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Gainesville’s Terry Jones Did Not Murder 11 UN Workers and Afghans. Muslims Did.

| April 2, 2011

From Enlightenment to fanaticism: Mazar-i-Sharif's Blue Mosque, origin of Friday's massacre. (© Arslan Zahid)

From Enlightenment to fanaticism: Mazar-i-Sharif's Blue Mosque, origin of Friday's massacre. (© Arslan Zahid)

Terry Jones, the poser-pastor at Gainesville’s Dove World Outreach Center—a libel on doves and outreaches the world over—is an ass. He is a bigot. A racist. A chauvinist. As people who manage to be any of those things tend naturally to be as well, he’s a tribute to ignorance in an age that no longer excuses ignorance. It’s unfortunate that he’s also a Floridian. He gives this state, which needs no extracurricular help in sweating ignorance, a rare, undesirable place at the top of the nation’s state rankings, in this case in matters of hate.

As the home of hate groups, Florida actually ranks third, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tabulations. That’s without counting Jones’s alleged church or its disproportionate effects on like-minded fanatics. On Friday, after attending so-called prayers of their own, a mass of Muslim mad men poured out of the Blue Mosque in northern Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif and massacred seven United Nations workers and five Afghans. They were “protesting” Terry Jones’s putting the Koran on trial and burning the book in a public display of idiocy in Gainesville, home to the University of Florida no less, on March 20.

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The Blue Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in the world, a 600-year-old work of art and a legacy of Islam at its greatest. The mosque was a version of Islamic ecumenism, the work of Sunnis and Shiite artisans working together, when sectarianism wasn’t yet the pastime of barbarians. At least not there. The artisans were contemporaries of Akbar the Great, the Mughal emperor next door whose version of Islam brought the Enlightenment to the subcontinent 150 years before northern Europeans caught on.

But history as a museum piece is bunk. So is religious idealism. For all the beauty and legacy of the Blue Mosque, now one of the Shiite world’s most important pilgrim destinations, it did not stop whoever was leading Friday prayers this week from being far more the ass, the bigot, the chauvinist and the ignorant that Terry Jones is. On Friday, the Blue Mosque was the starting point of a bloodbath, and as such it became a blight on Islam, a place where enlightenment gave way to fanaticism, and fanaticism reveled in murdering innocent people in the name of a god no one should recognize as their own, if it is a god of human dignity.

To suggest that the Blue Mosque became a site for fanaticism implies that Mazar-i-Sharif and its Shiite province has been a religiously more civilized place than its Taliban competition to the south lately. It hasn’t been. It is ground zero for the sort of Shiite family laws that make wives their husbands’ endentured servants and conjugal rape an obscenity protected by law—and by the American soldiers dying there in its defense. When women tried to protest the new law in 2009, they were stoned and called whores. But let’s not get lost in the maze. One obscenity at a time: The difference between Jones and that Muslim imam at the Blue Mosque is that the imam incited to murder, very successfully so. Jones did not.

Much as it bothers me to defend Jones, there is no comparison between what he did and what the Muslims of Mazar-i-Sharif did. None. And attempts at drawing such comparisons should be seen for what they are: attempts to make murder and mere words co-equals. That’s the province of totalitarian thinking. It’s the province of Islamists at their worst: the al-Qaeda types, the Taliban types. The Mazar-i-Sharif type.

I despise Jones and his acts. I nevertheless defend his right to commit them without reserve, just as I would, as we all should by law, defend the despicable behavior of others whose acts, in and of themselves, do nothing to physically—and in large measure, even not so physically—harm others, whether it’s flag-burners or Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazi marchers or cartoonists who make fun of the prophet Muhammad or those vile Christians who brandish their anti-gay bigotries at the funerals of American servicemen, not to mention the far greater mass of vile Christians who vote en masse (and at mass) to demean gays to second-class citizens. Repulsive thoughts, repulsive acts, but deserving as much protection, if not more, as the more conventionally acceptable, uncontroversial motherhood-and-apple-pie thoughts of the masses. They deserve more protection because they are more susceptible to being banned by those who would control thought and belief at the inevitable expense of our collective freedoms.

