Burning the Koran on 9/11

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 9, 2010 in Ethics,Guest Post,Islam

The ethical theory I currently defend is desirism. But I mostly write about moraltheory, so I rarely discuss the implications of desirism for everyday moral questions about global warming, free speech, politics, and so on. Today’s guest post applies desirism to one such everyday moral question. It is written by desirism’s first defender, Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist. (Keep in mind that questions of applied ethics are complicated and I do not necessarily agree with Fyfe’s moral calculations.)

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Some idiot bigots have decided to mark September 11 as “Burn the Koran Day.”

Over the years I have commented on a number of activities like this, from PZ Myers’ desecration of a wafer to “Draw Mohammed Day” to the posting of cartoons depicting Mohammed to the protesting of the Park 51 complex to Atheist signs showing the World Trade Center towers with the caption “Imagine No Religion.”

Here is what I said on each of these:

Imagine No Religion

I object to signs that show the World Trade Center towers and the text, “Imagine No Religion” as expressions of bigotry. What those who use this image are trying to do is to sell hate by telling the viewers to take the condemnation they rightly feel against the perpetrators of that crime and apply it to all religious people – the vast majority of which themselves condemned such an attack.

Attempts to sell hatred of whole groups of people is something no decent person would support. It represents bigotry and hate-mongering and, itself, is worthy of condemnation. However, bigoted hate-mongers have a right to freedom of speech. Therefore, it would be wrong to respond to these bigoted hate-mongers with violence or threats of violence. Yet, it is perfectly appropriate to condemn and criticize them on moral grounds.

Myers vs. the Cracker

PZ Myers did nothing wrong in desecrating a wafer. He is entitled to his opinion that the idea that a wafer is the body of Christ is absolute nonsense. It is. The cracker is just a cracker and Myers has done no wrong in treating it as such.

There was no bigotry or hate-mongering in this message. The message simply was, “The idea that this is anything other than a cracker is stupid.” And it is stupid. The idea that magic words cause the cracker to turn into the body of Christ that still looks like and tastes like a cracker belongs in the Middle Ages.

However, the only way that Myers could have gotten a wafer to desecrate was to steal one – to fraudulently acquire the property of another through the violation of an implied contract. All of the twisting and weaseling that atheists went through to “justify” the acquisition of such a cracker simply proved that atheists are adept at rationalizing immoral activity to fulfill those ends they desire.

Draw Mohammed Day

As for Draw Mohammed Day – it was perfectly legitimate to participate in that. The right of freedom of speech means a right to immunity from violence or threats of violence for what one says or draws. Draw Mohammed Day was a protest against a great number of people who threatened violence, or condoned or supported threats of violence, toward those who draw Mohammed.

The message was not ‘Hate all messages”. The message was, “Condemn all those who would threaten violence against those who draw Mohammad.” Indeed, those people who threaten violence against those who would draw Mohammed deserve condemnation. Islam does not come with a right to threaten violence against all who draw Mohammed any more than it comes with a right to threaten violence against all who eat pork, for example. If your religion prevents you from drawing Mohammed then do not do so, but do not threaten violence against those who do not share those beliefs.

The Danish Cartoons

If Draw Mohammed Day was a legitimate act, then what about the Danish cartoons that drew such a violent protest? People actually got killed.

It started off like a project such as Draw Mohammed day – an act of protest against the policy of threatening violence against anybody who draws Mohammed. However, some of the cartoons themselves turned out to represent hate-mongering bigotry. The depiction of Mohammed with a bomb for a turban is one example, attempting to sell the idea that all who follow Mohammed are to be feared and hated as perpetrators of violence.

So, hate-mongering bigotry contaminated a legitimate protest against the practice of threatening violence against those who drew Mohammed. It does not justify – and it is still wrong – to threaten violence against those who drew the cartoons. The right to freedom of speech even applies to hate-mongering bigotry.

Park51

Protesting the Park 51 Project is another example of hate-mongering bigotry. It is like the poster that shows the World Trade Center and the text, “Imagine No Religion.” These protests are comparable to showing the World Trade Center with the caption, “Imagine No Islam.” It is the work of hate-mongering bigots trying to expand the set of those to be blamed and condemned for the 9/11 attacks beyond the set of those who are actually guilty.

To say that the complex insults the families of the victims and the survivors of the 9/11 attacks is to say that every family and survivor of the 9/11 attacks is a bigot, because only bigots participate in this kind of derogatory overgeneralization. It makes no more sense to protest the Park51 complex than to protest having a church across the street or prayers at Ground Zero. Imagine somebody arguing that, because the 9/11 attacks were launched by people who believed in a God, that all prayers and churches in the vicinity of Ground Zero was a slap in the face of the survivors of that attack and families of those who died.

Yet, having said this, the protesters in this case, just like those in the case of “Imagine No Religion” deserve our condemnation for their hate-mongering bigotry, but have a free-speech right to immunity from violence or threats of violence. That means we owe condemnation as well to any who would respond to their hate-mongering bigotry with violence or threats of violence.

The 9/11 Book Burning

Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida is planning to burn the Koran in a bonfire on September 11th: the 9th Anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They claim that this is in part “in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11″.

The first issue to consider is that of book burning itself.

Traditionally, book burnings are associated with attempts at thought control. Certain ideas are taken to be heresy or otherwise illegitimate and it is thought better to exterminate the idea that one does not approve of, rather than keep the idea around and to explain why it is a bad idea that nobody should accept.

Rational adults would have an aversion to book burning because they would prefer to examine ideas and understand their flaws than to seek to exterminate them through such practices. It is better to know and understand why the Earth is more than 6,000 years old rather than to exterminate the idea that the earth is that young by attempting to burn all books that argue in defense of such a young earth.

