Who is to Blame for Koran Burning Protest Deaths?


Afghans near Kabul burn Pastor Terry Jones in effigy.

When Pastor Terry Jones, 59, announced an intent to burn a Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2010, the U.S. government, fearing attacks on American troops abroad, put intense pressure on him to desist and eventually he called off his plans.

Jones, however, did not cancel the ceremonial judgment of the Islamic scripture – he only delayed it by six months. On March 20, in a six-hour ceremony called “International Judge the Koran Day,” Jones convened a mock-judicial process in Florida that deemed the book “guilty of crimes against humanity,” then set a copy on fire.

The event was intentionally ignored in the United States, in the hopes of limiting its impact, but little stays secret in the Internet age. Within two days, news of the conflagration had reached Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the country’s presidents roundly denounced Jones, bringing his action to wide notice. On April 1, infuriated Afghans lashed out, killing twelve in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif; the next day, suicide bombers dressed in women’s clothing attacked a coalition base in Kabul and street mobs in Kandahar again killed twelve.

(This, it bears observing, was just five more dead than in September 2010, when nineteen were killed as Jones only threatened to burn the Koran.)

Who is morally to blame for these deaths, Jones or Islamist intolerance?

Not surprisingly, Jones called the killings a “criminal action” and asserted that “We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities.”

In contrast, Barack Obama characterized the Koran burning as “an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry” while calling the violent responses “dishonorable and deplorable.” Members of Congress overwhelmingly blamed Jones:

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada) said, he will “take a look” at introducing a resolution to condemn the Koran burning.
  • Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Democrat of Illinois) held that “this pastor with his publicity stunt with the Koran unfortunately endangers the lives of our troops and the citizens of this country and a lot of innocent people.”
  • Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican of South Carolina) expressed a wish to “find a way to hold [American] people accountable” and called free speech “a great idea, but we’re in a war.” (For a critique of Graham’s embarrassing statement, by Ann Barnhardt, click here.)
  • Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers (Republican of Michigan) requested every American to “be thoughtful and mindful of each citizen’s responsibility to do their part to make sure our soldiers come home safely.”

In light of this blame-Jones consensus among the elite, the replies to a poll sponsored by a left-wing U.K. newspaper, the Guardian, come as something of a surprise. Asked whether “the Florida pastor who burnt the Qur’an [is]morally responsible for the deaths of UN staff in protests in Afghanistan,” only 45 percent blame Jones and 55 percent blame the Islamists.

Indeed, some American Muslim leaders concurred with this sentiment. M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy in Arizona blamed the killings on extremist leaders who exploited the Koran burning as an excuse for violence. The imam of an Ahmadiyya mosque in California, Shamshad Nasir, said his community “rejects any killing in the name of religion anywhere, even if it is done in the name of the most sacred scriptures.”

As I wrote last September, when Jones threatened to burn a Koran, the “violence stems from Islamic law, the Sharia, which insists that Islam, and the Koran in particular, enjoy a privileged status.” That insistence, which has been asserted since 1989, when Ayatollah Khomeini put an edict on Salman Rushdie for his novel, The Satanic Verses, must not be indulged. Islam is one religion among others, with no claim to superior status. Indeed closing down the claim to Islamic supremacism may be the single greatest challenge to modernizing Islam.

However distasteful, Jones’ act is both legal and non-violent. He is not responsible for the 43 deaths; the repugnant, barbaric ideology of Islamism is to blame. When will U.S. politicians realize this basic fact and stand up robustly for the civil liberties of American citizens? Critiquing Islam, tastefully or distastefully done, is a Constitutional right. Indeed, done intelligently it is a civilizational imperative.


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  • I disagree. While the people doing the killing bear direct moral responsibility for the deaths, it’s also true that burning someone’s holy book is unnecessary. Simple prudence dictates that you don’t do something unnecessary when deaths will result. So Pastor Jones has his share of the blame, and I think he needs to find a different way to make his statement.

  • Tarheel

    I don’t agree with Rev Jones’ tactics. He did and is permitted by our constitution to exercise his right to free speech. How responsible he acted is a different story.

