The unrepentant Terry Jones

Over a week ago, we discussed the relative lack of coverage of a burning of a Koran some days earlier in Florida. The overwhelming response from readers to that post was that they hadn't even heard about the burning. It was interesting to compare the non-stop, over-the-top coverage from last fall with the more appropriate and restrained coverage in recent weeks. But now that mobs in Afghanistan murdered nine humans and injured 81 others in response to the burning of the book, we're seeing much more coverage. And the coverage is very interesting. It reminds me of something I was taught in college about rape. Basically, no matter how short the skirt the girl's wearing, she doesn't deserve to be raped. I always thought it was also wise to dress modestly but that wasn't the point. The point was that the rapist is responsible for the rape, not the victim or society.

Murdering people who have nothing to do with the Koran burning is another animal from rape entirely, but it is still surprising to me to see how the media suggests that the pastor who oversaw the Koran burning -- Terry Jones -- is responsible for murders he didn't commit.

So, for instance, here is NBC reporter Luke Russert on Twitter:

11 people lost their lives so Terry Jones could burn a Koran and feed the 24/7 news monster

Here's The Guardian's headline:

Terry Jones defiant despite murders in Afghanistan over Qur'an burning US pastor is showing no regrets about an act of hatred that provoked a massacre of UN staff amid deadly riots

The Christian Science Monitor decides to put freedom itself on the line:

The violent reaction to Terry Jones burning the Quran at his tiny Florida church continued to spread Saturday, and with it questions about freedom of expression with murderous results.

More examples at The Daily Beast and New York Times (albeit in an otherwise solid report). Special hat tip to Reuters for coining the term "extreme fundamentalist pastor" to describe Jones. You know, for those times that "fundamentalist" just isn't derogatory enough.

So clearly the media is focused on the "short skirt" angle to this case.

Now, we all know that everybody in the states -- from President Barack Obama to Sarah Palin (and even Jon Meacham!) -- agrees that burning a Koran is not the wisest move. Neither is wearing a short skirt while walking through a part of town known for rapists. But something is rubbing me the wrong way here by blaming Jones for murders he didn't commit. Apart from whether or not it's fair to blame the maroon Jones, what I loathe about this approach is that it treats Afghans or Muslims as animals who can't be controlled. You burn a Koran, they all kill recklessly! That's not fair to them and it does a horrible disservice to the actual details of the story.

USA Today's been covering the story and religion reporter Cathy Grossman asks:

Who's responsible for the death in in Afghanistan today? The mob fired the guns but who handed them the ammunition? The news media? Or Terry Jones?

Um, the people who killed are responsible for the killing (unless, again, we think Muslims are subhuman or something). But apart from that, consider the major missing link in between Terry Jones and the mob. Here are some key details from someone at UN Dispatch on the ground in Kabul:

Tonight, the governor of Balkh province (of which Mazar-i-Sharif is the capital) is telling the international media that the men who sacked the UN compound were Taliban infiltrators. That's rubbish. Local clerics drove around the city with megaphones yesterday, calling residents to protest the actions of a small group of attention-seeking, bigoted Americans. Then, during today's protest, someone announced that not just one, but hundreds of Korans had been burned in America. A throng of enraged men rushed the gates of the UN compound, determined to draw blood. Had the attackers been gunmen, they would likely have been killed before they could breach the compound.

This key detail -- about how some middlemen fan the flames -- was also under reported in stories about the Danish cartoons. Not that killing people or destroying buildings in response to cartoons is ever justified, but it's also worth noting that clerics drafted new cartoons -- far more offensive than anything that was actually published -- and passed them off as also having been published. One picture they passed around was of a French comedian in a pig-squealing contest (complete with snout). But they claimed it ran in a paper with the caption, "Here is the real image of Mohammed." So our options for considering who is responsible for the death and destruction in Afghanistan in recent days has to extend beyond the choices given above. And we can only get that full story with more thorough reporting -- reporting that's hard to do if we're all obsessed about covering the relatively easy-to-cover and relatively accessible and English-speaking Terry Jones.

CNN, for what it's worth, is apparently censoring its own interview with Jones. The fairly good ABC News bit embedded above does not censor Jones. It lets him speak before saying "his act of hatred inspired a massacre." Which one is better? Oh who knows.

What I want more information on is what non-mobbing Muslims think about what happened. What does Islam teach about the appropriate response to the burning of a sacred book? What do other religions do when their sacred books are torched? I know about Christianity, but what about other groups? There are so many good questions to ask, questions for which Terry Jones is not the prime source or target. I'd like those questions looked at.

And if you're interested in some discussion of media coverage of Jones, be sure to check out Grossman's postings at USA Today's Faith & Reason and Michelle Boorstein over at the Washington Post.

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