Every philosophical idea that became popular only to be rejected is kept around and taught to college philosophy students – as well as what was wrong with those ideas and why they were rejected. This is a part of getting an education – learning about ideas that ultimately fail for some reason or another.

The same is true of the Koran and the Bible. The best option is not to argue that they be burned but that they be read and understood and ultimately rejected because of the stupid and primitive ideas they contain.

However, there is nothing particularly objectionable about burning a book. If you purchased the book or otherwise acquired it honestly (unlike PZ Myers’ wafer), you may dispose of it as you please, which includes burning.

Bigotry

In this case, however, burning the Koran in association with the attacks on 9/11 tells us that the organizers and supporters of this event are bigoted.

Just like the people who showed us pictures of the World Trade Center and added the caption “Imagine No Religion”, these book burners are telling us to take the justified hatred of those who perpetrated that crime and apply it to all Muslims. This is also the same way of thinking behind the protests of the Park 51 project, those Danish cartoons that were morally objectionable.

In fact, it is this habit of taking the crimes of a few and condemning a larger group that made 9/11 possible to begin with. The 9/11 hijackers were people who, like the Park51 Protesters and the “Burn the Koran” supporters, cannot distinguish between those who are innocent and those who are guilty, and, like bigots everywhere, allow themselves to be guided by their bigotry to harming those who are innocent.

If the Dove World Outreach Center were to make it clear that they are not hate-mongering bigots, they would at least move the burning to another day and denounce any attempt to claim that all Muslims should be thought of as if every one of them was a planner and participant in the 9/11 attacks.

Another way that the Dove World Outreach Center can remove the hate-mongering bigotry from their act is to add other things to the bonfire to show that the reason for the protest had to do with free speech. P.Z. Myers was correct to add some pages from a Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion to his desecration of a consecrated wafer. This helped make it clear that the message behind the protest is the idea that people should be free to criticize the ideas that others hold dear.

Free Speech

However, we must also remember that even hate-mongering bigots have a right to freedom of speech. This means that no good person would react to their plans to burn the Koran or any other book with violence or threats of violence.

Muslims who are responding to this action with threats of violence simply have not learned how to live in a civilized society. Living in a civilized society means that one may well disagree strongly with what others in society are saying – including what they may say about one’s own most cherished belief. However, they still have a right to say it. This means that no decent, civilized person would respond to their words with violence or threats of violence. Those who respond to speech acts (even bigoted hate-mongering speech acts) with threats of violence give up their claim to understanding what it takes to be a member of civilized society.

Condemning the Burnings

The one dominant reason being given against the burning is that it puts American troops in danger. While I agree that it does this – sending them to Afghanistan to start with put their lives in danger. Landing Americans on Guadalcanal and the beaches at Normandy put their lives in danger. Setting them out to fight on the fields of Gettysburg and at Lexington and Concord put their lives in danger. Ultimately, there seems to be a few things in the world that are considered to be somewhat more important than putting the lives of soldiers in danger, or no soldier would ever have to fight. We would just retreat and surrender at every conflict.

One of those principles worth fighting for is the right to freedom of speech. It betrays that right for American soldiers (or the leaders of American soldiers) to argue that America should surrender to those who threaten violence in response to words and deeds – that America should bow down to their threats, do as they command, and allow those who threaten violence in response to speech to win the day.

Indeed, of the two crimes – hate-mongering bigotry expressed in words alone on the other hand, versus violence and threats of violence in order to control what others may say on the other – the latter is the greater evil. The latter – those who use violence to control others and are allowed to get away with it – are the least civilized.

- Alonzo Fyfe

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P.S. Hi, it’s Luke again. Maybe instead of burning the holy books of another faith on 9/11, we should read their holy book and try to understand them. Read books, don’t burn them.

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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk September 9, 2010 at 4:20 am

Blasphemy Day International
September 30, 2010

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Hermes September 9, 2010 at 4:29 am

The situation is very simple. The people who are burning the Koran are doing as they wish to their own property. Same for those who protest and burn the effigies of the priest.

While some of the larger Christian sects have decided to use this as a way to promote anti-blasphemy behaviors, this is self-serving. Freedom starts with blasphemy; if it is not allowed, or it is self-censored, what use are the words we use elsewhere?

Protests against it on religious grounds only points towards the source of the religions themselves. If the religions involved were based on actual deities and not stories that even the religious don’t believe, then the proper reaction would be to ignore this loon and his 50 church member knowing that if the deities wanted to do anything against him or them it is fully capable of doing so.

Is the book burning a smart or even a positive idea? No. It is interesting, though, and I think that this act of hate will show that Islam and it’s followers still needs to grow up as a religion. That said, people will probably die and hate will spread because of this.

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stamati September 9, 2010 at 4:34 am

I’ll be sharing that video. Good find!

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Keith September 9, 2010 at 4:43 am

I largely agree with the sentiments expressed in this post. I do, however, have a small bone to pick. Luke suggests that the post will apply the system of desirism to the topic at hand. However, there is very little mention of desirism in this post, or how it is being applied to reach the conclusions expressed therein.

One of my reasons for bringing this up is that, while I am intrigued by desirism, I have yet to see a detailed discussion of the calculus that is used to employ it. The above post, for instance, says nothing about which desires are being considered, and which of these tend to thwart or fulfill other desires. So, until I see some detail regarding the calculus of desirism, and its application, it remains – to me, at least – an intriguing yet incomplete idea.

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Rodrigue September 9, 2010 at 4:55 am

“the only way that Myers could have gotten a wafer to desecrate was to steal one – to fraudulently acquire the property of another through the violation of an implied contract”

There is an easier way: go to mass, take the cookie in your hand instead of opening your mouth, and go back home. Where is the stealing part in this? If the priest imagines that you have a contract with him just by entering the church, then he’s deluding himself (certainly not for the first time).

