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Encouraging Rage Makes You Responsible for the Mayhem

JINSA Report #: 

April 22, 2011

Pastor Terry Jones is planning a rally at a Detroit-area mosque and a jury is deciding whether he has to post a bond to cover extra security local officials are planning to provide for the demonstrators. Jones doesn't want to pay - he asked for no extra security and notes, "We have had several demonstrations around America, and not one time have we had any act of violence."

He's technically right. Koran-burning has not been accompanied by violence at the site of the demonstrations and he says violence committed by other people is not his responsibility. If officials are worried about "other people" becoming violent, the "other people" should post the bond.

On the other hand, Gen. Petraeus wrote in an e-mail to reporters, "Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan - and around the world - to inflame public opinion and incite violence." He's right as well; it already has been.

We are firmly and resolutely opposed to burning the Koran or the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita because burning books is a despicable manifestation of intolerance. But in the end, books are just representations of thought. The intolerance that manifests itself in killing Coptic or Chaldean Christians in Egypt and Iraq, or Jewish children in their beds in Itamar, or pushing little girls back into a burning building because they fled without head coverings in Saudi Arabia, or throwing acid in the faces of female students in Afghanistan is worse by orders of magnitude. And worse still is killing random "others" because you feel offended - whether by the burning of a Koran, a cartoon of Mohammad, or Jews being in a place you don't want Jews to be.

Gen. Petraeus is in a tough spot - burning a Koran has been likened to yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater, with its understanding that certain words in certain places will panic people and in the ensuing stampede to the exit, panicked people might kill other people. The person who incited the stampede would be responsible, not the panicked people and certainly not the dead. That's why even under the Constitution, the right to incite panic is not upheld - even if there really is a fire.

But panic amid catastrophe wasn't the problem in Afghanistan - it was unleashed rage incited by professional rage-mongers. They, not a preacher who should be shunned by Americans and ignored by the media (which has some responsibility here) and certainly not the people who died, are guilty of yelling "fire!" The logic extends to Hamas - which is not entitled to shoot Russian anti-tank weapons at a school bus and kill a 16-year-old boy because it doesn't accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty. The Palestinian teenagers who told police they would have killed the other Fogel children had they found them, and had no problem slitting the baby's throat because she was a Jew, were not entitled. Whether they have good reason, some reason or no reason to be angry, people are not entitled to rampage and kill.

The people who inspire, encourage and praise rage incite uncontrolled behavior and they are responsible for the ensuing mayhem. That's what "shouting fire in a crowded theater" really means.

Gen. Petraeus has to live with that and others do too. If it makes his job harder, it can't be helped by showing sensitivity to the offense people take to things not under his control. On the other hand, it isn't the job of a military commander to condemn people for the deaths of UN personnel; his President should have done it.

Americans must be clear about the importance of Western values in our pursuit of relations with non-Western countries, particularly where we're fighting and helping others fight. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya, to Egypt and Tunisia, what we think we're fighting for and they think they're fighting for matters. We're pretty sure Islamic radicalism has no answer to the poverty, lack of jobs, corruption and oppression endemic in the Arab and Muslim world and religious despots are not a positive alternative to secular despots. The better alternative may not be American electoral democracy, but it certainly has to include free speech even when it is offensive, rule of law, and most importantly, tolerance.

You have to have fairly thick skin to be an American; Nazis marching in Skokie were not our cup of tea. And you have to have fairly thick skin to be our friends.

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