Destroying 1 Koran vs. Destroying Multiple Persons: Which Is Worse?

Raymond Ibrahim, Assoc. Director, Middle East Forum (

by Raymond Ibrahim

The now infamous Koran burning by Florida pastor Terry Jones has created hysteria in the Muslim world. In Afghanistan alone, some twenty people, including U.N. workers, have been killed and beheaded to screams of “Allahu Akbar!” Western leaders around the globe—including Obama and members of Congress—have unequivocally condemned Jones’ actions (without bothering to point out that freedom of expression is a prized American liberty). Many are even blaming the deaths in Afghanistan directly on Jones; Bill O’Reilley says he has “blood on his hands.”

Yet, as Western leaders rush to profess their abhorrence at what one American did to one inanimate book, let’s take a quick look at what many Muslims are doing to many living and breathing Christians around the Islamic world—to virtually no media coverage or Western condemnation:

  • Afghanistan: A Muslim convert to Christianity was seized and, according to sharia’s apostasy laws, awaits execution.
  • Bangladesh: A Christian man was arrested for distributing Bibles near Muslims. Since Wednesday, thousands of Muslims have been rioting, injuring dozens—not because of Jones, but in protestation of women’s rights.
  • Egypt: A Muslim mob burned down another Coptic church and dozens of Christian homes; when Christians protested, the military opened fire on them while crying “Allahu Akbar,” killing nine. Another mob cut a Christian man’s ear off “according to sharia.”
  • Ethiopia: Muslims went on a rampage burning down nearly 70 churches, killing at least one Christian, and dislocating as many as 10,000. Christians living in Muslim majority regions are being warned to either convert to Islam, abandon their homes, or die.
  • Malaysia: Authorities detained and desecrated thousands of Bibles.
  • Pakistan: Two Christians were shot to death as they exited church; a Christian serving life in prison for “blasphemy” died in his cell under suspicions of murder.
  • Saudi Arabia: An Eritrean Christian has been arrested for sharing his faith with Muslims and is facing the death penalty; other missionaries continue to languish in Saudi prisons.
  • Somalia and Sudan: Christian girls—including a mother of four—were recently abducted, raped, and killed for embracing Christianity.

It should be borne in mind that none of these atrocities were performed in retaliation to Jones’ Koran burning; they’re just business as usual in the Muslim world.

Moreover, the above list is but a quick and cursory sampling of the very latest in Christian suffering under Islam. Were one to include persecution from just a few months back, one could also mention the jihadist attack on a Baghdad church, killing 52 Christians; the New Year’s eve Coptic church explosion, killing 21; Muslim rampages that destroyed several churches in Indonesia, Nigeria, and the Philippines; Iran’s “round up” of some 70 home-worshipping Christians; and Kuwait’s—a nation that owes its very existence to U.S. war sacrifices—rejection to build a church.

Then there are the countless atrocities that never make it to any media—the stories of persistent, quiet misery that only the victims and local Christians know.

One would have thought that all this was at least equally deserving of media attention and Western condemnation as the burning of a Koran. Worse, whereas only Jones is responsible for his actions, many of the aforementioned savageries—arresting and executing Christian missionaries and Muslim apostates, destroying or outlawing churches, seizing and desecrating not one but thousands of Bibles—are carried out at the hands of Muslim authorities and governments deemed U.S. “friends-and-allies.”

Such is the surreal and increasingly irrational world we live in, where irate Muslims and groveling Westerners obsess over the destruction of one book while ignoring the destruction of many human lives; where a guaranteed and hard-earned American right—freedom of expression—receives a lot of condemnatory huffing and puffing from those charged with protecting it, while murderous and barbarous—in a word, evil—behavior is devoutly ignored.

Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum


About Sundar JM Brown

A University of Pennsylvania-trained South Asianist, Seminary-educated Theologian, and Intelligence Community Professional, Sundar J.M. Brown specializes in analysis of Theoterrorism, Counterterrorism and HUMINT Operations. His regional focuses include terror groups/acts in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Middle East and Africa. His primary expertise is Theoterrorism, the intersection of Terrorism and Theology. His present research focuses on apocalyptic themes in terrorist ideologies and on the theological components informing the radicalization and deradicalization of Violent Religious Extremists and Militants. He is the Founder and Director of the IntelliGen Conference on Religion & Violence. *Sundar's Twiter: @SundarJMBrown *Sundar's YouTube Channel: *Sundar's Blog:
This entry was posted in Analysis, International Relations, Terrorism Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Destroying 1 Koran vs. Destroying Multiple Persons: Which Is Worse?