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G'DIsraeli September 9, 2010 at 5:06 am

A new fashionable word, “Bigotry”?

“I imagine no religion”, What is bigotry about this?
“…the vast majority of which themselves condemned such an attack.” – So what? Religion is still part of the cause, it is a normative concept.
Again confusion between believers (religious people) and there belief system (religion) is simply false.

Maybe we should not criticizes any idea (like an idea of a state), since people hold those ideas. Since that’s bigotry man.

“attempting to sell the idea that all who follow Mohammed are to be feared and hated as perpetrators of violence.”
- Wrong again, confusing the man Mohamed, the belief system (Islam) and its actual proclaimed followers. Even tho here, its more complex since Mohamed could be interpreted as symbolizing ALL Muslims. Eventually I think it was a bad idea (the cartoon).
Bigotry? Maybe, maybe we don’t know enough.
Merkel also seems to disagree with you, and is going to honor Mohammed cartoonist at press AWARD.

About the false analogies concerning the soldiers…
it puts American troops in danger – FOR NOTHING WORTH WHILE.
That is the intention, its not about putting them in general in danger.
Second this argument does not go against freedom of speech, its simply saying its not worth it. Would you curse on the dinner table? No, and it has nothing to do with the freedom of speech, but simply what is rational.

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Rodrigue September 9, 2010 at 5:06 am

“The depiction of Mohammed with a bomb for a turban is one example, attempting to sell the idea that all who follow Mohammed are to be feared and hated as perpetrators of violence”

This is a strange and one-sided way to see things. This cartoon (as some others) made fun of those who, in the name of islam and its prophet, kill and terrorize people (other muslims mostly).
It was a pretty mild picture compared to the cartoons which make fun of the pope, jesus, buddha, etc.

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Eric September 9, 2010 at 5:50 am

I agree with the responses by Rodrigue and G’DIsraeli. The word “bigotry” is getting thrown around too much and used against legitimate criticism of religion. Criticizing religion is not the same as condemning all its followers. For pete’s sake have you ever heard the song “Imagine”. Is this “philosopher” saying John Lennon was a bigot too.

I’ve read a few of the postings by this guy and frankly I’m very unimpressed.

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Steven Carr September 9, 2010 at 6:10 am

Chapter 111 of tke Koran is about burning a non-Muslim.

The power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish.
Abu Lahab will die and be plunged in flaming Fire. His wife will have on her neck a halter of palm fiber.
His wealth and gains will not exempt him.
He will be plunged in flaming Fire,
And his wife, the wood-carrier,
Will have upon her neck a halter of palm-fibre.

Is it as wrong to burn a person as it is to burn the Quran?

Pastor Terry Jones should leanr some tolerance.

He should respect the rights of Muslims to have books where a chapter is devoted to burning people, and their right to recite this chapter about people burning in a mosque whenever they wish to do so.

Tolerance goes two ways. If he cannot tolerate people reciting chapters about burning people, he cannot expect them to tolerate his views about burning books.

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Brian_G September 9, 2010 at 6:18 am

There seems to be significant portion of Muslims who accept that acts of terror are legitimate. I don’t know what percentage of Muslims make up this group. I understand that a lot of Muslims do not agree with this group. There are times when I feel compelled to strongly opposed specifically this group of Muslims for their religious beliefs. I don’t want to merely oppose terrorists who, as if by shear chance, happen to be Muslim. I want to oppose the religious beliefs, or the interpretation of Islam by these people. I recognise that many Muslims disagree with them as well. How can one reasonably oppose radical Islam, without implying that all Muslims are under the same category?

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Patrick September 9, 2010 at 6:22 am

Criticizing religion isn’t automatically bigotry. But protests have messages, and evaluating the message is important to determining whether the protest is worthwhile. For an easy example, a march in protest of discrimination against African Americans has a different moral status than a march in support of the American Nazi Party.

As far as I can tell, the open, loudly proclaimed message of the Burn a Koran people is that they believe that Islam as a religion and as an ideology condones and is collectively responsible for the 9/11 attack. I can’t figure out how that’s not bigotry.

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G'DIsraeli September 9, 2010 at 6:39 am

Patrick,
Burning the Quran is a very violent act that implies a threat to Muslims, also there message is towards all Islam which is bigotry. No one made this an issue in the comments section. Its the other claims that seem absurd…

Brian_G,
“There seems to be significant portion of Muslims who accept that acts of terror are legitimate. I don’t know what percentage of Muslims make up this group.”
-If you don’t have the data and still take a stance, then its just prejudice (or emotions).
Truth isn’t a utility choice…Some Muslims are radical, some not.

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Brian_G September 9, 2010 at 6:50 am

G’DIsraeli,

Why do I have to have statistical data regarding the size of a group to oppose the group? I don’t know what percentage of Christians are members of white supremacist groups, but I still oppose them.

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Márcio September 9, 2010 at 6:57 am

There will be enough fire in hell. There is no need to burn the Quran. Just recycle it onto Bibles.

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Alonzo Fyfe September 9, 2010 at 6:59 am

There is an easier way: go to mass, take the cookie in your hand instead of opening your mouth, and go back home. Where is the stealing part in this?

Specifically, it is fraud – taking the property of another by engaging in an act of deception. You know full well that you would not be given the cracker if you were honest with the person giving it about your intentions. You know full well that he would keep the cracker and not give it to you. So, you pretend to partake in a ritual and thereby pretend to make the ritual’s promise to use the cracker in a particular way. But, you are a lier, taking the cracker through deception.

In short, this is a con job.

“I imagine no religion”, What is bigotry about this?

Nothing.

My objection was to having this text associated with the destruction of the World Trade Center – as if everybody who believes in God is morally culpable for and is to be condemned for causing that attack.

