Thanks to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr it's become axiomatic that the freedom of speech doesn't extend to the right to falsely shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre. Common sense, really... and consistent with that famous jurist's pragmatic approach to constitutional rights.Indeed. And what of the Koran burning?
I found myself wondering about Holmes's remark in the light of the weekend's cliffhanger – and in particular the fact that his phrase presumes that the occupants of the theatre have no responsibility to protect themselves from a fatal panic. After all there are a number of ways you can react to a shout of "Fire" in the theatre. You can check for yourself whether it seems to be true before you bolt for the door. And even if you decide to err on the side of caution, you can get up and make your way in an orderly fashion to an exit. But if you decide, immediately, to knock your neighbour to the ground and trample over his face to get to the fire-door you could surely be regarded as having contributed to the catastrophe rather than simply having been a victim of it. Within reasonable limits we have a civic duty not to lose our heads when idiots decide to shout "Fire".
Korans were burnt and defaced in the United States (despite Pastor Jones's change of mind) because there is no shortage of morons in the world and because an almost universal consensus that something should not be done is a near perfect way of guaranteeing that it will be. But the major news networks decided not to dignify these individual acts of desecration with any coverage and, so far at least, ordinary Muslims appear to have treated them as negligible acts of folly. And they're not just right to do so for strategic reasons, I would suggest. They have a moral obligation to do that as well – and to treat excessive and violent reaction by their own zealots as part of the problem, rather than a legitimate expression of wounded piety.Quite right. Wounded piety is no excuse for violence.
the only power that Pastor Jones possessed lay in the predictable volatility of indignant Muslims. If those rioting crowds in Afghanistan really don't like Korans being burned they would almost certainly be better off ignoring the odd occasion when one is. And their more moderate co-religionists might acknowledge that this was a collaboration in folly – not a solo act.It seems that's as close as anyone in the MSM is going to get to saying that the problem wasn't so much in the provocation, as the reaction. The fact is that Muslims who react to insults with violence are far more culpable than those who seek to provoke them.
As Anna Racoon put it,
Until we can burn a Qu’ran with the same casual insouciance as we burn a flag or burn the bible, we will not be truly comfortable with Muslims among us. These actions should bring opprobrium, strong words and discussion.