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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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13 replies to this post
  1. Dear Miss Manners, my sensible Afghan driver shrugs sadly: "We Afghans have hateful terrorists blowing up innocent people, and American Christians even have a few hateful people inciting Muslims to violence. If this extremist American mullah burned every Koran on earth, would our holy book be less true? Besides, we could just print some more." His attitude is typical here. Meanwhile, the (ostensibly) Christian mullah says rather gleefully that the violent reaction proves his point that Muslims are creeps: self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Afghans (80% illiterate) have an almost magical respect for any book, especially a religious one of anybody's, and obviously their own. Add to that mounting frustration with their own (often but not always) corrupt, predatory government; and the often-dysfunctional Americans who accept bad intelligence and keep bombing civilians, whose own US contractors pay off the Taliban under the table, and the USG's flat refusal to confront Pakistan who shelters and supports the encroaching insurgency. Add some snake-handling, Koran-burning Floriduh preacher and the frustrated begin to wonder if the radical Islamist conspiracy-peddlers are correct and the Americanos are seceretly waging war against Islam (um, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya…). Most Afghans are too sensible to fall for this, but a few do and a handful of armed Taliban supporters infiltrate the protesters and turn a demonstration violent.

    I wonder if, in a time sensationalised by media, all speech ought to be protected however incendiary – if said intentionally. While I distrust government to decide what ought be banned, this preserves much freedom and ensures full order in Singapore, a tiny but crowded, poly-religious and multi-ethnic melting pot that could easily be a tinderbox. Were I a British magistrate, and a Jewish fellow was hauled up before my bench having punched some guy who goose-stepped back and forth in front of a North London synagogue wearing a Waffen-SS uniform, law would require me to punish the assailant but I'd be tempted to give him a wink and a peppercorn fine. Same for an elderly Jamaican-immigrant lady who toddled down her steps in South London to wack her cast-iron skillet on the kisser of some white supremacist bearing a placard saying 'Send Them Back.' "Bailiff," I'd order, "fine the accused ten-pence and give her a ride home like a nice chap, will you?" Western publics want salacious news, and so intentionally incendiary behaviour brings rewards of publicity and money: this will accelerate, so we can choose to limit it or to preserve a noble freedom but live with the increasingly unpleasant consequences.

  2. My dear Mr. Masty,

    Ah yes; more excellent points! MM does not think more laws should be put in place, but more character development. While fingers can be pointed across both sides of the table, it does not address the issue that purposefully provoking another person or group does nothing to further the conversation, but rawther, hinders it.

    Sometimes, unpleasantness must be said and acted upon; but the prudence to know when and the wisdom to know why is needed more today than a more rash one- like touching a hot oven, yelling OW! and then (maybe) touching it again. The immediate consquences are clear; the long-term consequences are not. Pastor Jones vaguely reminds me of King David, who lacked order in his soul, so his family had discord, so the Kingdom had problems. As a pastor, Jones has a responsibility to lead his flock to God. As a Christian, he has a responsibility to witness for the Gospel. I believe Jones failed in both capacities: encouraging petty actions in his congregation (opposed to teaching apologetics) and acting contrary to the Gospel (Mark's love your neighbor as yourself, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, etc.), which counter-witnesses for all Christians. Even though the Body of Christ is divided, we are still lumped together indiscrimantly. The actions of one hurts the good will of many, as we in the Catholic Church have also seen in more recent past years.

    This is why I added in the little bit about cursing in the end- no one is going to raise up laws against cursing, even though it offends people. Instead, we use mores to change attitudes- a Newmanic cor ad cor loquitur motion, where people help change the hearts of people, by logic and discussion, not by forcing people under more laws and rules. Perhaps then people will get away from the righteous and more towards the right.

