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Extremist vs. Extremist: The Consequences of Burning a Koran

Why Muslims retaliating against a Christian pastor says nothing about either Islam or Christianity.

The New York Times is reporting that hundreds of protesters stormed the United Nations office in northern Afghanistan today and killed an unspecified number of people in retaliation for a Florida pastor burning a Koran last month.

Pastor Terry Jones, who leads the right-wing Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, had threatened to burn a Koran last year, but a phone call from President Obama himself talked him out of it. A New Jersey dealership also gave Jones a free car for calling off the burning. However, on March 20, which Jones dubbed "International Judge the Koran Day," the pastor went through with the burning after putting the religious text "on trial" and finding it "guilty."

In response to Jones' stunt, Afghan cleric Mullavi Qyamudin Kashaf called a meeting of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan, which decided to call for Jones' arrest and punishment by American authorities. "Unless they try him and give him the highest possible punishment, we will witness violence and protests not only in Afghanistan but in the entire world," Kashaf told the Times.

Today's march to protest the Koran burning began peacefully, but the crowd turned violent when it reached the U.N. compound.

In the wake of incidents like this, the first reaction is to point fingers. Some conservatives will no doubt use this incident to fuel their speculation that "Islam is a violent religion." Indeed, Jones himself has already issued a statement to reporters—the immediacy of which makes one wonder if he was preparing for violence—in which he states, "Islam is not a religion of peace. It is time that we call these people to accountability."

And some liberals will no doubt be inclined to do something similar, and charge that conservative Christians are ignorant hate-mongers who endanger the lives of others in order to make ideological points.

Both of these camps are wrong.

In the wake of this killing, it's best to realize that two sets of extremists get their wish: Jones, a fringe pastor whose church is only 60 strong, can say Islam is a violent religion, and a handful of fringe Muslims—with 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, hundreds is a handful—can kill westerners with impunity under the guise that Terry Jones speaks for most Westerners. This is extremists being extremists, and it says nothing about the inherent evil of either Muslims or Christians.

Unfortunately, if forced to decide who is less wrong in this situation, I'd have to say it's Jones. This being America, he has every right to say whatever he'd like about Islam, and burn whatever book he'd like. And he should be able to do that without people getting killed. However, our actions don't exist in a vacuum.

Jones had been warned by such authorities as Obama and General David Petraeus that burning a Koran would put people's lives in danger overseas. When faced with that reality, he chose to go ahead with his stunt anyway, and the result has been a lot of people dying. No matter how you look at it, there's something tremendously sick about invoking your First Amendment rights while anticipating the deaths of others. And Jones did just that.

In any case, it's clear that he's forgotten the teachings of his Christian faith, which say, "Whoever desires to love life and see good days ... let him seek peace and pursue it."

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