  1. stevenorfolk says:

    No one should deny that the ultimate responsibility for these deaths rests with the people who killed the aid workers. However, there is a reason why the law forbids inciting people to violence or creating conditions (e.g., yelling fire in a crowded venue) which are likely to result in panic and harm. The pastor in Florida knew that his actions would lead to violence. Even General Petraeus told him that it would put American lives in danger. While I don’t think the pastor can be charged with murder — and while I’m not sure if a US court has jurisdiction over an incident such as this — there is justification to start exploring criminal as well as civil charges against him.


  2. Lee in Houston says:

    For those blaming the kooky “pastor” in Florida, I have to ask a simple question: “Are you nuts?” This mob had nothing to do with a book burning in Florida other than that the leaders of it used it as an excuse. The mob was directed by those Islamic officials in Afghanistan who want to keep their ignorant followers stirred up and ignorant. The UN is trying to educate boys and *gasp* girls and trying to improve the lives of women. This is unacceptable to Islamic conservatives.

    The Koran burning was the excuse; the evil “corrupting” influences of the UN was the reason for the attack.

    We should not be in Afghanistan. We lack the time and money to bring an entire country and multiple cultures out of the Stone Age. We should withdraw and continue our drone strikes.

    We should also make clear that if terror attacks against the rest continue to originate from Afghanistan, our response will be overwhelming and brutal (up to and including nuclear strikes). We lack the money, the manpower, or the desire to build a functioning Western democracy in Afghanistan. We shouldn’t even try. We should leave the Afghans to themselves and only ensure that they don’t bother us. The only way to do this (ask the Persian, the Mongols, the Indians, and the British) is to make them realize that the price of misbehavior is too high for them to bear….


  3. mford says:

    My instinct is to condemn the kook in Florida, but what’s the point? While he was irresponsible and stupid, he did nothing illegal or wrong in my eyes: this is free speech, plain and simple.

    In the end, this horrific episode shows why we should not be doing what we’re doing in Afghanistan: there is little hope that the essential democratic value of free speech will work there. Therefore, democracy cannot work. I think it might work in some other Middle East countries, but not a place as backwards as Afghanistan. It seems pointless, if not hopeless to try.

    Let’s wait another century, at least, and in the meantime make sure our drones can reach any Al Qaeda training camps that might emerge in the absence of US troops.


  4. canistercook says:

    Terry Jones believed in freedom not tyranny. How have we reached the stage where innocent people are killed because someone burned a printed book! Jones may be a nut, but how nutty are those that would kill because of his action. Religion has always produced fanatics both Muslim and Cristian willing to kill for their religion. Brain washing is alive and well unfortunately. But how do we get back to someone’s right to burn the bible, the koran or the flag without risking death. True freedom is hard to preserve when fanatics exist. Sad isn’t it!


  5. paul says:

    An example of why many countries – Canada, Germany others – have decided it is worthwhile to enact focused prohibitions on hate speech targeting specific groups. Shouting fire in a movie theater is not the only hazard of free speech. Free societies can function quite well without hate filled sermons in Mosques or churches or elsewhere.


  6. shukris says:

    Most of the protesters were peaceful with only a minority turning violent. The UN workers were innocent of any crime and their murder is condemned in the Shariah. But so is the book burning. The only ones who don’t understand that people get angry when you burn their holy texts are those who have nothing sacred in their lives.


  7. Dave K says:

    There’s lots of stupidity to go around here. Terry Jones was stupid for burning a Koran. This mob was stupid to attack the wrong target, and to kill people over a symbolic act.

    Both of them acted out of ignorance and hate. Legally, Terry Jones had the right to do what he did, but he seems to have forgotten Matthew 5-7 and Luke 10 about what his faith really tells him to do.


  8. AlreadyMessedUpTwoBatchesOfCookies says:

    If aliens were out there watching our world, would they be laughing at us, or just confused?

    I don’t even know what to say. I just feel pretty ashamed to be a member of the human race right now.


  9. mac_51 says:

    One poster put it succinctly, “stupidity begets tragedy”. This may well prove a turning point, that is, the American public may now conclude that we are not “winning the hearts and minds” of the Afghans.

    It will be interesting to see if Karzai plays to the nationalistic/religious passions in his country – or if he does the right thing and blames both the Florida pastor for lighting the fuse AND those responsible for the killings, including the islamic cleric if he incited the crowd. I am not hopeful.


  10. Clyde Wynant says:

    It’s a book, people. Nothing more or less. Burning it or shredding it does not alter its precepts. Nor does the act of burning it have any real meaning, other than that validating that paper is flammable.