    Miss Manners

  3. My dear Miss Manners, so many good people – such as you – assume that others are just as wholly admirable. Not so, I fear. Just this afternoon a rather splendid young American lady from Arizona, working with our Afghan colleagues, told me of a young Afghan who greeted her by saying, 'how are you doing, my nigger?' Scandalised of course, she learnt that the Afghan was learning English off gangster-rap music broadcast by US Armed Forces Radio. She explained, adroitly if not quite honestly, that the front half of the phrase was an appropriate informal greeting, but the back half addressed an individual by name and so should be left out of any greeting. The typically well-mannered Afghan thanked her for her tutelage.

    The rot is deep in the West, and there are strong cash incentives for incendiary misbehaviour. While I may be as chary as you are over more laws and more opportunities for government to get it wrong, where is the fulcrum? Where, nationwide and not within a congregation or a small community, can the lever be applied to restore prudence and manners, strong enough to counter-balance or over-ride the social and fiscal rewards for the opposite? With no answer or axe to grind, I look to you for advice.

  4. Oh, pick me, pick me! I have an idea. Let me think more, read more, write more, and I shall get back to you within a fortnight. I have no answers, just more thoughts for discussion, which I so enjoy having with you. It is true- I tend to think the best of people, which oftentimes reveals more of the horror than the glory of mankind- but the goodness is still there, at the root. Anyways, I'll be thinking and writing and shall get back to you! Thanks for the questions. 🙂 -MM

  5. Why does it matter if we burn a Koran? Pastor Jones should not be reprimanded for committing this inflammatory act, but the Muslims should be gotten after for murdering Christians. Burning the Koran did not make the Muslims kill people. Muslims have a general tendency to violent reaction to insults. They still chose to murder those people regardless of whether or not their Koran was burned.

    Also, comparing the Koran burning to Eucharistic desecration is a horrible mistake. First, the Koran is only the holy book of a false religion. Making the Koran a false book itself. While the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, true God and true man! There is no crime in burning a false book, but desecrating God is a crime of unimaginable magnitude.

    Finally, it is a tradition to burn false books that spread falsehood and cause division. This is what the Koran does. Because it is a book that teaches false and harmful teachings, it should be burned and prevented from being distributed!

  6. My dear Mister Nemorian: on precisely what authority or experience do you state that "Muslims have a general tendency to violent reaction to insults. They still chose to murder those people regardless of whether or not their Koran was burned." I grew up in Detroit where murders occur with absolutely no book-burning involved and the murderers are often Christian. Since then, I've lived and worked alongside Afghan Muslims for about 17 of the past 25 years and live in Afghanistan now. I've explained above how the vast multitude remain calm on this unfortunate matter; how a few were moved to protest; and how even fewer armed insurgents turned the protests violent. I gather that the assailants who were not shot dead by the Afghan authorities are in custody awaiting trial for killings roundly denounced by Afghanistan's President, and also by our drive-time radio mullahs. Indeed, our media are flush with footage of a stationer complaining that those who protested the Koran-burning torched his shop along with six Korans inside! Besides being usually tolerant and peaceful folk, Afghan Muslims have a marked appreciation for irony.

    If you elect not to address these matters, you might amuse us with your equally sweeping observations on women, Jews and black people. To complicate things, some women and blacks and even black women are also Muslims, and while few Jews are Muslim, many Jews are women and some Jews are black. At least many hundreds of Jews, chiefly the Israeli Falasha, are black women. I have not yet met a Jewish, black, female Muslim but one is not completely outside the remit of possibility. None of them appear to be Christian but I may be misinformed. Then we come to around one billion Hindus (including many women but usually brownish instead of black) who live in my regional neighborhood writ large, and beside their impressive collection of idols they have their ancient Sanskrit Puranas each comprising an entire shelf of holy books that you might describe, in your somewhat unimaginative written style, as those which ' teach false and harmful teachings.' If you do take on that particular book-burning assignment, you will need lots of matches. Ah, so many groups to hate and so little time in which to do it, i suppose – nevertheless, do trundle on, dear boy!

