these people up to the 21st century - or at least the up to the mid 18th century, the century in which such principles as representative democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion actually started to take hold.

However, in this instance, it is wrong, I would say, to try to put any blame on Terry Jones - the person whose organization burned the Koran that fueled the riots. This gives the impression that the murderous thugs of Pakistan and Afghanistan were somewhat justified in their actions. It suggests that the wrong of burning a book is somehow greater and more significant than the wrong of murdering innocent people and, through this, terrorizing others into submission and obedience.

If there are people around you shining the moral spotlight on Terry Jones as if he is the culprit and the Muslims of Afghanistan and Pakistan are the innocent victims justly acting out in righteous anger for the offense done to them, set them straight.

One person burned a book - of which there are probably billions of copies. Another group slaughtered innocent people in order to terrorize the rest into obeying their barbaric and primitive dictates.

Let's put some proper perspective into this discussion.


dankuck said...

I don't understand the full meaning of your "school children" scenario.

If someone threatens violence against school children if you don't pay them, should you pay them? How does not paying them reflect upon you?

NeilE said...

Terry Jones could have peacefully wandered down to the end of his garden and burned a copy of the koran in his garden bonfire, and no one would have been upset.

Instead he made a huge song and dance about with the intention of giving the finger to a group of people, a small minority of which he knew were mindless in their violence. If I recall correctly, the US government were so concerned about the threat of violence in the wake of his stunt that they asked him not to do it.

If he'd put on a white hood and burned a black man in effigy, then he would have been quite rightly imprisoned for incitement to racial hatred. Instead, he put on a white collar and burned someone else's holy book in front of TV cameras, and is allowed to get away with inciting religious hatred that led to the deaths of several innocent people.

The man is a homicidal moron. His intention - not the burning of the book - was everything. I consider that he has the blood of the UN staff on his hands.

Doug S. said...

If he'd put on a white hood and burned a black man in effigy, then he would have been quite rightly imprisoned for incitement to racial hatred.

Actually, I think that's legal in the U.S., as long as he cuts a hole in the hood so his face is visible.

Anonymous said...

Say a young girl (maybe 14-15) or a young woman in her early twenties or a mature lady of unknown age walks alone at 2am on any street in the world with only a tiny miniskirt and halter. As a result, she gets raped.

The preacher Terry Jones orchestrates an event in which a copy of the Quran is burned in Gainesville Florida. As a result, a murderous mob or religious fanatics half-way around the world in Afghanistan slaughter several innocent human beings.

Should the raped female be held responsible for rapists actions because she dressed in a way that enticed the worst kind of human male to sexually assault her?

Should Jones be blamed for other people committing murder because he burned a copy of their "holy" book?

I think not on both accounts!

Michael said...

"to explain why they are not martyrs".

Irrational. Islam is and always will be a religion of terrorism, as inspired by the head-chopping prophet and his jihadist clones down through the ages. You continue to live in la-la-land by believing traditional Islam is either peaceful or open to interpretation. It ain't. Those are cold, hard, facts.

They are martyrs, according to the tradition of Islam. You're living in a fantasy.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Well, I used the hostage children scenario specifically to point out the fact that it is not easy to decide what to do - how to treat hostage takers. If a private citizen performs some action that inspires a hostage taker to kill a lot of people, there is some legitimate cause for condemnation.

However, this does not change the fact that the real villain is the hostage-taker himself. Let's not blame the careless citizen in any way that makes it sound like the hostage-taker actually had legitimate justification for his actions.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Michael said...

Islam is and always will be a religion of terrorism, as inspired by the head-chopping prophet and his jihadist clones down through the ages. You continue to live in la-la-land by believing traditional Islam is either peaceful or open to interpretation. It ain't. Those are cold, hard, facts.

You treat language as if it is a discovery of intrinsic meanings built into the very nature of words that dictate necessarily what they mean.

Instead, I treat language as a set of social conventions where the meanings of words are determined by custom and can change over time and among individuals - so a set of squiggles on a page can have one meaning to one person at one time, and a different meaning to a different person at a different time.