You can be jailed in 11 European countries and Canada if you claim that the Holocaust did not happen, or if you display a swastika in Germany. That’s preposterous. But it’s their laws. It’s thankfully not American law, where common sense is enough to put holocaust deniers in their place, and keep similarly militant stupidity in perspective.  For all his idiocy, Terry Jones is still an American. Burning the Koran or putting it on trial are incendiary acts to a degree. But they are not acts that incite to terrorism or even incite to violence. That those murderers reacted violently to a YouTube video of Jones burning the Koran is a reflection of a folly that begins and ends with them, with their false beliefs and the distorted, inhuman values that enable them to kill innocent human beings over the burning of a book. Jones’ acts in comparison are, in the strictest sense of the term, opinions about a book and a religion, and as such are deserving of the highest form of First Amendment protection, which protects religious and political speech more than it does, say, commercial speech. Beside making an ass of himself and his flock, Jones did nothing more than burn a bound stack of paper that happened to be the Koran. He did not kill. He did not intend to kill. He did not incite to kill. A Blue Mosque imam and his deranged disciple did all that.

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Burning books—any book—is a despicable act. First Amendment protections aside, burning the Koran is no more, and no less, despicable than burning the Bible or Lolita or Slaughterhouse Five or those idiotic vampire books you see all over the place these days (which actually have more literary value as kindling than as text). The Koran has no claim to being more or less sacred than any other book. That claim is an invention, a construct, if not an outright conceit. Yes, the book represents the word of god to hundreds of millions. That does not grant it any special rights. And what hundreds of millions of people believe does not set the standard for the application of American law, or the protections afforded by the First Amendment. What Terry Jones does or is allowed to do can never be defined by what murderous fanatics in Afghanistan may or may not do because their belief system  is so perverted, their version of Islam so loathsome, that it enables the murder of innocent people over nothing more than their sense of indignation.

And here’s the odious irony. Those fanatics prove Jones right. Their Islam is no religion of peace. It is a religion of hate, of repression, of slaughter. It is they who deserve no protection, no excuse, and certainly no defense, whether by any legal system or by American soldiers. Sadly, American soldiers are dying to protect those fanatics, that way of life. No one will pay the price for Friday’s murders. That, too, is a blight on what the people of the Blue Mosque call Islam. Slandering the name of Islam is the least of it.

I say these things having also spared no occasion to speak in defense of Islam and against the still-growing legions of fools, in America especially, who would taint that religion with their coarse, broad brush, inciting bigotry and violence of their own. Islamophobia is a disease with many happy carriers. Just last month U.S. Rep. Peter King was elevating it to congressional-hearing legitimacy. But no religion is a monolith. To say that Islam is generally a religion of peace does not mean that sometimes, and in some regions of the world, more often than not, Islam is not a religion of peace, but a religion like any other: a refuge of scoundrels at best, of barbarians and murderers at worst. Christianity was the reigning champion of bloodletting for most of its history. These days, it’s Islam. No room to quibble about it in the name of relativism. The death toll is all over Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, the tribal, backward regions of Taliban-controlled Pakistan, the sword-happy legal system of Saudi Arabia, to name a few.

Those who murder in Islam’s name deserve nothing but contempt and prosecution, if prosecution were possible in a land where fanaticism is law. Terry Jones deserves only contempt. If the law has any place in his regard, it is as his protector and defender, not prosecutor. We need not be proud of Jones. We should be proud of our laws, even, and especially, when they protect the likes of Jones.

23 Responses for “Gainesville’s Terry Jones Did Not Murder 11 UN Workers and Afghans. Muslims Did.”

  1. Ann DeLucia says:

    Extremely well written and thoughtful article, Pierre!

  2. William Van Matre says:

    When he attack the Koran he killed people and he will continue to kill until he is killed or he is prosecuted for war crimes. He went over the line. You don’t attack other people’s religion! He went too far with this. He is the real killer.

  3. Martin Lluther says:

    The apostle Paul didn’t have a problem with people burning their books of false doctrine. Read the Bible – Acts 19:19

  4. Steven Smith says:

    You are forgetting that Jones had been privately warned by both Gen Petraeus and Hilary Clinton not to burn the book as there would be consequences. The Afghans are a people looking for any excuse to vent anger on their occupiers. This incident may have been fueled by Taliban propaganda but everybody was warned nontheless. I agree, Jones did not murder the UN stafff but to dismiss his responsibility for this atrocity is wrong. He is most definitely responsible for inciting the riot and all the ensuing acts.