I define bigotry as the making of unfounded derogatory over-generalizations; blaming groups of people for moral crimes of which some are innocent. Blaming all people who believe in God for the crime of 9/11 fits that description.

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Brian_G September 9, 2010 at 7:12 am

The Vatican is speaking out against Koran burning as well.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ETY7oXBsbo

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Mike N September 9, 2010 at 7:20 am

“Read books, don’t burn them”

Sums it all up for me … :)

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Rodrigue September 9, 2010 at 7:34 am

“Specifically, it is fraud – taking the property of another by engaging in an act of deception.”

It’s a free cookie you can obtain in a public place. Where is the contract? There is no contract, except maybe for those who believe that the cookie is really jesus. And if you don’t believe, where is the fraud in taking what’s freely given?

Of course the priest wouldn’t give the cookie to PZ Myers if he knew it was PZ Myers! (I guess they have mugshots of the guy in most churches now)
But would the priest give the cracker to the girl who just BJ her boyfriend in the morning? To the cheating husband with the nice suit?
From the church point of view, those are also “con jobs”. But from a more “common sense” point of view it’s just people having free cookies.

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lukeprog September 9, 2010 at 7:42 am

Alonzo,

I’m not sure it’s right to criticize PZ for “stealing” a cracker. They are free crackers handed out by the church, usually.

Also, I didn’t see the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb for a turbon as bigotry against all Muslims. I saw it as making the point that Mohammed was a violent and murderous man, and perhaps also that Islam was founded upon – and reveres – a violent and murderous man. Those are rather uncontroversial points among historians, no?

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Patrick September 9, 2010 at 7:50 am

Yeah, I don’t know the catholic church’s procedures, but in a lutheran church there are about a dozen ways to obtain bits of the host without deceiving anyone. For example, if they use a loaf of bread and there’s extras, sometimes someone just takes the thing home for dinner.

Most of those post-service practices wouldn’t fly with the more devout (read, anal) members of the congregation, but the more practical people who are actually running things know that they’ve got a loaf of bread on their hands and that its going to go bad. There’s no official rule on what to do with it (actually there probably is, but no one knew it and the pastor didn’t care enough to tell us), and your typical lutheran grandma born the depression would consider throwing away a perfectly good loaf of bread to be far greater sacrilege than driving a nail through it.

Sometimes we fed it to ducks.

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Brian_G September 9, 2010 at 8:08 am

Communion is distributed under certain conditions in the Catholic church. This conditions are printed in the missalettes and it isn’t uncommon for the priest to state them explicitly.

http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/current/intercom.shtml

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ildi September 9, 2010 at 8:17 am

However, the only way that Myers could have gotten a wafer to desecrate was to steal one – to fraudulently acquire the property of another through the violation of an implied contract.

Or, you can order altar breads from, say, catholicsupply.com. I personally like the 1-3/8″ Whole Wheat “Lamb Design” – 750-count only $15.85

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G'DIsraeli September 9, 2010 at 8:20 am

Alonzo,

“My objection was to having this text associated with the destruction of the World Trade Center”

In reality, its a brute fact that that book is associated with 9/11, not but by ‘bigots’ alone, but by Muslims. Associated Along with a long list of other violent acts.

And rightfully so, if the book would ban and not COMMAND people to beat there wife’s, reality would be slightly different for woman in an Islamic world.
If this have been any other book making people act in some manner, I doubt there would be much doubt concerning the causation. Like a manual for how to build a desk or a book of laws maybe

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AlonzoFyfe September 9, 2010 at 8:31 am

Only a consecrated wafer represents “the body of Christ” and can thus be desecrated. The ritual by which the cracker is converted to the body of Christ (the Eucharist) is performed at mass.

So, the descration of a communion wafer requires acquiring a communion wafer at mass and only by participating in that ritual.

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Ralph September 9, 2010 at 8:35 am

It is arguable that the message being sent out through the burning of the Koran is that it is such a useless book that its only use is to give us heat. I happen to agree. It is also patently obvious that the perpetrators of 9/11 were applying a theologically defensible reading of the Koran when they did those horrific things. Burning the Koran to signify this does not strike me as bigoted insofar as it makes no statement to the adherents of Islam in general.

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Ralph September 9, 2010 at 8:36 am

In other words, what a load of liberal knee-jerk reaction from you, Alonzo.

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Silver Bullet September 9, 2010 at 8:44 am

I agree with Ralph.

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MKandefer September 9, 2010 at 8:54 am

“However, the only way that Myers could have gotten a wafer to desecrate was to steal one – to fraudulently acquire the property of another through the violation of an implied contract. All of the twisting and weaseling that atheists went through to “justify” the acquisition of such a cracker simply proved that atheists are adept at rationalizing immoral activity to fulfill those ends they desire.”

http://www.amazon.com/Communion-Wafer-Inch-Diameter/dp/0006565964/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284051198&sr=8-2

I don’t think Myers did this, but it is another way.

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ildi September 9, 2010 at 9:21 am

You’re right; I forgot that PZ put out the call for his readers to send him a consecrated wafer. So, yes, most likely the wafer was obtained by not consuming the wafer in situ. Interesting part is that they all seemed to have gotten away with it. I don’t think we know how many he received, but given the size of his readership, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were not a few. Pretty much what Webster Cook did.

To refresh our memories, this is what Cook claimed happened:

Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.

“When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him,” Cook said. “I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they’d leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth.”

A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that’s why he brought it home with him.

“She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand,” Cook said, adding she wouldn’t immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.

So, Cook kept the wafer.

The church response:

Regardless of the reason, the Diocese says its main concern is to get the Eucharist back so it can be taken care of properly and with respect. Cook has been keeping the Eucharist stored in a plastic bag since last Sunday.