    And we need to take into consideration that not all Muslims are extremists. But do actions like this push them into becoming extremists? That may well be what actions taken like Rev Jones has done will create. Right here in our own “backyard”.

    I recently listened to a friend who grew up in Lebanon talk about Muslims. He said that persecution of Christians is part of what is practiced. He even said that being a Christian is Saudi is illegal. I know when I was there in Saudi years ago that I was told not to wear out in open any Christian symbols so as not to offend the Saudis. Most definitely do not carry a bible in plain view. My personal experience and what I hear from people with personal experience, religious tolerance by our Muslim brothers and sisters is not common place.

    By our Bill of Rights we allow religious freedom. And Muslims living here are permitted to worship freely. So are we being good Christians by condoning acts like Rev Jones? Is what Rev Jones did different than Muslim attacks on Christians while they were at Mass? Hove we forgotten what happened in Iraq?

    When I read and hear of religious persecution I remember what our last two Popes have spoken about when religious differences are an issue. Dialogue. And through dialogue we can reach understanding.

    But as long as we have extremist on either side of the “fence” this will not be possible.

    • Prairie Hawk:

      I fully agree.

      If the reverend’s actions could reasonably be seen to have no impact outside of the United States, where his speech is protected (like burning the American flag), then there is no problem – he is exercising his right to such speech. He certainly bears no direct responsibility for the deaths of those in Afghanistan. The question to me, however, is whether or not he could reasonably have forseen that deaths would be the result of his action. If so, then he does bear some moral culpability, to my mind.

      One shouldn’t say that he “intended” the death of anyone – and, if not, his actions weren’t “purposful” in this regard. If his action did “intend” mayhem but not death, it was “purposful” of that mayhem but negligent with respect to the deaths that resulted. If he did intend death, or even hope that it would result in order to prove a point, his moral culpability increases by an order of magnitude.

      Whether or not he “knew,” with reasonable certainty, that he was placing the lives of others in danger is a question that is in the air, for me. My initial opinion is that if he did not have some reasonable suspicion that death would result, he’s ignorant – and I don’t think him ignorant in this respect.

      I believe that he acted recklessly, since he ignored that fact that it should have been expected that some sort of repraisal against Western assets and citizens abroad may result.

      Finally, I don’t think him merely negligent. I think he was aware of risks (v. unreasonably unknowing) and acted anyway – quite possibly with some reasonable foreknowledge that the resultant mayhem would prove his point.

      He is free to sit in Florida, behind the walls of our laws, and exercise his rights. But there are many others in the world not protected by law in the way he is. Prudence should have dictated that he not choose this particular method of exercising his rights under US law. Sure, try the Koran, find it guilty – but put it behind bars or “re-habilitate” it by discussing it publicly with a proponent of non-violent Islam. Something different, anyway.

      Purposfulness, Knowledge, Recklessness, and Negligence are generally codified in law to establish degrees of culpability. As I said, his free-speech right in the US probably trumps any chance that he can be found guilty of an offense. Not even the “fighting words” doctrine would likely hold against him, in this case. But that doesn’t mean that he failed in, possibly, a higher Christian duty than “exposing” the Koran. I’m not a lawyer, so maybe one could find a charge that would stick, but I have my doubts.

      In Christ,

  • Mary Kochan

    Tarheel, you don’t mean to be asking if there is any difference between burning a book and slaughtering innocent human beings, do you?

  • I think, to use the language of tort law, that given the recent history of violent uprisings in Islamic countries in response to insults toward the Prophet, Pastor Jones could have “reasonably foreseen” that violence would result from his actions.

    Another concern that I have, though, is that burning the Koran just isn’t helping advance dialogue between Christians and Muslims. It’s one guy out on the fringe, doing something kooky. Pastor Jones needs to learn how to speak and act in charity before he tries to “help” the Church evangelize the Islamic world.

  • Tarheel

    Difference Mary? There is a difference in the two, but it is more how extremists react. Perhaps if we look at it this way. In my years of travel in the USAF and moving about every two years I have books get destroyed. Some that were very dear to me. And I have had a Bible I used for some time get destroyed. Was I hurt? yes. Did i feel the urge to go kill or slaughter someone? No. Although I miss the bible that was destroyed it was easily replaced. I know that our Holy Scriptures are precious, but losing one copy didn’t damage my soul.