The very phrase "Islam is" is subject to these facts. There is nothing but social custom that dictates what the term "Islam" means. For one person at one time it can refer to "a religion of terrorism" whereas, at another time to another person, it can refer to "any contemporary belief system that can trace an ancestry back to the Middle East in the 7th Century."

And, frankly, I consider these definition games to be a waste of time. We can have all sorts of debates over whether or not to call Pluto a planet. However, if you know its orbit, size, composition, and a host of other relevant facts you know all there is to know about Pluto. The decision of whether to call Pluto a planet has more to say about us than it does about Pluto. Whether or not to call a peaceful religion that can trace its roots back to the Middle East in the 7th century "Islamic" also says more about us than it does about Islam.

NeilE said...

@Doug S

From wikipedia:

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, several statutes protect several categories of persons from hate speech. The statutes forbid communication which is hateful, threatening, abusive, or insulting and which targets a person on account of skin colour, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both.

United States

Laws prohibiting hate speech, outside of obscenity, defamation and incitement to riot, are illegal in the United States. The United States federal government and state governments are broadly forbidden by the First Amendment of the Constitution from restricting speech. Even in cases where speech encourages illegal violence, instances of incitement qualify as criminal only if the threat of violence is imminent. This strict standard prevents prosecution of many cases of incitement, including prosecution of those advocating violent opposition to the government, and those exhorting violence against racial, ethnic, or gender minorities.

Wow. You're right.

It seems to be, though, that you've got a law that extends a freedom while removing responsibility for its effects.

NeilE said...

Say a young girl (maybe 14-15) or a young woman in her early twenties or a mature lady of unknown age walks alone at 2am on any street in the world with only a tiny miniskirt and halter. As a result, she gets raped.

Its great to posit a scenario like that in some abstract, perfect world, but, thought experiments aside, we're dealing with the real world here.

If she walked back from a night club in downtown Tokyo then I could understand that.

Meanwhile, in South Africa rape is endemic.

According to a survey for the period 1998–2000 compiled by the United Nations, South Africa was ranked first for rapes per capita. One in three of the 4,000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year. More than 25 per cent of South African men questioned in a survey published by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in June 2009 admitted to rape; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person. Three out of four of those who had admitted rape indicated that they had attacked for the first time during their teens. South Africa has amongst the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world.
--wikipedia, Crime in South Africa

Now, tell me what you'd say to your daughter/girlfriend/wife if she'd just come into the house after walking through downtown Soweto at 2am in the morning dressed in a miniskirt and halter?

Would you say, 'Hi honey, have a nice evening?'

Or would you say, 'Are you out of your effing mind! Do you know how many women a year get raped out there?!'

Terry Jones is operating in the real world, not a perfect philosophical one.

Tim (TPO) said...


Actually the rape scenario has happened in the real world probably many times over. The question remains, should the raped female be held responsible for rapists actions because she dressed in a way that enticed the worst kind of human male to sexually assault her?

Just because rape is more common and acceptable in a certain part of the world doesn’t make the victim anymore responsible for the actions of the rapist.

Also, I’ll take the protections of the U.S. Constitutions’ First Amendment over U.K. hate speech laws any day. Publicly condemning an idea or belief whether it be religious or secular is not a hate crime.

Michael said...

Alonzo, you're a smart philosopher. But you've seriously lost your bearings on Islam and language. Mainstream interpretations of Islam have always had jihad at their core. F-a-c-t.

NeilE said...

@ Tim

The person who generally holds the rape victim responsible is the victim him/herself. From this morning's Guardian:

The policeman telling his story worked in sex crimes for 15 years before he himself was raped. This is the most telling line for me: I've spent decades telling victims not to blame themselves, but now I truly understand what it means to torture yourself with "Why did I? / How could I?" thoughts. And this was someone who was engaging in relatively risk-free behavior!

