Quran Burning

Its hard to avoid discussing the planned Quran Burning. I saw something about how there had been riots in Afghanistan in anticipation of this, and Petraeus thinks it could endanger lives of troops.

Of course I don't think quran burning should be prohibited on national security grounds, but it would seem that, there should be someway to imprison the pastor for inciting riots. This usually how it works in the states, right? If someone is shouting at a thronging crowd, on the verge of inciting violence, they can be arrested immediately -- and even if, the police simply believe there is likelihood for there to be a riot in the next week or so because of a massive anarchist gathering, they can just throw all the well known anarchist leaders in prison "for their protection" for that week... I'm not going to try to say that's right, but it is the situation I believe.

Question: If the Florida pastor is intentionally starting riots in Afghanistan outside of military bases, can his freedom of speech be impinged on the grounds that he presents a "clear and present danger" to national security? Just because the crowd he is inciting to violence is not right in front of him, it is in Afghanistan, the internet connects them instantly, so it makes no difference, right?

It seems that it would be much better to arrest him tomorrow so that the Quran burning does not take place on 9/11, even if it ultimately happens a week later.

If the above grounds do not work in your mind, is it still not much better to have a massive counter protest poised directly on site, threatening to riot in the states, which would then surely justify his being jailed? I guess I don't know if there are enough youth groups that care about this in the states, and I guess I kind of doubt it but who knows, it doesn't need to be a dramatically large portion of the population to have a significant counter protest.


  1. Interesting, but questionable. The mechanism for inciting the riot is quite removed. The pastor is not inciting a riot, he is encouraging people to burn holy books, which will in turn incite a riot.

    It seems like it would be difficult to arrest someone who, by telecommunication, encourages people to do a perfectly legal, and very much riot-free act, on the grounds that this might indirectly trigger riots half way across the globe.

    Such action might also set dangerous precedent. Anonymous likes to occasionally come out of the internet to protest. Would it be fair to arrest a forum operator for permitting organization of a nonviolent meeting that was likely to incite a violent counter-protest ?

    Also, police need an excuse to arrest anarchists. Over at the G20, we were hanging out with the anarchists, ( which, incidentally are mostly teenagers and young people kind of flailing around trying to make a difference in an indifferent society, so most of them aren't a social threat ) and the police would hound and follow, raid people's homes, but in the end, if they found no evidence, they couldn't hold people. It seemed like, leading up to the protests, the biggest sketchy things they did were raid homes with warrants issued on pure paranoia, and impound a van used to distribute food to protesters. Oh, but they did lock everyone up once they started marching. I guess I'm just saying that the police had to be really creative, and probably break the law themselves, in order to preemptively arrest some of these people.

    If you can think of a creative way to legally interfere with the Quran burning then perhaps you should speak up.

    Its kind of a weird situation. I feel like here, in the US, we can try to counteract the burning by shouting really loud about how tolerant we are, but in the end, I think in the US the prevailing viewpoint is that burning the Quran is legal, and if you don't like it then shrug it off, people are just being juvenile. We could try to burn a lot of bibles in opposition, but I seriously doubt enough people care enough to do this.

  2. honestly if this is actually endangering forces abroad, it would probably be prudent for Petraeus ( not Obama, since the crazies seem to dislike him ) to preempt the scheduled programming on whatever television network would be Quran burners watch, and inform viewers that the burning is going to make life difficult for the toops. ... or would that be capitulating to "terrorists" ?

  3. Theoretically, you could argue that by providing an organizing focus for the Taliban, this pastor is aiding and abetting the enemy, eg high treason. But on a practical and ethical ground, we have to distinguish between saying something inflammatory and not supported by law ("kill whitey!"), and something so inflammatory that it has people trying to kill you. A liberal democratic society may not protect the former, but it must protect the latter.

  4. more

    biff, I'm a little confused. are you saying that illegal hate speech should be punished, but speech sufficiently hateful as to incite riots must be protected ?

  5. just let the guy burn the qurans and let the people in afghanistan riot over it. free speech is important. if the troops are in danger, its because they signed on to protect our freedoms right?

  6. mostly agree with cyrus.

    It actually sounds like the only violence was at a NATO base staffed with German troops. The confrontation came to blows ... er... shots, when the protesters nearly breached the perimeter of the base. Unfortunately, one Afghan was killed as a result.

    Indeed, sometimes letting the riot run its course is the cheapest and most effective solution. I firmly believe that if the police had done not much more than stand there, maybe try to arrest people they personally witness committing actual crimes, the city would have ended up with 20K in vandalism damages, tops ( ok maybe more if they managed to light some cars on fire, but broken windows are relatively cheap ). Point is, by trying to secure the city using ... shall we say extra-legal force, the city looked bad, the cops looked bad, a lot of money was wasted, and a lot of people had a bad day. I hear some of the cops had a rather excellent day, but those may be in the minority.

    But, when it comes to a mob breaching the perimeter of a military base, you have serious problems. Clearly being the target of a violent mob isn't safe, so you need to leave or fight back. Unless you can evacuate all personnel, supplies, munitions, vehicles, etc, you can't safely abandon the facility. Anyway, as a result you necessarily look like a jerk when you have to shoot and kill a couple of the Afghani citizens you're supposed to be protecting.