    Now if this had been done as an act to make me mad then I would still have to fall back on what I was taught to “turn the other cheek”. Note that I’m not saying this would be easy. Yes I would be mad, but is that what Christ wants me to be?

    What we have to be aware of is the state of mind that some religious groups feel towards their holy books. And that is what really concerns me.

  • Mary Kochan

    Tarheel I was just puzzling over your question:

    Is what Rev Jones did different than Muslim attacks on Christians while they were at Mass?

    • Tarheel

      Sadly I think to the Muslims when Rev Jones it was the same. From my limited exposure and experience with Muslims they place a lot more importance on “icons” of their faith than what many of us expect.

      As for the comparisons I was using the two to show that extreme actions have been taken by both sides of the “fence”. Burning of books should never cause a life to be taken. And the taking of lives should never be the reason to burn books.

  • goral

    “(This, it bears observing, was just five more dead than in September 2010, when nineteen were killed as Jones only threatened to burn the Koran.)”

    What Jones did was “unnecessary”.
    Jone’s actions make extremists out of non-extremists.
    Rev. Jones acted recklessly and is morally culpable.
    I’ll add my own comment, that Jones is probably a fundamentalist whack and is really incapable of addressing this issue in any meaningful manner.

    Mr. Pipes also makes this statement in the article:
    “violence stems from Islamic law, the Sharia, which insists that Islam, and the Koran in particular, enjoy a privileged status.”

    That is why not just the actions of the “infidel” are judged but also mere intent and suggestion.
    The judgment is swift and violent and any Muslim anywhere can and has the duty to carry it out.

    This is in fact what the comments to this article tacitly support. This is what our outspoken public officials find to be the pressing issues of the day.

  • The Koran is believed by Muslims to be the literal word of Allah; not a work of Mohammed “inspired” by Allah, but quite literally the words spoken by God, through Gabriel, to Mohammed. As such, the Koran is on an entirely different plane of faith than the Bible (except, perhaps, for those who believe that KJV is the Bible used by Jesus).

    The Koran, then, is infinitely greater in value than the price of a person (or many people) because, for them, it is God’s direct revelation of both Himself and the plan for humanity. That is why the Koran has such a privileged status in Muslim law.

    Tarheel is correct when he says that, at least for the some in the Muslim community, the destruction of the Koran is as offensive as the killing of a person – more so, in fact. But it is not an “icon” of the faith – but the will of God.

    One’s failure to grasp this fact of Islam, or to ignore it, is perilous.

    In Christ,

  • goral

    A very timely warning to those of us who think that the Koran is printed pretty much the same way as the Gainsville telephone book. In fact if the phone book was printed in some Arabic, many of the murderers and rioters wouldn’t know the difference.

    According to this rationalization, the sooner we buy an Afghan rug and learn to pronounce the name Allah with the proper guttural sound the sooner our troops will come home.

  • Goral:

    That’s an interesting take!

    My wife’s family pronounces “the name of Allah with the proper guttural sound” and they are Catholic – Maronite to be specific, but Arabic none-the-less; and the Divine Liturgy is said in a mix of languages – Syriac, Arabic, Aramaic. Something in particular you have against Arabs? Or do you simply assume that all are Muslim?

    To what “rationalization” are you referring? Something the article’s author said or another poster? What point are you trying to make?

    In Christ,

  • goral

    For someone who believes as you do, Michael, that –
    “As such, the Koran is on an entirely different plane of faith than the Bible.”; It’s entirely understandable that you would rationalize that we had better learn, honor and obey the tenets of Islam or else!

    When the priest lifts the Book and says: “The Word of the Lord”, that simply is not forceful enough for you. When the Word walked the earth He wasn’t commanding enough either because He didn’t mow down his adversaries with the sword as did Muhammad.
    The point is better made when dead and maimed bodies are everywhere according to the will of Allah. (guttural pronunciation optional)

    I will be going tomorrow, for the Stations of the Cross to a Maronite church. I was invited by a gym mom a couple of years ago to their Good Fri. Service.
    Their singing is beautiful. I also have Lebanese in the family. These dear people know firsthand the suffering that the Christians are now under at the hands of Arab Muslims.