Philosophically, there is no doubt that the crime is the criminal's responsibility, and the law backs that up. But there's a huge difference between how things 'should' be, and how things actually are. Pedestrians have the right of way, but I still teach my kids to look both ways before they cross the road; if I didn't and one of them was hit by a car, then I would (very rightly) be guilty of bad parenting, even though the accident would be the driver's responsibility.

Terry Jones has the blood of 13 UN workers on his hands. He can retreat behind the abstract ramparts of philosophy and the first amendment citing 'the way things should be' as his defense, but he initiated his hate-filled, celebrity-seeking act into the world of 'the way things are' and I have no doubt that the families of the 13 victims hold him partially responsible for their loved ones deaths.

I wonder if he feels any guilt, I wonder if he now appreciates the effects that his little sensation-seeking display has had on the lives of others, I wonder if he sympathizes with these words from the policeman who was raped?

Has it made me more cautious? Absolutely. But we're always wise after the event. That's not much good to me now.

NeilE said...

@ Michael

I have Lebanese friend who's first name is Jihad. He's a Sunni Muslim, though not a devout one. When I said to him, 'Jihad... but that means 'holy war', doesn't it?' he said that that's one way of translating it, but more generally it means 'progress'.

Now I don't doubt that there are muslims who see 'holy war' as one of the five pillars of Islam, but there are also muslims who have updated their interpretation of Islam to the 'progress' oriented view. I see the 'holy war' camp as backwards-looking, literal-minded, 15th century barbarian minority in this modern Islamic age. And Terry Jones is a fully paid up member of the corresponding Christian camp. He, too, has that vicious 'I'm right and everybody else is wrong' meme firmly embedded in his head.

But just as there are perfectly decent Christians, there are perfectly decent Muslims. I know this because I know Jihad and he's a great guy.

The world ain't black & white; it includes every shade of grey in between, as even a tiny bit of research will show.

Michael said...

@ Marcellus

No mainstream Islamic sect has ever formally taken holy war out of their texts. So long as it remains on the books, it unsurprisingly is invoked. Moderate Muslims will never formally renounce holy war because they value their lives too much. Besides, Muhammad head-chopped 600 (from memory) victims and is held up to be the perfect example for Muslims to follow. Reforming Islam is impossible. Get real of go home.

NeilE said...

And... the Bible that Western civilization was built on is full of rules for treating slaves, capital punishments, dismembering for petty crimes, God-sanctioned genocide, and other petulant smitings.

The West turned out okay because we stopped taking it all literally (apart from the Terry Jones's out there). Christianity has a 500 year head start on Islamism, so it might take a while for their nutter-nice guy bell curve to shift towards the more tolerant end of the spectrum.

Get real of go home.

I'm sitting at home right now, and feeling quite real, thanks.

Regarding reality:

Can I ask what sample size your research into the holy war orientation of real Muslims used?

Did you use a face-to-face interview methodology or did you conduct more of an 'embedded' anthropological study by living within a community of Muslims?

Or, was a meta-study, i.e. a review of unbiased third-party academic literature?

Or, was it just Fox News?

Michael said...

@ Marcellus

Spare me the derisive stereotypes and facade of scientific inquiry, which fools nobody.

Alonzo has made his position clear, so I'm not going to push the matter further on his blog.

All I will say is there is abundant evidence that Islam has always been a religion of the sword and comparisons with Christianity are irrational. Authors such as Andrew Bostom, Bat Ye'or, Robert Spencer and Sam Harris make this crystal clear by referencing innumerable Islamic and other sources.

Sam Harris: "Osama bin Laden is giving a truly straightforward version of Islam, and you really have to be an acrobat to figure out how he is distorting the faith."

Mr K said...

Micheal has been conducting this absurd argument here and at CSA. He's frankly an ignorant troll who seems unable to divorce scripture from individuals within that faith.

His arguments could easily be extending to any other holy text, each containing their own medieval insanites.

Bob said...