    So, yes, I agree Cyrus, but how do you keep something like this from turning into a diplomatic nightmare, (which... is what appears to have happened) ?

  7. On the face of it, I mostly agree with Cyrus.

    I do think that, there is a serious externality occurring because the pastor is allowed to burn Qurans... it does seem to be strictly just harming our collective interests, although maybe in the grand scheme of things not so badly... I'm not sold that its a serious enough problem to warrant limiting his free speech for that reason.

    What's more happening in my mind is:

    Picture, thronging crowd of black block anarchists, and one speaker in the front about to light an effigy of George Bush on fire. The law in this country seems to be that, cops have the right to arrest this person on grounds of inciting a riot.

    Alternatively, picture thronging crowd of Tea Partiers... pretend they aren't mostly geriatrics... and Glenn Beck about to burn Barack Obama in effigy. Same legal verdict it seems.

    Now, observe that the speaker doesn't have to be directly telling the people " GO BURN THAT BUILDING, AND THAT BUILDING, AND BEAT UP THAT ****** OVER THERE". He can just be kind of getting them riled up, even with a message that is unclear or doesn't make sense. In the case that he's Glenn Beck, it doesn't even have to be coherent speech -- as long as at the end of the day, the result of his speech is that the mob is incited to violence.

    So now I can even imagine a situation where Dick Cheney is foaming at the mouth in a rage cursing out these black block anarchists "YOU'RE ALL WORTHLESS AND WEAK, CRAWL BACK INTO YOUR HOLES YOU SEWER RATS", and if the result is that his speech is inciting the people towards violence, then the police have a right / obligation to restrain him. My point is, I don't think the actual content of the speech matters, or what the intentions of the speaker are, only the effect.

    So now, separate the people from the speaker by a Television Screen. Its still speech, its instantaneous. What's the difference?

    The way I would envision it working out tomorrow is, police forces gather outside of the Quran Burning event, with a live camera feed to outside of a military base in Afghanistan. At some point, the crowd begins to get pissed off, and the police arrest the pastor, citing a clear and present danger to US territory -- the territory inside of the military base.

    Its a pretty fragile theory, I'm not going to pretend I'm an authority on this Clear and Present Danger doctrine.


    It seems that in recent times, the doctrine has been refined to state that speech is unprotected that will result in "Imminent Lawless Action"?

    So I would say the above model seems to fit the bill.

    I'm not saying, I think this is what should happen, but I don't think I would be opposed if it did. There's an obvious comparison, should Flag Burning be prohibited in a similar situation? And I guess I think the answer is yes, if you were clearly inciting a mob to violence you probably shouldn't be allowed to burn the flag. But otherwise you probably should be allowed to.

  8. I just realized that this is pretty much the same situation as playing "Ride of the Valkyries" within earshot of Blacker House at Caltech. Yes, they are dumb, yes you should have the right to play awesome music, but you also know you're gonna have to fight some people and maybe that nice record you bought is going to get smashed to bits. Its clear that one side is unreasonable, and its also clear that you know this, and are deliberately taking an action to cause a response, and therefore your action is tantamount to initiating the response.

    Also, they aren't just endangering US troops, there are NATO bases staffed by other countries. If a non-US citizen deployed in Afghanistan ends up getting killed as an indirect result of this Pastor's actions, shall we hold the Pastor at fault ?

  9. oh wait that thing I said already happened.

  10. the one about getting people killed.

  11. @Everett:

    I mean I think that's a pretty radical stance to take -- no one tries to hold the speaker responsible for the damage that results, the members of the crowd are moral agents and should be held responsible for their own actions. I mean its not like they are officers in the Third Reich "just following orders".

    The only legal measures against this are, an overwhelming crowd of police officers, and the right to take preventative measures to prevent the speech to prevent the violence. But it may be a shame if the govt chooses not to exercise these and instead many afghan civilians are killed in riots.

    Then again, I could understand if Obama doesn't want to touch this with a ten foot pole, lest he "reveal himself to be a Muslim".

  12. well, since one person has already died thanks to this pastor, I think its actually fair to say that ... if it is possible for the riots to get worse, and if it is possible that arresting the pastor and stopping the Quran burning will end up saving lives, it seems like... preventing the burning would be the right choice.

    This is also like the "remember who's more grown up" problem, if you've ever fought with a younger sibling. Yeah, little brother is an irrational sociopath because his frontal cortex hasn't grown in, but since its clear that you have more self control, you have an obligation not to provoke little brother.

    And, historically speaking, Islam is Christianity's younger sibling.

    .. the metaphors almost work.

  13. Afghan protesters are moral agents, and if they believe that its worth their lives to protest the actions of some fuckjob in Florida, so be it.

    The doctrine that the government has the ability to place a hold on speech because of potential reactions to it, rather than the content of the speech itself, is dangerously anti-democratic. The freedom to express unpopular views is fundamental to American liberties. Suppressing this type of speech lends state power to violate minorities.

    Now, on the other hand, it's pretty clear that the Rev Terry Jones' poorly thought out quest for publicity has put American troops in harms way. I think the families of our soldiers and marines should have something to say to that.