    You are free here to be an apologist for Islam. Your local Imam appreciates it. Just don’t dare ask for equal time at his Mosque or even on his website.

  • Mary Kochan

    Uh, Michael, leaving aside the entire question of proportionality and whether burning book = killing person/s, I’d simply like to point out here that the people the Muslims killed were not the ones who burned the book. Hello!

  • Mary and goral:

    I’m not disagreeing with the actual guilt of those who committed murder. I’m not even saying, despite some apparent belief to the contrary, that I believe that actions of the murderers were, in any manner, proportional to the burning of the Koran. Nor am I arguing that their anger, even if justified, was directed at the proper target.

    But let’s not say that it is my belief that the Koran deserves special consideration. Re-reading my post above, I don’t see that it could be unclear that I was explaining the Muslim belief – not expressing mine. I am saying, however, that simply because one is legally able to perform an action is insufficient to free him from moral responsibility for the outcome of such action, if a bad outcome could reasonably be expected. Based on the fact that the threat of burning the Koran resulted in deaths, the reverend should have had some idea that the actual destruction of one would likely have the same result. As I said above, I don’t believe that he “intended” the death of the people who lost their lives – but he should reasonably have forseen it as a possibility, and this fact, in itself, places some accountability on him, in my view. Karzai, to my mind, bears even more responsibility than Mr. Terry, but he didn’t commit the murders either.

    Most of the world’s population is not protected by the First Amendment or similar language – but Mr. Terry is and he was within his rights to express himself in the manner he did. So burn the Koran, burn the Adi Granth, burn the Book of Mormon, burn the Bible (NWT,KJV, NIV, NAB, Jerusalem – whatever), burn the flag, burn anything that has meaning to another – we as residents of the US have that right. But what about our duties in Charity? What of being our brothers’ keeper, regardless of where they live or work in the world? Does our constitutional right trump our Christian Duty?

    “Quote mining,” now, is entirely dishonest. To ascribe to me a belief, when it was clear that I was referring to “Muslims” or “them,” simply fails for any number of reasons. My “belief” is that Muslims believe something different than the typical Christian regarding their sacred text. There is no apology for Islam in my post. If one reads it otherwise, one should re-read it. I do suggest, however, that a failure to understand the religion and the cultural underpinnings it creates is, actually, perilous. Regardless of how alien a belief may be to us or how divergent it is from Truth, it is no less a belief that must be at least acknowledged before it can be overcome.

    As for my failings, they are many and manifest so I can clearly state that I lack certain perfections. But a failure to believe in the Truth in the Bible or the teaching of the Magisterium is not among them. The rest of goral’s argument sounds a bit like “I have friends who are black,” which I trust is not his intent; but the intent isn’t actually clear.

    In Christ,

    (a closing unlikely, by the way, for a Muslim)

  • Mary Kochan

    Michael, I know you are a Catholic Christian — that was not the issue. The problem comes with a comment like this: “The Koran, then, is infinitely greater in value than the price of a person (or many people) because, for them, it is God’s direct revelation of both Himself and the plan for humanity. That is why the Koran has such a privileged status in Muslim law… One’s failure to grasp this fact of Islam, or to ignore it, is perilous.”

    I know that you were expressing Muslim belief not your own. But the fact that the Koran has priveleged status in Islam, absolutley cannot translate into us giving it priveleged status in our laws, or even in our society.

    I don’t think he should have publicly burned the Koran because I think it is a needless insult to the faith of others. I don’t think he should burn a Koran or any other book that others consider holy, just as a matter of manners.

    But to suggest that he should be punished for his bad manners… un,uh. They are passing a law in Indonesia that you cannot quote the Koran at all if you are quoting it to question the truth of Islam or the status of Mohammed as a prophet or to criticize the religion.

    Soon making a quotation from the Koran will become a pretext for killing Christians or other non-Muslims.
    It is ALL pretext. We are simply dealing with murderous barbarians and they really don’t need any excuse to kill. But they like to have one if they think it will help intimidate those who are free.