“It is hurtful,” said Father Migeul Gonzalez with the Diocese. “Imagine if they kidnapped somebody and you make a plea for that individual to please return that loved one to the family.”

Gotcha. A diplomatic misstep turns into WWE and comparisons to kidnapping.

Thus crackergate was born…

However, it sounds like in your opinion PZ loses any high ground by accepting wafers gotten under ‘fraudulent’ conditions to conduct his performance art.

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Ralph September 9, 2010 at 11:28 am

ildi: “However, it sounds like in your opinion PZ loses any high ground by accepting wafers gotten under ‘fraudulent’ conditions to conduct his performance art.”

Nonsense. If an animal rights activist gets footage of deplorable animal rearing practices through subterfuge, does it undermine his moral high ground? Meh. Double standards left and right in defense of Islam. I really don’t get the canine servility that some of you display.

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ildi September 9, 2010 at 11:36 am

Ralph; dude; read for comprehension! I made no statement agreeing or disagreeing; I was using a conversational technique called reflection to make sure I’m understanding AF’s position. You know, instead of just flaming?

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Alonzo Fyfe September 9, 2010 at 11:55 am

I have to confess, with some of you, I can’t tell what you are arguing for or against. Your comments seem to suggest that you only see one issue here to take a position on, but you do not specify what that issue is.

I brought forth a number of different cases to highlight those issues.

(1) The moral wrong of making derogatory overgeneralizations.

(2) The moral wrong of book burning.

(3) The moral wrong of threatening to maim and kill innocent people as a way of obtaining a political objective.

(4) The moral wrong of responding to an act of speech with violence or threats of violence.

(5) The moral permission that even bigots have to express their bigotry in peaceful ways without being subject to violence or threats of violence.

(6) The right of a person to dispose of their property as they see fit – including burning that property (within responsible limits regarding pollution, fire hazards, and the like).

There are no heroes in this story. Everybody involved is violating at least one of these principles. To start with, the key players are making derogatory overgeneralizations or responding to speech with violence or threatening to kill and maim innocent people so as to get their way.

So, it makes no sense to point to anybody in this debate and say they have the white hats and their opponents have the black hats.

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snafu September 9, 2010 at 12:09 pm

[Alonzo] Only a consecrated wafer represents “the body of Christ”

Unless one is a Protestant heretic, it’s even stronger than this: only a consecrated wafer *is* the body of Christ. Regardless, I think Alonzo’s point is that you can’t legitimately obtain one except by (a) breaking into the church and stealing it, of (b) representing oneself as a Catholic in good standing at a service.

Obviously, (a) is immoral. But despite what everyone is saying about wafers being given away for free, (b) does involve misrepresentation (perhaps fraud is too strong a word).

Don’t get me wrong: it’s pretty harmless stuff in the scheme of all the ethically dubious things out there in the world. And, PZ didn’t even do this act: he just took possession of a worthless token.

In summary, I think there are (just about) legitimate ethical issues to be raised. Can I see myself as doing this? Probably not. Would I still drink beer with those who have? Yep.

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lukeprog September 9, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Alonzo,

As you know, I’m very unconfident of assertions in applied ethics altogether, but the ones in this post that look the most suspicious to me from a desirist point of view are (1) the assumption that P.Z. “stole” the wafer as in a way that reflects desires that we have reasons to condemn, and (2) the assumption that the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb-turban represents a kind of derogatory generalization that reflects desires we have reasons to condemn.

That, at least, is where my own objections lie.

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G'DIsraeli September 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

lukeprog,

Where do you draw the line when using symbols that represent groups of people in such a manner?

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lukeprog September 9, 2010 at 12:49 pm

G’Disraeli,

Oh, I have no idea, but I never realized in the first place that a cartoon of Mohammed was supposed to represent all Muslims. I assumed a cartoon of Mohammed was meant to represent Mohammed.

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JS Allen September 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm

What this guy is doing is not very Christian. OTOH, I’m shocked that no atheist has thought to do this before.

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AlonzoFyfe September 9, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Luke

Because of the bomb in the turban, I considered the message of the cartoon to represent the idea that the followers of Mohammed are all terrorists.

Gunpowder was not invented for several centuries after Mohammed’s death. So, I took the presence of the bomb to represent what came after Mohammed, not Mohammed himself.

And the idea that we have reason to condemn the acquisition of property by fraud seems straight forward. If you want to give away scholarship money to atheists with a GPA of 3.7 or higher, you’re going to want to promote a general aversion to those who don’t qualify attempting to get the money. The person who misrepresents himself to acquire your gift is guilty of fraud.

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Hermes September 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm

He was explicit why he’s burning the Koran; to get Muslims to consider their beliefs are invalid and to come to Christ. Stunningly ineffective? Probably.

As an atheist, though, the Koran doesn’t have any magical properties and I’m not on a recruiting binge so burning it would be as compelling as burning an old telephone book.

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stamati September 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm
Rodrigue September 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm

“So, it makes no sense to point to anybody in this debate”

??? If so, why did you accuse Myers of being a thief in your text (2nd section), then of being a “fraud” and a “con” man in your comments?

And don’t you really see a difference between a cracker anyone can buy online or get *freely* at mass without any question asked, and scholarship money? Well, it’s worth a try: would you like to give me 5.000 bucks to go with my glass of milk? Please? ;-)

I began reading your text with great interest, but I got a little, well, surprised to say the least in the “Myers/Cracker” part…

About the other points. Is it morally wrong to burn a book you own? It may be stupid, but is it immoral?

It’s not wrong to burn your jeans or a piece of furniture, so why would it be immoral to burn Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The God Delusion, the bible or the quran? I really don’t see the point in burning books, such an act is even highly repulsive to me, but I don’t think it’s morally wrong. Reading books (and criticizing them) would be a much better approach of course, but…

It’s quite different when it comes to threatening people, beating them or killing them. When a book is burned as a way to threaten someone (e.g. the talmud burnings of old), or to promise death to someone (I remember the time when mobs burned books by Salman Rushdie) then you could say it’s morally wrong – not because of the books though (except when they were pillaged) but because of the threats.