Here is another scenario.
A bride and groom are standing at the alter. One of the bride's ex boyfriends walks up to the couple in the middle of the ceremony and loudly pronounces "Glad someone is finally marrying this cheap slut."
The groom loses control and punches the guy. Does the ex-boyfriend get any blame for getting punched. Keep in mind that placing any blame on the ex-boyfriend does not negate the blame of the groom for resorting to violence at his own wedding.

NeilE said...

@ Michael

Spare me the derisive stereotypes and facade of scientific inquiry, which fools nobody.

The thing is, I've had a best friend who came from a Muslim background (and was married to an English-Italian wife), and I also lived in Leicester for a year while I was doing my MSc. Leicester's population was 35% Asian at the time, so you could say I was embedded in an Asian community. The Asian population was nothing but polite and friendly, and the only trouble I ever saw there was a white guy trying to attack a Sikh on the bus. He screamed at the Sikh through the window and when his victim turned away he jumped up, stuck his arm through the window and grabbed the guy's turban. So I grabbed his arm. And held onto it. Poor slob was hanging by one arm from the bus window looking like an idiot. And then the bus started moving. I let him hang by his arm for a bit with his legs peddling away like mad and this look of horror on his face. Then I let him go, and said to the Sikh, 'I'm really sorry about that... we're not all like him.'

NB My daughter (aged 12) is really angry with you. One of her best friends, Matt, is from a Muslim family and we (atheists) here all think he's great (and an awesome drummer to boot). I think maybe you owe her an apology?

Alonzo has made his position clear

Michael, have you noticed that Alonzo and I are able to disagree without any personal animosity at all? That's because we are both secure in ourselves and our positions, which means that we don't take disagreement as a personal affront.

On the other hand, I've found that the people who do react to disagreement as if it's personal are invariably deeply insecure individuals. They see disagreement as an assertion that they are innately wrong as individuals, rather than just thinking, hey, they disagree with me. In their minds, to disagree with them is to imply that they have no value as a human being.

The insecurity thing applies at all sorts of scales. So, a sector of the Islamic world see their ways changing and their insecurity leads them to react angrily with violence; a sector of the Bible Belt has it even worse, because they see their faith having less and less relevance in the modern world, so they go out and burn the Koran, or troll the Internet looking for atheists to rant at. They're simply reacting to the very deep feelings of insecurity that other ways of being invoke in them.

Anger is a reaction to past hurts. It's a natural defensive reaction that aims to protect you from the insecurities that painful past experiences inflicted on you.

Sticks and stone can break your bones, but bones heal quickly. To really hurt someone you need to use words. Your parents, your peers at school, and strict, you-are-a-sinner, religious indoctrination can do terrible damage to your self-esteem. The way out of the defensive anger trap lies in realizing that all the things people did to you over the years were not done to you. The criticism and/or abuse that you thought was directed at you was really directed at their idea of you, and that's a very different thing from the real you.

When you're young, it's almost impossible to separate what people say about you from your real self. You just instinctively think there must be something to what they're saying. If your father goes ballistic and shouts at you over some innocuous incident, it's not the real you he's shouting at. It's either his own fear (anger is a response to past hurts) or his idea of what you should be. Ditto for those angry teachers, school bullies, ministers, etc.

So, look at the things that make you angry, Michael, and then look for the insecurities behind them. Ask yourself, 'Who gave this one to me?'

And then ask yourself, 'Do I really want to keep this one, or should I just let it go?'

Dump the crap they handed to you and it'll change your life, for the better.

NeilE said...

Hey Bob,

I think your scenario does a good job of showing the separation of responsibility for acts of speech and the First Amendment issues.

People are emotional animals who respond to others in many ways. Even the most tolerant person will draw the line somewhere.

It seems to me that the First Amendment issues run orthogonally to the emotional issues of speech.

The First Amendment was designed to protect the American people from their own government. This made a lot of sense when they'd just kicked the oppressive and undemocratic British government out.

Now though, the First Amendment is used as an excuse to allow all sorts of things that have nothing to do with its original intent.

Does that seem like a fair way to parse the Terry Jones problem into two separate domains?