By Tracy Emblem
Terry Jones, Reverend of Florida’s “Dove World Outreach Center” has called for “International Burn a Koran Day” to commemorate September 11. Jones’s divisive ploy has traditionally been considered constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.
Americans guard our First Amendment rights fiercely. There is no question that if we were to draw the line against Jones, other groups’ demonstrations could also be silenced. However, there are some overarching principles at stake.
The FBI defines one type of hate crime as an offense committed against a person, property, or society motivated by the offender’s bias against a religion. The symbolic act of burning Korans on 9-11 has similarities to the elements of a hate crime, without the physical crime itself since it is not a crime to burn books.
Nonetheless, there is a distinction between “free speech” and action intentionally designed to incite and exploit violence. An exercise of free speech involves peacefully talking about an issue, such as Jones’s right to his opinion that “Islam is evil.” In contrast, Jones mob-like “assemblies” involving burnings are acts of violence and are actions designed to evoke an emotional response and incite violence in others.
Most recently, in Tennessee where a new mosque was being built, after several hundred opponents of the mosque demonstrated a few weeks earlier carrying signs like “MOSQUE LEADERS SUPPORT KILLING CONVERTS,” construction equipment was damaged by suspected arson on the construction site.
The 9-11 rhetoric against Muslims heated up when then President George W. Bush proclaimed that it was America’s responsibility to “rid the world of evil” and it became a religious issue to some fundamentalists.
In January, ABC News reported that one of the Pentagon’s biggest suppliers, Trijicon was providing “Jesus Rifles” and scopes and some in our military were invoking Christianity to hunt people for Jesus.
We are not in a “holy war” yet the distinction has become increasingly blurred for many Americans because first America was fighting against the Al-Qaeda terrorists, next the war on terror included the Taliban and fundamentalist Muslim groups. We are not fighting against a religion, we are supposedly fighting against leaders of a political movement.
The “Burn a Koran Day” is more than just about hateful “expression” of individual rights – it is a dangerous practice because it involves “action.” While technically not espousing any “fighting words” against Muslims burning Korans would send a message and provide a catalyst for religious “fights” both in the U.S. and around the world and would necessarily put our troops and Americans abroad at heightened risk.
There are consequences for action and consequences for inaction.
We live in an increasingly hostile and mobile society where “holy wars” could be waged using car bombs and improvised explosive devices – therefore, we may have to consider drawing a line for safety reasons against those who would incite immediate and dangerous reactions which will destroy our domestic tranquility.
Tracy Emblem is a former Democractic candidate for California’s 50th congressional district and a frequent diarist at FDL’s The Seminal.