Naimi: The flames of dissent

From the burned pages of a holy book, a country is in flames.

Terry Jones — the radical, Florida-based pastor with a white handlebar mustache, who threatened to hold an “International Burn-a-Koran Day” last Sept. 11, held a mock trial for the Islamic holy book on March 20. The book was burned and Jones’ actions went relatively unnoticed. That is, until two days later, when Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari “strongly condemn[ed]” the burning and, another two days after that, Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized it as “a crime against the religion and the entire Muslim nation.”

Since then, thousands of Afghans have taken to the streets in protest and at least 20 people have died, including seven U.N. workers. Eleven countries have officially condemned the Quran burning. General David Petraeus has blasted Jones’ act as “enormously intolerant,” Senator Lindsey Graham has gone further, noting that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in war …” President Barack Obama also criticized the burning, but added that “to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous.”

Let me start by echoing all the unequivocal condemnations of the Quran burning. Not only is the incendiary desecration of a holy book utterly offensive, but it is potentially an obvious and easy recruitment tool for terrorist groups. President Obama explicitly and publicly called Jones’ proposed book-burning last year a threat to American troops. While it is clear that no death is an appropriate response to any action, despite how offensive, Jones clearly acted with the knowledge that lives might be lost. This should not be forgotten. But neither should Karzai’s very political decision to ask the U.N. and Congress to condemn the burning.

Simply put, this should not be brought to the Congress as a freedom of speech issue, as Graham implies. It is perfectly fine for lawmakers to consider President Karzai’s request to formally condemn the burning, but they should certainly not press charges against Jones or push for any laws inhibiting Americans’ freedom of speech. As hateful as it was, Jones has (and should have) every right to burn the holy book. Karzai knew this, but still asked for a formal condemnation and legal action against Jones. Whether or not Karzai’s actions were (as Jones’ were) a publicity stunt, I do not know. I only know that Karzai knows perfectly well that the burning was legal in the United States, just as it is legal to burn an American flag or the Bible. In the same way that Americans should not stereotype all Afghans as violent terrorists, Afghans should not stereotype all Americans as Jones’ supporters. This is the message to send, not one that comprises our commitment to freedom of speech.

I understand that Jones’ actions put innocent lives at risk and have, indirectly, already resulted in lives lost. We should do whatever is in our jurisdiction to prevent hateful actions, but we cannot legally label this a hate crime. Jones acted with full awareness of the potential consequences of his actions, but the death and injuries so far were not produced with his hands. At the end of the day, Jones simply provoked protestors nearly 8,000 miles away.

Instead of focusing on the actions of a radical pastor with a small following (despite how much publicity he might get), maybe we should consider why seven U.N. workers were killed before coalition forces managed to come to the site and control the violence. Maybe we should also consider why some of the protests have been violent, like those in the typically very peaceful city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and others have been peaceful, like those in Parwan province.

It is likely that these protests are not purely a reaction to the Quran burning, but also an expression of a rising anger among Afghans against the United States and other international actors. But the incendiary act has sparked four days of protests so far with no end in sight. Jones has not burned another Quran since, but he has every legal right to do so tomorrow. And that is how it should be.

Shahla Naimi is a junior in Trumbull College.

Correction: April 6, 2011

In an earlier version of this article the quote “Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in war …” was mistakenly attributed to Senator Harry Reid. The statement was made by Senator Lindsey Graham. The News regrets the error.


  • The Anti-Yale

    What we see in Mr. Jones is the logical extension of ignorance and zeal— fired by the diminishing TESTOSTERONE LEVELS of aging—- which is ever-seeking its legacy and scouring the sky for MEANING (and in the case of the feeble-minded, for MESSAGES) , with a Capital M.

    So much damage from so little cerebral activity.

  • Arafat

    “It is likely that these protests are not purely a reaction to the Quran burning, but also an expression of a rising anger among Afghans against the United States and other international actors.”

    It amazes me that Muslims acting like depraved criminals is always the fault of someone other than Muslims.

    This time it is likely due to the “rising anger among Afghans…” And the murder spree after the Danish cartoon publications? And how many times now have we read about Muslims killing UN workers and/or aid workers? In each incidence are we to assume their “rising anger” was caused by some outside forces instead of something from within?

  • penny_lane

    “…not one that comprises our commitment to freedom of speech…” You mean compromises. I hope.

    I agree with the argument presented here. In the US, among other freedoms, we celebrate the right to be stupid. I believe that an appropriate response would be to express remorse for the offense felt by Muslims in the US and abroad due to the actions of a small group of extremists, while maintaining our commitment to his right to be stupid. I also think we should ask Karzai to ask his people to consider hosting Bible and US Constitution burnings in retaliation, both of which are sacred to many of us in their respective ways, rather than killing people.