Have a good night, and congratulations to Luke for this very good website.

(I apologize for my bad English – it’s not my mother tongue)

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Hermes September 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm

What a liar. He said that he made a deal to move the NYC Islamic Center (‘ground zero mosque’) and that is why he is not going to do his little stunt.

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Haecceitas September 9, 2010 at 10:18 pm

“He was explicit why he’s burning the Koran; to get Muslims to consider their beliefs are invalid and to come to Christ. Stunningly ineffective? Probably.”

Where did he say that? Right now I’m listening to a debate (see the videos at http://www.answeringmuslims.com/2010/09/should-quran-be-burned-david-wood-and.html ) where he very explicitly says that this is not done for the purpose of evangelism.

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Daniel September 9, 2010 at 10:59 pm

The acquisition of consecrated wafers from Catholic churches by fraudulent means or by means of misrepresentation has been going on for centuries. A lot of times, in the 19th century, especially, it was by “believers” of a different sort, by people who wanted to use them for black masses.

More recently the acquisition and desecration has become more political, in ACT-UP demonstrations or, as in the case of Myers, as a sort of ‘protest’ against the idea that the wafer could possibly be the body of Christ, as the RC Church claims it is.

It strikes me as hyperbole, however, to say that those who compare desecration of a consecrated wafer to defamation, and even those who hint that they might bring a suit for defamation, are threatening violence.

1.) It’s equivocating on the word ‘violence’. It’s really stretching it to say that such a lawsuit is violence, unless one is willing to embrace the principles of anarchism fully.

2.) Thus, it isn’t the case that threatening someone with a lawsuit for defamation is threatening violence.

3.) Thirdly, even if I grant that they are the same, one is led into an absurdity, namely that it is always and everywhere wrong to threaten to prosecute someone for defamation.

Do you really want to say that? Or would you rather say that the threat of a lawsuit for defamation is sometimes morally neutral or even good (and thus say that sometimes threatening violence is morally neutral or good)?

Also, while I would agree with AF on the stealing part (insofar as the consecrated wafer was obtained by fraudulent means), I don’t really see why he doesn’t go one step further and condemn the desecration. I suspect it is his ideological commitments which prevent him from doing so.

After all, if you’re going to condemn the bigotry of some, why not the bigotry of Myers?
Or are you really going to claim that someone who goes out of his way to desecrate a consecrated wafer has no animosity or hostility whatsoever towards Catholics?

All of your talk about “decent” and “civilized” people and how they ought to behave rings rather hollow to me if you’re going to say that it’s okay for a person who obtains a consecrated wafer by legitimate means to desecrate it publicly.

Even if you think Catholics are a delusional bunch for believing that it’s the body of Christ, there is really no need for such action. It’s neither decent nor civilized nor really all that rational.

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Hermes September 10, 2010 at 12:29 am

Haecceitas: Where did he say that?

Well, he seems to be proficient at lying so it’s not surprising that he’s changed his tune if the interview has him stating otherwise.

For example, here’s one report that quotes Terry Jones earlier this year just after he dreamed up this idea (July 21, 2010);

Jones, who is also the author of a book titled “Islam is of the Devil,” said protests are key to the mission of his church.

“We feel, as Christians, one of our jobs is to warn,” said Jones.
The goal of these and other protests are to give Muslims an opportunity to convert, he said.

Source: http://pewforum.org/Religion-News/Fla-church-plans-to-burn-Qurans-on-9-11-anniversary.aspx

He’s said similar things since then.

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mojo.rhythm September 10, 2010 at 2:22 am

Alonzo,

What do you think is the most rational solution to theocracy and Islamic fundamentalism? How much respect ought to be given to people’s religious beliefs?

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Kaelik September 10, 2010 at 5:31 am

I don’t really see why he doesn’t go one step further and condemn the desecration. I suspect it is his ideological commitments which prevent him from doing so.

Because, as he spelled out. Destroying your own property is not something he opposes. According to Alonzo, you can destroy any of your own property, and that’s always acceptable.

Why should he condemn someone destroying a cracker?

After all, if you’re going to condemn the bigotry of some, why not the bigotry of Myers?

Because Myers displayed no bigotry. So to condemn him for something he didn’t show would be stupid.

Or are you really going to claim that someone who goes out of his way to desecrate a consecrated wafer has no animosity or hostility whatsoever towards Catholics?

Animosity and hostility are different from bigotry. I have animosity and hostility towards anyone who would attempt to murder me, but obviously not bigotry.

Take a look at Alonzo’s definition:

I define bigotry as the making of unfounded derogatory over-generalizations; blaming groups of people for moral crimes of which some are innocent.

Was Myers making any over generalizations at all? Was he blaming anyone for any crime? No, he was merely destroying some property (which may or may not have been his own, depending on your assumptions about that).

This is not bigotry.

rings rather hollow to me if you’re going to say that it’s okay for a person who obtains a consecrated wafer by legitimate means to desecrate it publicly.

It also rings false to Muslims who believe that the Koran is a sacred object, and you shouldn’t burn it. Or that Mohammed is a sacred person, and you should never draw a picture of him.

But no one cares, because your crazy beliefs don’t matter to us.

Freedom of Speech matters to us. So yes, people get to destroy their own property no matter how much you arbitrarily value their property, for sensible or insane reasons.

Bill Gates is allowed to buy famous artwork, then burn it, if he chooses, no matter how much I prefer he not.

Even if you think Catholics are a delusional bunch for believing that it’s the body of Christ, there is really no need for such action.