  7. Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah loves not transgressors. Slay them whenever you find them and drive them from whence they have expelled you, for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Fight them on until sedition is no more and allegiance is rendered to God alone. But if they desist, then make no aggression except against evildoers

    Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the last day, who prohibit not what God and His prophet have forbidden, and who refuse allegiance to the True Faith — until they pay the tribute readily after being brought low. The Jews say, "Fzra is the son of Allah," and the Christians say, "Christ is the son of Allah;" that is their saying with their mouth. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah Himself fights against them. How perverse they are!

    My authority for declaring that the Muslims have a tendency towards violence comes directly from their Koran. These passages from the Koran (Surah II, 190-193. Surah IX, 5, 29-30.) show quite adequately that Islam requires its followers to do violence against any who do not follow their faith. Unless of course they desist and convert. Also from history there are numerous instances of Muslims killing people for the offense of disbelief. I believe, no I know, that I am justified in claiming that Islam is a FALSE religion of violence. Wherever this religion takes root (as it has in Europe) it brings great oppression of those who are not Muslim. In parts of London which are heavily inhabited by Muslims, women who do not have their heads covered will have refuse and garbage poured on them. These behaviors stand in marked contrast to the much greater degree of peacefulness exhibited by Christians in their protests.

    You also mentioned that "murders occur with absolutely no book-burning involved and the murderers are often Christian." There is a very important fact that separates these murderers from the Muslim murderers connected to the Koran burning. These Christian murderers are not murdering as representatives for Christianity; they are murdering for personally motives and reasons. They are not trying to say that Christianity has been insulted and therefore they are going to kill someone. Christians do not do that. Whereas, the Muslims gathered as a religious entity to protest an insult to Islam. It was as a religious entity and representing the Islam religion that this mob murdered those innocent people.

    And yes the world would be better of without any holy books from any false religions, but it would be very hard to burn them all. I am not even sure they are worth the matches we would use. However, just because it should be burned does not mean that we are able to burn them.

    Also could you explain the connection between my argument and "a Jewish, black, female Muslim?"

    In response could you also address these questions:

    1) Is pastor Jones morally culpable for the murders committed by the Muslims in reaction to the Koran burning? Why or why not.

    2) To what extent should we avoid proclaiming the truth (the truth that Islam is a false religion), in order to not offend people?

    3) Are what we call Muslim extremist or fundamentalist true Muslims, or are the Muslim moderates? Both cannot be true Muslims because they teach contradictory beliefs, so which are true Muslims and which the heretics?

  8. My dear chap Nematorian, to respond to your queries in order, (1) Is pastor Jones morally culpable for the murders committed by the Muslims in reaction to the Koran burning? He is morally culpable in the extent to which he was aware of the likely results of his action; (2) To what extent should we avoid proclaiming the truth (the truth that Islam is a false religion), in order to not offend people? CS Lewis says in 'Mere Christianity' that different faiths peer at God through clearer or cloudier lenses, which my priest confirms is a decent approximation of Rome's position. So I am more interested in trying to set a good example than to launch noisy campaigns against other religions. As a long-time advisor on strategic communication, denunciations only put people’s backs up and are ultimately an ineffective way to change belief or behaviour. As an ordinary, rather practical chap I'd say discuss anything you wish in a polite tone of voice but if you stoop to howl mortal insults, please do not be surprised if one of your victims rearranges your dental bridgework or worse, whether the offended is legally within his rights or not; (3) Are what we call Muslim extremist or fundamentalist true Muslims (sic) or are the Muslim moderates? Both cannot be true Muslims because they teach contradictory beliefs, so which are true Muslims and which the heretics? I've read most of the world's major holy-books in part and some in full. All apart from the Dhammapada contain hair-curlingly vicious advice meant, I hope, to be applied only as circumstances warrant and often in times long past. There seems no other way to reconcile all the assorted Old Testament instructions to smite, stone, stab, mutilate, burn, murder, commit regicide, parricide, fratricide and even genocide versus the messages and the example of the Prince of Peace. Similarly and happily, I know only a few Muslims who reading from their book selectively seize upon only the violent passages (against the express instructions of their prophet) and many more who do not, just as I know but a few Christians who abandon the hard task of spiritual improvement because hatred is easier or more fun or more accessible to the dim, versus vastly more Christians who better adhere to Christ's example. Pax Christi and so forth, yours faithfully, etc.