  • penny_lane

    PS- Arafat, after the antics of the Kill Team, (a group US soldiers turned serial killers), can you really argue that Afghans have any reason to trust the US very much any more? If foreigners occupying our country started going around killing innocent civilians for sport (including religious leaders), you’d be pretty damn angry too. It may have been on a much smaller scale than 9/11, but it was just as evil.

  • Skeptic

    Our principles of free speech, limitations on government power, etc, are so poorly understood in most of the world, that it is easy for people who live under other governments to interpret our unwillingness or inability to arrest (or worse) Jones and his ilk as simply government approval of such actions. If you live under a government that has such power to control speech and acts, it is natural to assume that the US government has those powers also. The logical conclusion is that a government that allows such acts much endorse them. Our principles, which seem so obvious to most of us, are a total mystery to the majority of the world’s peoples.

  • Arafat


    Let me turn your question on its head. How do you explain Muslims killing peace keeping forces in Kenya, indigenous Christians in Alexandria, Nigeria, Sudan, Hindus in Pakistan, Buddhists in Thailand, Russians in Russia, Chinese in China, Jews anywhere and everywhere?

    Is it always our fault and never the fault of a religion that cherishes those who die in the cause of martyrdom in the name of Islam?

  • The Anti-Yale

    a religion that cherishes those who die in the cause of martyrdom in the name of Islam?

    And what is Christianity built upon? The MARTYRDOM of a Palestinian carpenter.

  • Arafat


    IMO, you are twisting reality with your innuendo. The following articles might help you understand the flaws in your reasoning.

  • penny_lane

    That’s not turning my question on its head, that’s just ignoring it. Nice try, though.

  • The Anti-Yale


    Your links pussyfoot around the real VIOLENCE. As Bertrand Russell reminds us, “a religion which introduced into the world the concept of ETERNAL damnation” has produced incalculable suffering, especially in the minds of children. Such a religion is ITSELF evil.

    I have defended “hell” as an effective Skinner Box in The Anti-Yale, but not ETERNAL hell.

  • Arafat

    penny_lane if this was your question (“PS- Arafat, after the antics of the Kill Team, (a group US soldiers turned serial killers), can you really argue that Afghans have any reason to trust the US very much any more?”) then, yes, I agree with you.

    That said, I would argue there is something uniquely Islamic about the welcome our troops receive in any Islamic interaction even if it is something like getting Saddam out of Kuwait, or a no-fly zone in Libya. That is to say Islam is predicated on mis-trust, IMO. That’s not to say that our inept actions don’t often help support that tendency.

  • Arafat

    Anti-Yale, as I understand what you’re conveying, I do not disagree. The concept of eternal damnation is insane and cruel, and has caused unimaginable suffering.

    That said the Golden Rule and the ramifications of not following it when compared to Islamic tenets of supremacism/superiority over all others –and the determination to make this happen on a worldwide scale and through any means – is a message that can and does spread love as opposed to murder and mayhem, even if it is often accompanied with a subliminal message (threat of eternal damnation) that may poison the reason the message is shared.

    At least with Christianity charity towards others, turning the other cheek, loving kindness are all encouraged even if via the fear of what will come if these practices are spit upon. In contrast to this, in Islam the very concept of helping others (non-Muslims) is spit upon.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Christian charity toward others;
    Like homosesxals, women, slaves?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Christian charity toward even more “others”: Like Muslims, Jews?

    NOTE: –The pope just “apologized” to Jews for 2000 years of Christians calling Jews “Christ killers”.

  • River Tam

    Paul Keane,

    Have you never heard of Tartarus? Niflhel?

    Eternal punishment as a concept is far older than Christianity.


    River Tam

  • The Anti-Yale

    A place where sinners (or falllen angels) go (Tartarus Nifelheim) after life for punishment is qualitatively different from DIVINELY ORDAINED eternal damnation:
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    For other uses, see Damnation (album), Damn (disambiguation), and Damned (disambiguation).
    “Goddamned” redirects here. For the Jay Brannan album, see Goddamned (album).
    Damnation (from Latin damnatio) is the concept of everlasting divine punishment, especially the punishment for sin as threatened by the Christian God (e.g. Mark 3:29). A damned being “in damnation” is said to be either in Hell, or living in a state wherein they are divorced from Heaven. Those Christians in purgatory, the “Church Suffering”, are not considered damned, because they will not stay there for all of eternity, while people who are damned to hell will.
    Following the religious meaning, the words damn and goddamn are a common form of religious profanity, in modern times often semantically weakened to the status of mere interjections.