  • goral

    Michael, I responded to YOUR statements of:
    “moral culpability”,
    The Koran’s privileged status,
    Maronite Catholics and Arabs.
    You’re the one who initially put those words and ideas into your comments.

    Like Mary, I don’t believe that you are defending the acts of the murderous barbarians either.

    Can you spare me the CNN and MSNBC analysis of why innocent people were murdered in the name of Islam once again and once again….
    The truth is that Jones is just another in an endless line of irrational and evil pretexts to indiscriminately kill anyone.
    When a car bomb goes off innocent Arabs and Muslims die too. All of that counts for nothing
    to further the “greatness” of Allah.
    We know this! No explanation necessary.
    The only perilous notion here is to buy into any of it.

    We Christians categorically and unequivocally deny any superiority of Muhammad or the Koran or any of the Muslem beliefs over ours.
    Muhammad did not die on the Cross and is himself along with his followers in need of Salvation.
    That Salvation comes from the ONE in who’s name you sign off.
    You know that, so don’t waste your time rationalizing the indefensible.

  • Thank you Mary. I didn’t think it was the issue…for you.

    First of all, I’ve been referring to “Mr. Terry” and should have been writing about “Mr. Jones.” Sorry if there was any confusion with respect to my reference of the reverend in question.

    Now, I agree that the Koran can neither deserve nor have a privileged status in law, nor do I argue for such. Similarly, I don’t suggest that the Mr. Jones should be prosecuted for his actions. That is a legal issue and the law is definitely on his side…as I’ve indicated. But doing something legally, even if it is a right, does not obviate one of his responsibilities on the deeper level of Truth. Perhaps I’m too harsh, but I think he’s accountable for slightly more than “bad manners.” The needless insult of his had consequences he should have foreseen. If I have come across as saying that the reverend should be punished under the law, that is my fault. I am trying to make the argument that there is a greater law to which we must bend, and that Divine Law will account for “…what I have done, and what I have failed to do.” The moral precepts codified in civil law, after some fashion (Purpose (or Intent), Knowledge, Recklessness, and Negligence), still retain their deeper moral force regardless of secular interpretation. To suggest that Mr. Jones was imprudent (at best), reckless, or negligent with respect to the foreseeable death of another is not to argue that the murderers acted properly or that their belief in the absolute inviolability of the Koran is defensible in law or in Truth.

    People can act in reprehensible ways and make laws which trample the rights of man. Sometimes it is done from simple (meaning “pure”) evil, other times it is contrariness, and still other times it is from belief or conviction (regardless of the error of that belief). We can and should stand against such laws and actions. But I hope never to let another suffer as proxy for my own action in such a case. God forbid that my recklessness or negligence is a proximate cause for the death of someone else.

    Mr. Jones did not kill these people. He is not directly responsible for their deaths nor, do I believe, did he intend their death. Does that make his actions completely exculpatory? In the end, Jesus will decide. I’m just trying to get to the mind of the Church on the matter, and my read is that his was behavior which is inconsistent with the duties of a Christian. I’m willing to be proved wrong, but pointing out the bad behavior of others in a different faith or having my fidelity to the Church questioned certainly don’t argue that I am misunderstanding something.

    In Christ,

  • Goral:

    My argument is about culpability. The particular status of the Koran is a belief which must be acknowledged before anything can be done to counter it. My point about the Maronites is that there is any number of Arabic people who are not Muslim. Nor is the word “Allah” specific to Islam. Your remarks about buying rugs and proper pronunciation were worthy of that flea-market of ideas making up the MSM (including Fox) where, due to a dearth of actual thought, sound-bites are substituted for sound argument.

    Perhaps, rather than comparing my thoughts on the subject to CNN or MSNBC, you can come up with a substantive argument of a belief that Mr. Jones’ actions were not proximate(?) cause for the actions in Afghanistan (with the abetting of Mr. Karzai). That you may have a visceral disagreement with CNN or MSNBC does not make their analysis of a topic wrong. It merely means that you disagree, which is not an argument. Should I ask you to spare me your particular thoughts? I won’t because I’m interested in not only the process of argument, but an argument contrary to mine. Even the fact that CNN, MSNBC, Fox, USA Today, or the Wall Street Journal have a bias does not make a conclusion reached by their analysts wrong, though the premises or the logic getting them there may be structurally or formally flawed.