    To kill people over such an act is a crime against all people and all religions — and it makes me proud to be a non-believer.


  11. Daniel from Vancouver, B.C. says:

    Once again we see how little is understood on either side of this issue by either culture. People seemed to be amazed that a culture in Afganistan that is behind the times by several hundred years at the least, much much more in the more desolate and isolated areas of the country, is different from our own ideas of righteousness, morality or justice. There are a number of small churches like the one that Terry Jones is in, that are just as backward; racist, sexist, homophobic and many of the same things that fundamentalist Christians accuse the Muslims of being. I would bet that the incitement at the Mosques that got these mobs riled up, is not that much different than the tactics that folks like Terry Jones use to get their parisheners riled up, to put money into his coffers and help promote his agenda. The press has a lot to answer for here as well. The, “If it bleeds it leads” attitude that our MSM is engaged in, often times leads people around like lemmings, with purposful intent to incite and mislead or direct people to a particular conclusion that suits their goal. Our own “free press” that is now owned by corporations, some of whom profit from war and insurection are just as guilty of doing what many of people in this comment page and elswhere accuse the Imams of doing in the Mosques of Islamic countries and even in our own country. The really sad thing is that a large percentage of the American public doesn’t bother to educate themselves about what the common Muslim practices in his own life or what his morals actually are. Our Media constantly gives voice to those who would paint with a broad brush, a picture of Muslims that is reflective mostly of only the most fundamentalist amongst their population. The truth is that their (the average Muslim) morals and behavior are equivelant to that of the common or average Christian. These same conservative politicians who constantly misconstrue Muslim outreach as them wanting their religion and Sharia law to take over the world, ignore the fact that our early Christian missionaries went into these same Muslim countries over the last two centuries trying to do the same thing. These missionaries set the stage for some of the deep seated distrust that Muslims still hold against Western people seen as the intrusion of Christian nations. At the same time conservative politicians will spout about changing laws pretecting their version of marriage, limiting or outright abolishment of abortion and womens’ right to their own privacy and control over their own bodies, elimination of laws to protect homosexuals from disrimination, etc., in the name of their Christian values. In light of these and other similar events, I think it imperitive that we look hard at our policies for democratic changes in countries that would be just as happy if we would stay out of their buiness. Why are we still in this country ten years later? These are important questions, but the answers should not hinge on what their culture is, rather what is our end goal and are we even close to seeing that met. Without real elections, free from intimadtaion and manipulation, how in the world could we know what the average Afghani wants or needs.


  12. wdefnewjersey says:

    Terry Jones is a moron, period, and he and people like him are the worst form of humanity, or what passes for it. Among other things, they are supreme hypocrites, in that they denounce the danger and stupidity of fundamentalist Islam while they themselves are guilty of the same stupidity. Consider the fact that many of the same types as Terry Jones would firebomb an abortion clinic and think nothing of beating up gay people, and you see much the same thing. More importantly, what do you think would happen if a group went down to Terry Jones country, went on the sidewalk in front of his church after services and burned bibles, you think all those “Christians” wouldn’t react? The only difference between Terry Jones and fundamentalist Christians and the Islamic crazies is that they have rule of law against them; afghanistan has no real government, no rule of law, and in that vacuum the crazies are allowed to do what they want. If Jones had that kind of place to work in, they would be doing the same thing. He has the right to burn the Q’ran or whatever, but he is protesting the very same thing the Islamic fundamentalists are about, there is no difference.

    That said, what happened in Afghanistan is an outrage, the fact that people can do something like that says they are not religious, their religion is hate, not faith. They didn’t protest what Terry Jones did, they used what he did to act out their hate against people who had zero to do with it; the UN people there are there trying to help turn afghanistan around, or at least make things better in an ugly situation, and those responsible for this totally threw that away, they reacted in blind hate and fury.

    As far as blaming this on 30 years of war, it goes well beyond that, Afghanistan has been the scene of violence for many hundreds of years, many of it between tribes in the country, it is the result of being an isolated, tribal area with little access to education or much of anything else.

    For a poster, above: “Most of the protesters were peaceful with only a minority turning violent” I suspect that is wrong, the fact that the guards at the UN site were overwhelmed says it was a lot more then a small minority. More importantly, if the large majority were peaceful, they would have stopped those that did this. What the description strikes me is a typical mob situation, where a smaller group inflames the larger group and they go on a rampage, and in that situation none are innocent.