  5. Jim Guines says:


  6. Shep Glennon says:

    This is a balanced article, and well written, but your insistence on letting Terry Jones off the hook for inciting violence is weak. It was obvious that if he performed the burning, then people would be murdered. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates personally asked Terry Jones in September to call off a Quran burning on the anniversity of 9/11, citing concerns over the safety of U.S. troops. President Obama, echoing Gen. David Petraeus, called burning the Quran “the perfect recruiting tool” for al-Qaida. A group of 30 veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq signed an open letter about the importance of respecting Muslims– tolerance being “the values we risked our lives to protect”– and to “avoid endangering the mission — and safety — of U.S. forces in the Mideast.” However, Terry Jones ignored these pleas from the military and burned the Quran anyway– and now people are dead because of it.

    While at the same time, the Taliban or whoever killed the U.N. workers were spiritually and morally disordered murderers who, in their twisted beliefs, think that one holy book burning is equivalent to handful of innocent human lives. They did not have to kill anyone; they could have let Allah deal with “Pastor” Jones in His own way. American religious groups and even right-wing extremist groups have denounced “Pastor” Jones’ Quran burning idea, and if the Taliban or anyone else make Terry Jones the representative of America, then they are engaging in a stupidity that perfectly mirrors “Pastor” Jones’ stupidity. Perhaps the real enemy here is human stupidity, specifically our lack of critical thinking which distinguishes between a bad apple and the whole bunch.

    The Quran says “The Messenger’s duty is but to proclaim the Message.” (Quran 5:99) “Let there be no compulsion in religion. ” (Quran 2:256) These are the words of Allah most of the 1.1 billion Muslims in the world choose to follow when they encounter blasphemy, just as most Christians do not follow Leviticus 24:16, which calls for the death penalty for blasphemy. By calling the Quran and Islam violent by definition, “Pastor” Jones is letting Osama bin Laden define Islam and be its spokesperson. His narrow, overly simplistic view of Islam just cost people’s lives.

    You say “And here’s the odious irony. Those fanatics prove Jones right.”
    But I disagree. No one proved anyone right here, because this is all a predictable self-fulfilling prophecy. No irony needed:
    “the Quran causes violence. Just look at 9/11! I shall burn the book. Oh look, innocent Nepalese U.N. peace-builders murdered in Afghanistan. See, I told you so the Quran causes violence!” —


    “America is at war with Islam. We shall blow them up. Oh look, now America is in Afghanistan. See, I told you they were at war with us. And now an American pastor burned the Quran!”

    These Americans and Arabs are bringing the violence on themselves and expecting the rest of us sane Americans and Muslims to play along, until the world is destroyed.

  7. Jojo says:

    The Supreme Court allows the burning of the American flag as a Constitutional right of free speech. Remember the burning of Draft Cards to oppose the Vietnam War. Although I dislike the burning of any religious writing, sadly, Rev Terry Jones is within his Constitutional right to express free speech in America. Was it Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “…What we need is more free speech.” In other words more debate but don’t yell “fire in a crowded theater?”

    Did Rev Jones actions tell Muslims to kill innocent U N workers. It is a matter of debate.

  8. PCadiron says:

    This is still a national security issue. He knew there would be consequences. We all know how the extremists think/act about such things. Unfortunately they do not have the same views as Americans when it comes to “freedom of speech” etc.
    Karma will come back to get those involved. In the meantime, let’s hope, pray, meditate..whatever, that these horrible acts on both sides subside.

  9. Jack Jeffe says:

    I agree with Pierre. Jones is not responsible for those deaths. He caused some tense moments. I also agree that he is a “nut case”. We live in a time when people need to find someone to blame for every thing that happens. Instead of blaming muslim extremists it was easier to blame Jones.

  10. Travis says:

    It is truly rare to read such a well written defense of free expression.. This is such a wonderful piece of writing, thank you.

  11. PC MAN says:

    I agree with Pierre, as big of a douche bag as Terry Jones is, inciting killing for the burning of a book is preposterous and uncivilized. You can’t keep murdering people for insulting your religion and expect to be taken seriously in the 21st century. Muslims will continue to be looked on as brutal as long as they stay silent on events like these.