    I’m not trying to make a political argument. I’m trying to reason my way through a moral argument. If that wasn’t clear before, I hope that it is now.

    I agree with you, however, that we cannot “buy into” an idea foreign to either our faith or those protections guaranteed to us by our laws. But if you think I’m rationalizing the behavior of murderers, I would urge you to re-read what I’ve written; I’m not doing any such thing – unless by “rationalizing” you mean “to employ reason,” meaning to try to think something through before jumping on a particular band-wagon. The initial article spawning the comments says, “..the repugnant, barbaric ideology of Islamism is to blame…” even after noting that a number of Muslim leaders decried the action. If that’s not rationalizing a position – in the sense of “to invent plausible explanations for acts…that may actually be ascribed to other causes” – than what is? Mr. Jones did not kill 43 people. If pulling a trigger is all that counts, I’m good with that. But my read of what the Church teaches on the subject is not so simple. If I’m wrong – by sound means please make the case.

    In Christ,

  • Here’s what I mean by a counter-argument which would, possibly, support a blame-free Terry Jones:

    The US’s first action in Afghanistan after the attacks of 9/11 occurred at Mazar-i-Sharif, the site of the violence against Westerners last month following Mr. Jones having burned a copy of the Koran. The US’s support of the Northern Alliance, however, proved to be more of a problem after the fall of this particular Taliban stronghold due to reported kidnappings of civilians, and the enslavement and sexual battery committed by members of the Northern Alliance after US troops moved to other battles. The simmering resentment of the population has been building for the past decade and the West – particularly the US (seen as the strong arm behind the repeated abuses the city has suffered) – is viewed as the cause of all of their troubles. The actions of Reverend Jones were merely the last straw and an excuse for explosive violence. He would have had no way of knowing that his actions would escalate into mob violence without this historical context.

    Is the above true? There have been allegations which mirror this first part. The second is speculation, but with only a little research the case might be made. But key to countering my point about culpability is the idea that Mr. Jones could not, in any reasonable way, have predicted violence.

    In Christ,

  • goral

    Here’s my counter-argument. This one I took out of a NY Times report. This happened just yesterday in Rio De Janeiro.

    During the attack, having stopped to reload twice, Mr. Oliveira (they didn’t use his Islamic name)killed 10 girls and 2 boys, ages 12 to 14. They died from bullet wounds mostly to the head and chest, said Martha Rocha, the chief of Rio’s Civil Police.

    A letter found in Mr. Oliveira’s pocket made it clear that the attack was premeditated, and that he intended to die, but it offered no motive for the shootings.

    Instead, he left explicit instructions for his burial — he wanted to be near his adopted mother, who died in 2009 — and the disposition of his house, which he wanted to donate to an animal shelter. He asked to be buried in a way that reflected some aspects of Islamic tradition, including in a white sheet he said he left in a bag on the first floor of the school, but he also asked Jesus for eternal life.

    In the only reference to his deed, he sought “God’s forgiveness for what I have done.”

    End of report.

    The NY Times and other media tried desperately to hide the Islamic connection but they could not.
    Instead they made sure to add other elements that detracted from this desperado’s real affiliation.

    This is a typical profile of an Islamist, confused angry, violent and murderous. Face this objective reality, Michael, and stop explaining it away and parsing words.

  • This is anecdote, not argument.

    In Christ,

  • Goral:

    (Previously I used an improper honorific for Rev. Jones, referring to him as Mr. – properly, apparently, it is “Dr.”)

    Maybe we could look at a couple of ideas around morality in Catholic thought. The first is the three moral sources of an act (CCC 1750-1755) – object, intention, and circumstance.

    The “object” is the moral good toward which the will is directed. It answers the question “What is being done?” In the case of Dr. Jones, it is the burning of a Koran. The object, then, appears to be morally neutral.