    ” The UN workers were innocent of any crime and their murder is condemned in the Shariah. But so is the book burning. The only ones who don’t understand that people get angry when you burn their holy texts are those who have nothing sacred in their lives”

    That is the problem with a lot of Islam and with fundamentalist views of religion, it is this idea that if someone says something bad about your faith, or burns a ‘holy text’ that if you don’t get angry, stomp around and have the potential to violence, that you ‘don’t feel anything’. Fundamentalist Christians do the same thing in this country, when they yell and scream how stores, for example, say happy holidays instead of merry christmas, or insist that allowing same sex marriage denigrates their faith (doesn’t dawn on the bozos that having their faith as legal law denigrates the faith of others). I would argue the exact opposite, that someone who gets angry over what they see as someone else denigrating their religion is the one who feels nothing, especially those who can be led to violence by it. If someone truly feels their faith, if they really have belief, then they should not be reacting with anger or violence, since those are human emotions, not the divine.True faith is when you can look at what someone else says or does, and realize that is their problem, your faith is your faith. More importantly, something neither Terry Jones nor the ones responsible for this can fathom, is that true faith connects you with the divine, and that divine is based around a major concept, that harming another is wrong, and that the divine does not share your anger and hate and other emotions. If my faith is strong, then if someone else burns a bible or Q’ran, or makes fun, it shouldn’t matter. Perhaps the people who get angry like this could take a lesson from the Amish, when a nut went into an Amish school and killed children, and the community forgave the killer and his family. Anger is not an expression of faith, forgiveness and understanding is.


  13. Nick Finke, Cincinatti, OH says:

    I completely disagree with anyone who says that Terry Jones was simply exercising his right of free speech. He must certainly have known what the reaction of some Muslims would be when they were told of his action. What he did was, in my opinion, exactly the equivalent of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. He is responsible for what happened.

    I would not in any way defend what these fundamentalist Muslims did. Their actions were not in accord with what the huge majority of Muslims believe the Quran teaches. Their actions were most likely incited by Muslim clergy whose fundamentalist Islamic beliefs are quite similar to Terry Jones’ fundamentalist Christian beliefs. They are as guilty as Terry Jones is.

    It seems very simple to me. If Terry Jones had not burned the Quran, all these people would still be alive. Does he really think that what he did is what Jesus would have done?


  14. BrIaNnYc says:

    It’s easy to say that killing someone over the burning of a book is incomprehensible, because it is to us. But what Jones failed to consider is that to others the burning of the Koran has the greatest of meaning and that our actions have to take into account the result that those actions may have on others. And let’s be clear, Jones wasn’t burning a Koran to warm his home or cook his food, he was burning it specifically to insult and incite people. And when people die directly from your intent to incite rage and anger, then you are responsible for those deaths.

    And while some may argue that it’s his first amendment right to do what he did, if he knows that there could be a risk to life, then like the interpretation of the first amendment pertaining to the yelling of “fire” in a crowded theatre, it’s not covered by the first amendment. And while those deaths may have occurred thousand of miles from our home soil, who knows if some radical moslem will find it necessary to shed some blood on US soil in retaliation.

    And to what benefit was his action? Did it make things better between Christians and Moslems? Certainly not. All it got him was some time in the media, and so far at the cost of 12 lives……


  15. Dwena, Miami, FL says:

    It’s this what our society has come to??? When we could even toy with the thought that the burning of a book could somehow be equal to the murder of human beings. Has the value of life decreased that much? You people better get it together and realize that we can not be imprisoned by someone else’s thinking. Live in fear of offending someone else by what we think or do. Is that how we really want to live? Most of us offend these people just by living our daily lives. They think that reading “offensive materials” is a crime, saying anything negative against their religion would warrent death if they could only get their hands on you. Think things through before you condemn this book burner because you too are offensive to them. The difference between you and him is the lack of media coverage.


  16. Tim, Altlanta GA says:

    As I read the myriad comments on this issue, taking this side or the other or both, I am forced to see where my finger is pointing and it always points back to me.That may sound like a cliche’ but what have I done to be more direct to discourage the actions of people like Jones or people who would act out their anger in the killing of the UN workers or those who remain apathetic or those who advocate isolationaism or those who advocate even greater intrusion into the life of other cultures? It can be so overwhelming that I feel the urge to remain uninvolved. Now what am I teaching my god sons and other youth who have been abused about the need for taking a stand should I do this! Let’s search for ways to be more involved: if we don’t, I am sure that others will and I will then be ready to point my finger, yet again.


  17. RALPHNYC says:

    Speech should always be entirely, incorruptibly free. People who engage in free speech should also consider the consequences of it, and perhaps try to ‘say’ something worthwhile. Symbolism is powerful, that’s why we use it. Sometimes it will provoke a response of equal or greater power. Free speech is incomparably important; wise speech is more useful.