  12. “As the home of hate groups, Florida actually ranks third, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tabulations.”

    A superb article, but don’t put too much faith in the SPLC’s fund-raising propaganda. There is no legal definition of “hate group,” which allows the SPLC to smear any group it wants without accusing them of any actual crimes.

    As for the 1,002 “hate groups” on the “Hate Map” you reference, the SPLC couldn’t even bother to come up with locations for 262 of them. That’s 26% right off the top. In some states, 80-100% of their alleged “groups” are homeless.

    As for Florida, 8 of the 49 “hate groups” allegedly there are phantoms, and two of those are actually listed twice. According to these spurious figures, “Black Separatists” are the largest single category of “hate group” in Florida, outnumbering the KKK, neo-Nazis and Skinheads, respectively.

    The SPLC makes the same claim about alleged Black “hate groups” leading the pack nationwide.

    And of course, the perennial bogey-man KKK has to make every list, (half of Florida’s Klan “groups” are homeless too, btw), even though two weeks ago the SPLC told the San Luis Obispo Tribune that “The Klan has disintegrated. There is NO Klan now.”

    Disintegrated or not, the Klan still appears on the SPLC;s national “Hate Map” 221 times, even though they can’t come up with locations for 109 of them…

    Keep up the good work, but leave the Hate Industry fund-raising propaganda out of it.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Jones is not responsible! How can that insignificant small minded creature be?
    If it wasn’t for the media and internet he would have burned that book and moved on to how not to fornicate with your neighbors wife.
    I’m sure that book has been burned thousands of times. Crazy men committing MURDER is who we should worry about.

  14. Brad Weir says:

    If Jones is to blame then the media who gave him a platform is even more so.

  15. William says:

    As much as I dislike Terry Jones and what he represents, I have to agree that his actions are protected under the first amendment. Remove that protection from one individual and all are at risk.

    That said, I find myself unable to give this prick a pass, because he was repeatedly warned of the consequences of his actions. Just as it inappropriate to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, inciting to violence, with the foreknowledge that one’s actions are virtually guaranteed to result in violence, is unacceptable. I’m not sure if inciting to violence is a criminal offense, but whether it is or not, the “reverend” has blood on his hands. I sincerely hope that those who committed the murders are brought to justice, but at the same time I hope this vile, hateful person is somehow held responsible for his actions.

  16. Mike B says:

    Luke 9:52-56: “…they did not receive him…And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.”

    Idiot Terry must have missed this story. Who cares about 1st amendment here, Mr. Jones will have to answer for violating higher laws.

  17. Alida Ferrena says:

    I agree. TJ and these particular Taliban are brothers in bigotry, only they’ve carried it to nth level with murder.

  18. Larry Equality Glinzman says:

    He has the right to say anything. Inciting the insane is the consequence of his actions. He is responsible for that.

    Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn’t, we peaceful Muslims cannot be held responsible for what our less peaceful brothers and sisters do. When they burn your embassies or kidnap and slaughter your journalists, know that we will hold you primarily responsible and will spend the bulk of our energies criticizing you for “racism” and “Islamophobia.”

  19. JIM.R says:

    The human race will most likely cease to exist before they give up their belief in supernatural beings.
    Religion is a curse on humanity, Islam and Christianity are covered in mankind’s blood.
    If there was a God, don’t you think he would have intervened in mans degeneracy by now?
    (A thought, slightly altered , from Cormac Mcarthy)

  20. 91LX says:

    Can we please stop calling this d- bag a pastor or reverend? Because he is not one.

  21. dlf says:

    Well written, I agree with the remarks on Terry. Don’t know if I buy the rest of the liberal comments, but according to the author we are living in one of the worst stated as far as hate crimes go. Who do we blame for the Cole bombing, the Fort Hood killings and of course 9/11, or was that freedom of speech? I guess you can explain away anything as long as you have your blinders on. In this case there is sufficient hate on BOTH sides to go around, one side takes in a little to far for my liking.

  22. JIM.R says:

    We could go a long way reducing the hate against the U.S. by taking our feet off their land, and our guns away from their heads. As far as what Religion they practice who cares, it”s all BS anyway

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