    The “intention” is within the person acting on the object. If the “end” of Dr. Jones’ intention was to highlight the superiority of the Bible over the Koran, or Christianity over Islam, or Jesus over Mohammad, then the intention may have been a good. However, if the intention was to garner attention for himself or his church, or to cause strife to prove his point, then the “intention” fails to be a moral good. I can’t judge his actual intentions, only those which he says were his intentions – which may or may not be actual. As such, I will give him the benefit and say that his intentions constituted something, at best, morally neutral.

    His website says that he was taking the action (back in September) “…in response to anti-American sentiment expressed by some Muslims abroad” (Bloomberg, Sept. 8, 2010). Again, the intention seems morally neutral, to me.

    Finally, the “circumstance” provides for secondary elements of the act. These can increase or diminish the goodness of an act but not change it from good to evil or vice-versa.

    As such, if we take the reverend at his word, I would say that he might have sought a moral good and that, if that was the case his act was, at best morally neutral.

    But an evaluation can’t merely stop at that point. Despite the object, intent, or circumstance one must look at the concept of cooperation with evil, I think, as well.

    Formal Cooperation with Evil occurs when one freely participates in the evil. This is always sinful. Dr. Jones didn’t kill anyone. There is, also the concept of implicit formal cooperation, occurring when someone denies the evil act as the object (murder in this case; see above) but participates in such a way that the act could not have been completed without his assistance. Based on this it does not seem that Dr. Jones is in “Formal Cooperation with Evil.”

    Immediate Material Cooperation with Evil happens when a person participates in a circumstance essential to the act of evil to the extent that the completion of the act could not have been accomplished without his action. This, too, is always sinful. I’m torn about whether Dr. Jones is in this category. He had ample warning that violence, including murder, might occur if he undertook the burning of a Koran that was threatened. There is no evidence that I’ve seen about regarding pre-cursor warnings to violence in the areas in which the murders occurred. I think that there is a potentially valid argument that it was his act, an act which he should have known would cause violence, which was an essential element of the violence. To the contrary, however, is the fact that the violence, so far, has been limited to a region of Afghanistan. Why did Pakistan, Iran, or Detroit not erupt in violence?

    Mediate Material Cooperation with Evil is cooperation happening when a person’s participation is not essential to the action – the action would happen regardless. The relative sinfulness/sinlessness of the act is mitigated by three things:
    1. Is there a serious reason to cooperate? Protecting a Good or Decreasing an Evil are circumstances affecting the seriousness of an offense. I don’t believe Dr. Jones’ actions fall into this category.
    2. Proximity – How close is the person’s action to that of the person committing the evil? The importance of the person’s action must be proportionate to the proximity. Again, I’m unsure about the actions of Dr. Jones in this case. Knowledge that violence may result from an action place one in closer proximity to the violence but, again, the violence was not widespread.
    3. Finally, the danger of scandal must be avoided. If the actions of Dr. Jones lead others to do evil, lead others into error, or spread confusion his actions could be scandalous.

    I don’t put myself in the “blame Terry Jones” camp. But I’m not in the “absolve Terry Jones of culpability” camp either. Rarely are one’s intentions entirely pure. For example, I recognize that I’m not making these arguments solely to work my way through what I see as a dilemma of moral culpability; I also like argument and enjoy the give-and-take of opposing views. I also am looking for someone who knows a lot more about this than I to critically examine my thinking, pull it apart and teach me something.

    As an aside, anecdotes may be used to support or impugn any position. An Islamist could point to the anecdotes of the misconduct of clerics and ministers and laity (the BTK killer was President of his Lutheran Church, for instance) to support a contention that Christianity promotes perversion. That is why anecdotal evidence is particularly weak – there is always an opposing story. Does Amram Hussain’s UN speech in defense of Israel mean that Muslims now favor Israel? Mmmmm…I’m going with “No.”

    No less a skeptic than Benedict XVI called the burning of the Koran (when it was still a “threat” back in 2010) “outrageous and grave.” By doing so, the pope does not countenance the violence which followed, but seems to recognize that which Dr. Jones should have recognized at the outset – other people will be hurt by the act of burning a Koran.