  9. Nematorian sir, kindly indulge me in another late-night thought from Kabul. If you wish to 'witness' your Christian faith to Muslims, this is no bad idea and please permit me to give you two examples of how I saw it done most effectively. A friend from Colorado, Father Greg Rice, spent 35 years as a Catholic missionary in Pakistan: he worked with the downtrodden Christians in ghettos there, and he spent many years running the only heroin-detox clinic in the North West Frontier Province – a very public witness by example. I doubt that he converted many (or any, or even tried to) but he changed innumerable Muslim's attitudes about Christians, Christianity and indeed Christ. That in itself may have been God's whole objective. While all Muslims are commanded to give money to charity, very few mullahs dedicate their lives so totally to others as did this inspiring priest and so very many saw it.

    Next, for 25 years or more the American, Protestant-led IAM (International Assistance Mission) has worked in Kabul – under the Soviets, Taliban and everyone – chiefly running a fabulous and much-loved eye hospital plus traveling eye clinics. Their intrepid Dr Tom Little (Google him) was recently slain while returning from a roving medical mission to the remote and dangerous Nuristan Province (either by extremists or robbers) and the President and the nation mourned. Since the Muslim penalty for apostasy is death (rarely imposed but nevertheless), Christians here are careful not to proseletyse, but their work is very visible and a few curious Afghans may turn up and ask questions which sometimes turn into longer conversations. Regardless, when someone's mother's sight is saved in Kabul, or someone's son is rescued from heroin addiction in Peshawar, news goes through Muslim extended families like lightning. I firmly believe that this accomplishes more good for patients, and builds mutual respect, and better reflects Christ's wishes, than burning Korans. Should you (or indeed another reader) ever wish to give this a try in Pakistan or Afghanistan, get my private email from Winston and we can discuss what interests you and then I can provide contacts or at least point you in a few good directions. Fond regards, etc.

  10. Mr. Masty,
    Let me restate my position, because I think the way in which I put my position is too strong as you have pointed out. I believe that burning the Koran had undesirable consequences, and even though those consequences were in part foreseeable based on knowledge of how Muslims tend to react to insult, it does not make Jones culpable for the murders. One can still argue that he should not have burned the book but not on the basis of culpability. Also, in so much as the Koran promulgates a false religion that has had many evil effects on Christian civilizations, it deserves to be burned. For this reason Jones was also justified.

    Now to clarify, I am not advocating pronouncing moral judgements on everyone. Nor am I denying the vast importance of leading by example (leading by example is the best way to lead and convert). I am merely observing that there is, regrettably, a general tendency which permeates our culture to not stand up for the truth because we fear offending those who are preaching falsehoods. The way in which you stand up for the truth should be well chosen words and arguments backed up by and made concrete by good actions. I lament the fact that all too often people leave morals aside and refrain from judging people's actions based on Christian values.

  11. "These passages from the Koran (Surah II, 190-193. Surah IX, 5, 29-30.) show quite adequately that Islam requires its followers to do violence against any who do not follow their faith. Unless of course they desist and convert."

    Quite interesting, because in the same Koran Muslims are commanded to respect christians and jews because they are "The People of the Book".

    I'm a lebanese christian and I'm not a particular fan of Islam (BTW, I have many muslim friends who are very peaceful people), but statements like "My authority for declaring that the Muslims have a tendency towards violence comes directly from their Koran" is the typical combination of arrogance and deep ignorance, very common in drunken rednecks and undesirable for those who claim to be scholars of comparative religions ( "My authority for declaring, bla, bla, bla) like mr. Nemorian.

    Having said that, I congratulate ms. Robison and mr. Masty for their patience and wisdom.

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