Julie Baldwin manners

Julie Baldwin

The Wall Street Journal reported that “A frenzied mob incensed by a Qu’ran-burning ceremony in Florida overran the United Nations office in northern Afghanistan’s largest city on Friday, killing at least seven foreigners and several Afghans, U.N. and Afghan officials said. The attack was the most deadly for the U.N. in Afghanistan. Friday’s death toll in Mazar-e-Sharif exceeded that of the October 2009 Taliban assault that killed eight people at a U.N. guest house in Kabul.”

Gentle Readers, Miss Manners would like to pose a question: Do you think burning a Qu’ran in America is comparable to yelling “FIRE!” in a theater?

Terry Jones, a preacher in Florida, burned another religion’s sacred book on March 20. He put the Qu’ran on trial (which, as an inanimate object, I am sure it did a stellar job defending itself) and then sentenced it to death by burning. Jones burned; Muslims learned…nothing. Cue the “Death to America” chants! Five days later, two Christians were killed; and that was only the beginning of the overseas retribution.

Jones had been threatening to burn the Qu’ran for months. He was even told by General David Petraeus himself, in September 2010, that he was putting lives at risk if he did. The death count is currently at 24, Muslims have another reason to hate Christians and Americans, and Jones seems to experience little beyond social stigma and international personal disgust.

Miss Manners is glad people have the common sense and breeding to thumb their nose at such a fool, but wishes to delicately press the matter further: what exactly is the purpose and intent of that action? By yelling “Fire!” in a crowded, public place when there isn’t actually any imminent danger, we know
A) there’s going to be a negative response, and
B) it is going to make people panic, then get upset, then angry.

There is, of course, the argument that those people don’t have a right not to be offended. True. But to yell “Fire!” violates the trust people have with each other; that we take each other’s well-being and safety seriously.

Why do people hold something sacred, either physically or symbolically? To burn a flag is protected by law in America under free speech, but would many people see it that way? If you, gentle reader, saw your neighbor burning an American flag, would you think, “Oh, he’s just exercising his first amendment rights!”

What about the American flag burning overseas? Those people aren’t exercising free speech–they are intentionally burning the U.S. flag as a symbol of their contempt for America.

Miss Manners is not here to argue that the Muslim belief of not drawing Muhammad is right or rational, or defend their justification of killing “infidels,” but there is a case for respecting the sacred, within reason (enter the gifts of the Holy Spirit!). This is where the “do no harm” principle plays out nicely. Public actions mean something, just like private ones do.

Terry Jones publicly burned the Qu’ran knowing he would get a rise out of Muslims. Why else burn it? He was explicitly disrespecting their religion. The whole act was an exhibition, which resulted in innocent deaths. This cause-and-effect is not simply bad manners, but the effects certainly could have been avoided if the cause had used his God-given intellect to avoid making another religion (which has a very steady record of reacting violently) mad on purpose. Not that there is truly an even ground with Islam, but I think not outright attacking their sacred cows would be a start. Also, Jones gave Muslims even more ground to justify kill Christians, who are already the most persecuted group in the Middle East.

As an example closer to home, Miss Manners think about people who purposefully desecrate the Eucharist. Obviously, Roman Catholics are not going to kill people, but they can legally seek action against people who do such an act.

There is the argument that, it’s just a wafer. Anyone can buy them in bulk off eBay! But to get a consecrated host, a person has to go into a Catholic Church, attend Mass, walk up and deliberately deceive a priest (by acting receptive to even being allowed to receive Communion), take the Eucharist out of the Church and stomp on it or whatever. Now, if it were really just a symbol, as Flannery O’Connor said, to hell with it! Who cares what happens to a bit o’ bread? But if it’s actually the divine body of Christ…? Well yes, Miss Manners thinks a person does not have to think very hard to know you’re going to get a rise out of people for disrespecting their Lord.

By desecrating it, people believe they are going to prove that the host is just bread, because all they can see are the physical accidents. But, in their minds and/or hearts, they have to recognize some inkling of the sacredwhy else attack it? Even if all they recognize that other people see it as sacred, then that is cause enough to attack and ridicule, which usually only strengthens the sacrilege, since people are going out of their way to be disrespectful. When people attack something sacred, don’t think, dear reader, that there is an implicit suggestion that there just might be something worth protecting?

Muslims certainly think so, which is why Terry Jones should not have deliberately burned the Qu’ran. Without having to accept another’s beliefs, to tolerate and not deliberately offend another human is an important step towards peace, be it on the international stage or in one’s own neighborhood.

It is similar to restraining from taking the Lord’s name in vain: it is offensive to God and to his followers. No one says, “Harry S. Truman!” when they’re upset because, no offense meant to President Truman, he’s not as special. Not that Miss Manners would ever curse. How rude!

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