    In Christ,

  • goral

    Sure Michael, we can ascribe culpability to Jones’ “outrageous and grave” act, as our Pope called it.
    Whatever Jones was thinking at the time is something that makes all of us wonder.

    Having said that, we can never allow the Islamists to set the rules of engagement for any dynamics that take place between our religions or cultures.

    We in the West may condemn and even punish certain volatile and incendiary expressions but for the most part we allow it. Along with that, we have laws against extortion, blackmail, vengeance killings and various forms of vindictiveness. This is, mind you, regarding persons who actually may have a case against those who wronged them.

    For someone to lash out against the innocent simply because they can make some twisted and irrational connection and because their mere presence makes them a target is something so foreign to our civilization that I don’t know where to begin to condemn it.
    These barbaric acts put anything else into a very remote corner of concern.

    In short, what I’m saying is that I’m only slightly concerned about Jones’ wrongheaded expression. I am however, immensely concerned about allowing arguments to be framed in a way that would entertain the notion of any mitigating allowances to be assigned to those who commit these heinous crimes in the name of Allah, no less.

  • Goral:

    Great reply! Thank you for continuing the conversation.

    I think we can agree that that the West has to stand against any Sharia influence.

    To your point:

    We in the West may condemn and even punish certain volatile and incendiary expressions but for the most part we allow it. Along with that, we have laws against extortion, blackmail, vengeance killings and various forms of vindictiveness. This is, mind you, regarding persons who actually may have a case against those who wronged them.

    Again, I’m not making an argument from US law but from Charity. We may do any number of thing “legally” but this does not make those actions “right” or “just.” My point isn’t, as you seem to have suspected earlier, an apology for Islamist behavior nor an argument from our laws. I merely agreed with PrairieHawk, that the premise of the article seeming to absolve Dr. Jones of any culpability in the matter does not seem entirely in keeping with our Catholic faith.

    For someone to lash out against the innocent simply because they can make some twisted and irrational connection and because their mere presence makes them a target is something so foreign to our civilization that I don’t know where to begin to condemn it.

    I won’t disagree that these people act in a manner foreign to the way we think. I believe that we condemn it as murder. But I do think that, as a Christian, we should have some thought about our actions before taking them. If I am threatened with the death of others if I don’t apostacize or threatened with the death of others if I jump rope, in which should I be more amenable to deeper reflection before action? I suppose one may make the argument that a failure to burn a Koran gives tacit approval to its contents and, therefore, rises to the level of apostasy – and I’ll listen to that argument, if it can be made. But that wasn’t Dr. Jones’ argument. One could also make the argument that the denial of a right to commit a morally neutral act impinges on certain God-given rights, and that the proxy martyrdom of others is the price of those rights. If that point can be made from the Christian perspective, I’ll listen.

    You and I can disagree how remote concern for the acts of others should be. I hold that a threat to the lives of others for committing a morally neutral act should be of greater concern that the commission of the act. This is why we should pray for our government and our diplomats. These are supposed to be the professionals tasked with defending our rights abroad. It is these who are tasked with understanding the foreign thoughts of foreign people. This isn’t an argument defending any particular action of our Executive, Legislature, or Judiciary, by the way, nor a defense of the actions of a foreign government or a people. It is to say that Dr. Jones is incompetent to make judgments about how his actions will affect people not shielded by our laws, or that he was reckless in his action.

    As I’ve said, I won’t justify the actions of those who commit murder. Neither do I suggest that we give in to an idea that Sharia law is acceptable or equal to the laws of the US. To say that Dr. Jones bears some blame, I don’t believe, does either one. But we shouldn’t pretend that there is no barbarism enshrined in US law that isn’t as vile as those acts committed by Islamists. These, too, are (or should be) foreign to our thoughts as Christians. And it is our Christian thinking to which I am trying to appeal in my argument, not a defense of Islam or Sharia.

    I fully understand and support your concern with an argument which seeks to mitigate the guilt of the Afghani offenders. I know that my argument could be used as such – but, in that event, it would be a weak argument. I hope that I’ve explained myself enough that anyone reading the full argument understands that a justification of the violent acts committed is not the underpinning of the argument.

    In Christ,