To quote Stephen Fry on swearing: “Or they say, ‘It’s not necessary.’ As if that should stop anyone from doing something. It’s not necessary to have colored socks.”

A Catholic who values a consecrated wafer is not the person who can determine whether or not ‘desecrating’ such a wafer was the most apt way to express the concept that Myers wished to express. That would be Myers. And if it is the best way to communicate the concept, then we really shouldn’t be telling him to 1) find another way to do it, 2) not communicate that concept, because that would be violating free speech as long as he is within the bounds of the law, like for example, destroying his own property.

It’s neither decent nor civilized nor really all that rational.

It’s not indecent, it’s not uncivilized (in fact, it’s actually very civilized, since it involves throwing bread objects into a plastic trash can to be picked up by regular trash workers… all things that can’t exist without civilization) and it’s perfectly rational to express concepts in a way that has the most punch, and gets the most press, which it obviously did.

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Rodrigue September 10, 2010 at 5:37 am

“The acquisition of consecrated wafers from Catholic churches by fraudulent means or by means of misrepresentation…” (Daniel)

I disagree.

Bibles are printed throughout the world with a purpose. Are all bible-owners who do not treat the Sacred Book with Reverence a bunch of con men who misrepresented themselves to their bookseller? Should we sign a contract when buying a book?
If you enter a Jehova Witness building, they give you a brochure and then you go and wipe your a.. with the said brochure, was it misrepresentation from your part? Was it “wrong” to take what was freely given?
Another funny example: I saw a TV-report yesterday evening, on the clairvoyance business. A few scenes were shot with a hidden cam. Was it “bad”? Were the deceitful TV con men wrong when they -clearly- misrepresented themselves? Was it bad to expose the clairvoyants as a bunch of krooks or self-delusional fools, thus crushing the faith of many viewers?

In the mass/cracker example (and Myers may have obtain a cracker from other sources) there is even no need for misrepresentation. We’re talking about FREE crackers distributed FREELY in a PUBLIC place where ANYONE can go provided that they wear clothes and keep quiet.
If you believe that a moral contract binds you to the guy who leads the chants and the choregraphy then you’re right to act accordingly, but it’s nothing more than your own point of view.

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lukeprog September 10, 2010 at 5:57 am

mojo.rhythm,

Your question to Alonzo helped clarify a question I’ve had about desirism. Because humans operate so far from the ideal, it sometimes seems like most of Alonzo’s expression of desirism comes in the form of condemnation. More condemnation than praise, anyway. But isn’t morality supposed to be a practical subject? What about advice? For example, what if a theoretical system like parecon could better serve the world than liberal democracy, fascism, or communism? There doesn’t seem to be much way for desirism to recommend a better system, because it has the unfortunate limitation of referring only to reasons for action that exist. I guess the hope is that in promoting desires that tend to fulfill other desires, we’ll promote desires for curiosity about the world and mutual benefit, which will lead to the discovery of better systems.

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Brian_G September 10, 2010 at 7:39 am

I can’t believe how many people are defending the desecration of the Eucharist. I understand that you guys don’t believe as we do about the Eucharist, but you can still show common human courtesy when visiting someone else’s place of worship.

Now if Catholic churches passed out communion to the general public, the way people do with Bibles and “get saved” booklets, we really couldn’t expect people to treat it with respect. The fact is that only Catholics are allowed to receive communion. People receive instruction, usually in the form of classes, to prepare for receiving communion and are not allowed to receive until they make their first communion. When people receive communion, the minister holds up the host and says “the body of Christ.” To which the recipient responds, “Amen.” “Amen” means “I Believe.”

The Catholic church is a world wide religion that includes people from many diverse ethnic backgrounds. We can’t tell just from looking at skin color whether your Catholic or not. We have to actually trust that people aren’t lying to us. So it’s possible someone could walk up and receive communion without being Catholic.

Suppose a person, knowing all this, walks up says “amen”, receives communion, and takes it home to desecrate it. Saying “Amen” would be a lie, since the person doesn’t really believe it’s the body of Christ.. Perhaps, the person doesn’t say “amen”; he just mumbles under his breath or remains silents and the minister doesn’t notice because of the hymn in the background. He would still be representing himself as a Catholic.

I think there are good reasons not to desecrate the Eucharist, even if you find our Catholic beliefs silly and delusional. If I’m to respect another person, their property, their place of worship, or there living space, I must take into consideration not the value I think something has, but the value the other person places on the thing in question. Suppose that someone has a baseball card, he considers highly valuable. I may say to myself, “it’s only a piece of cardboard with a picture on it,” but that doesn’t give me the right to come into his house and tear it up like I might do to any other piece of cardboard. If we think about it, a lot of the value we assign to objects is purely arbitrary. Diamonds, for instance, are only valuable because people highly value them. Sure there are some industrial uses for them, but most of their value come from the fact that we think they are highly valuable. Objects with a sentential value are difficult to define in monetary terms. If someone has a meaningful piece of jewelry from grandma that she values, it doesn’t matter if it’s replacement value is only a dollar, respect for another person would mean I don’t have the right to treat it as a one dollar piece of jewelry.

The fact that the Catholic church doesn’t charge money for communion makes little difference. I also think it’s plausible that there are implied “agreements” or “understanding” between people that ought to be respected regardless of whether you signed a piece of paper or not. For instance, suppose I were to attend an atheist meeting where pizza was provided, and I’m told to help myself. If I were to grab all ten pizza boxes and take them out to my car, I would be in the wrong. What’s the matter? They were free. I was told to help myself. There was no sign that said, “only take one.” It obvious that the intent was for me to have a reasonable amount of pizza for my consumption at the gathering. Doing otherwise just makes me a jerk.

I think that some of the comments suggest a principle of morality that is more like “what can I get away with doing” instead of the principle of “don’t be a dick.”

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ildi September 10, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I object to signs that show the World Trade Center towers and the text, “Imagine No Religion” as expressions of bigotry. What those who use this image are trying to do is to sell hate by telling the viewers to take the condemnation they rightly feel against the perpetrators of that crime and apply it to all religious people – the vast majority of which themselves condemned such an attack.

Maybe times have changed so the phrase isn’t iconic anymore, but I consider the lyrics of Lennon’s song when I see that text:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

Would you prefer that the text say “Imagine not using religious belief as an excuse to kill” or “Imagine a world where no one commits atrocities in the name of religion” or “Imagine no such thing as an infidel” or some such? Doesn’t quite flow as well.

I think your bigotry-meter needs to be recalibrated. I think you’re getting way too many false positives, to the point where the word is almost losing its meaning. While I agree that condemnation should be aimed only where it’s earned, I disagree with your seeming “n of 1” for group culpability when that group has specific exhortations. Using the recent Discovery Channel incident as an example, if Lee had been a member of ELF and cited ELF literature as justification for his actions, would you consider it bigoted to hold ELF accountable for the actions of one of its members?

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mk September 11, 2010 at 1:08 am

When did hate-mongering bigotry become a crime? It strikes me as important that the author characterizes something with which he vehemently disagrees as criminal, as something a State can legitimately proscribe and sanction. Is the author advocating the propriety of thought-police? Violence and threats of violence are not worse crimes than hate-mongering bigotry; violence and threats of violence are crimes, while hate-mongering bigotry is not.

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K September 12, 2010 at 11:05 pm

As far as book burning goes, no book needs to be burnt to make a point, but if you feel the need to do so, such is your right.
Concerning the author of this piece…
There is a simple way to dismantle this particular atheist’s views. Where his ideas fail, (quite miserably I might add) is in his inability to discern the monumental difference between absolutism and SARCASM.
‘Imagine no religion’ and the cartoon of Mohammed, are sarcastic and comedic in nature and quite adequately cut through the butter of bullshit that is religion like a red-hot knife. Sarcasm is a wonderfully effective tool in this manner. Nowhere in these artistic statements do they say, hate all religious people or kill them or other. These ‘images’ merely reflect religion’s image back on itself with satellite mirror clarity. The argument from bigotry is a pedantic P.C. attempt at an ethical parallel to an immoral statement. The parallel he is trying to affirm is that the atheist or comedic writers or artists are just as bigoted or hate-filled as the religions they attack. The difference is in the message. The atheists/artist/cartoonist ASKS you to “imagine” or laugh at the irony, two things that have actually been shown time and time again to BRING ALL KINDS OF PEOPE TOGETHER…peacefully. Nothing like laughing at one’s common shared shortcomings to help people get along. The other statement TELLS you, “My religion is more important than your human rights or freedom.” This is NOT sarcasm or comedy or irony or just plain fun. This is absolutism, totalitarianism and theocracy at it’s worst. The deaf ears to reason that religion has continuously espoused over the course of human history only invites this kind of sarcasm and skepticism, as it should. Unrelenting, unforgiving and unfunny is the definition of religion.
Left unchallenged or unscrutinized, you only need look into history to see what religion can accomplish or should I say, enslave.

Like Billy Joel once said” I’d rather laugh with the sinners then cry with the saints.”

If you want to keep your religion, fine…just keep it to
yourself.

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Zeshan Rizvi March 24, 2011 at 11:04 am

I agree with your article. It makes sense. But I have one question with something you wrote.

“Indeed, of the two crimes – hate-mongering bigotry expressed in words alone on the other hand, versus violence and threats of violence in order to control what others may say on the other – the latter is the greater evil”

I agree that the “latter is the greater evil”. Indeed, violence in retaliation to insults seem childish and uncivilized. It is wrong. I am concerned with the issue that you seem to imply justification for Americans to retaliate to the threats of violence with violence in return. How does that make us Americans any different? Are we not attempting to defend our own beliefs by using the same means that we are condemning? So violence is not wrong? Just the intention of violence? It also seems through your article that provocation was a LARGE factor in the retaliation of threats of violence against “hate-mongering bigotry”. Would you agree that if no provocation was induced, then there would be no threats of violence? Would it be safe to assume that maybe the American people should be more responsible with their own freedom of speech? Do take into consideration that what we Americans think may or may not be wrong isn’t necessarily the same way of thinking of other societies. Rules and laws of socities are based upon that society and are created by that society. There is no universal moral standard that the people of the world naturally adopt. Taking this into consideration, I think you can do a better job of pointing fingers. Personally I think both are wrong. The Americans for not realizing that not everyone thinks the same, and the retaliators whomever they are (muslim, non muslim, etc.) shouldn’t have reacted in violence. If everyone just thought a little bit more before acting, I think the entire situation could have been prevented.
“but do not threaten violence against those who do not share those beliefs.”

The same can be said to not denounce or insult the those who do not share your beliefs. If you understand that not all people share the same beliefs then the fact that that is understood should have been substantial grounds for creating amends between the two opposing groups. Not everyone believes the same things, if this is already agreed then why is ignorance to this fact still imposed? Also, would it not be better for you to share your beliefs and have those who disagree join you and ulitimately share your beliefs as well instead of denouncing the beliefs of those who disagree? The latter seems to me as blatant ignorance, not freedom of speech. Or well moreover the freedom of speaking ignorance to incite global conflict then the freedom of speech. Never the less, I do agree that this freedom to speak ignorance is freedom of speech, just not a very sophisticated form of speech.

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Zeshan Rizvi March 24, 2011 at 11:47 am

So, it makes no sense to point to anybody in this debate and say they have the white hats and their opponents have the black hats.

This is indeed true

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