  18. steve says:

    In this matter, there is no “right” one or “wrong” one.
    There is only insanity–the insanity of religiosity trumping knowledge, good will, right action.
    There are more Muslims in the world than there are Christians. There is no reason to believe that one religion is more “right” than the other, and certainly no reason for members of one faith to condemn the members of the other. There is, in fact, no evidence to support either belief system. Both systems are based on “faith,” not on knowledge. Thus, one is as valid as the other.
    My own belief system–shared with millions, if not billions, of others– is that there is a consequence for every action. Hateful behavior towards Muslims will have consequences. Hateful behavior towards any group will have consequences. I don’t understand why, in the 21st century, there are still people who don’t appreciate, or care, about this. And America really has no reason to think of itself as better, or more enlightened, than any other society as long as there are people like Terry Jones running around.
    This was not an exercise in “free speech.” There was, in fact, a price for this speech–the death of innocent people.


  19. Reality Check says:

    I wonder if this pastor and these rabid rightwing Christians understand that we are fighting a war over there? A friend of mine is over there risking his life for these knuckleheads who insist on burning Korans and mocking Islam. He’s comment, “Don’t put our lives and our mission at risk by doing stupid things at home.”


  20. A Retired Architect, Mifflintown, Pa says:

    The responsibility for killing remains with the perpetrator, plain and simple.
    The responsibility for burning books of any kind, remains with the book burner, plain and simple.
    Do not try to frame all of this behavior within religious guidelines or try to make it righteous response to the nastiness of others.
    We cannot solve Afghanistan’s problems when even civil help is unwanted and those who try to help are murdered. We should not be there and the time to get out is overdue.
    We have to work on solving the problems of democracy in this country and protecting our own freedoms that are being dismantled.
    Moral behavior has to be the responsibility of the individual, not the mosque, not the church, not the state, not the country.


  21. rOSA mIMOSA NYC says:

    “Islamic Conservatives” are not opposed to anyone being educated, flying a kite or listening to music. However, it is the ignorant in Afghanistan, most if not all who are men, who while they profess to be Muslim are opposed to women having any kind of life, education or a job.

    Once again, it is the ignorant who carry out such inhuman deeds. Afghanistan is more cultural mores than true Islamic traditions. How life is lived there would be foreign an in many cases considered sinful to most Muslims from almost any other country.

    Please do not get caught up with the ongoing, perpetual misrepresentation of the entire Muslim Ummah (community) and repeat what you may have heard or read somewhere by a non-Muslim, defining others as if you actually know who they are. In this case, those who advocate such crimes may believe they are knowledgeable, learned or serious Muslims but they are not. They are a shameful, embarassment to any Muslim and to humanity as well. Presently, Afghanistan for the modern world and women in particular, is what the South was in the early 1900’s to African-Americans, particularly men, who “did not know their place”: a very dangerous place for anyone who did not agree with lynching, segregation and the racial divide and deadly to those who spoke out against it. And state and federal laws existed defending such evil notions.

    As long as American thinking people continue to compare our country lving in the 21st century with other societies that in all honesty are actually living (with cell phones and DVDs) with an 18th or 19th mindset, we will never find that common thread that ties us all together.

    America is in Iraq, Afghanistan, is headed toward Libya while eyeing Iran. To paraphrase the young man in the tv interview during Egypt’s uprising who asked Obama not to come to their aid. “America claims it wants us to have democracy. But America supported the leaders for years (in all those countries mentioned) who were tyrants. Don’t come now.”


  22. CeLIA says:

    It puzzles me that in the US the aggressive, destructive act of burning something is considered speech. In the face of all the hatred in the world, is it not time to stop stretching out language to such an absurd degree? I fully support freedom of speech for everyone in all circumstances. But burning books or flags is not speech, it is arson.


  23. msnoirbuckeye says:

    This is a sad commentary period. When are people going to realize that we are different in many ways and it is okay. The disrepect and disregard for those differences falls on both sides in this incident.

    The burning of a book is an act of fear in my opinion. The individuals who are pro this type of action have always struck me as being fearful that their way of thinking or believing cannot stand up against the ideas an beliefs of others.

    The response to the burning of the Koran has no justification either. They did not participate in the action and they may not have been supportive of that idea.

    Neither side will admit that they are extremist who are afraid, angry and determined to make their point-even at the expense of others. Neither side believes that they are wrong. This is a problem in my opinion because this attitude will help to continue fueling their actions. I just hope and pray that no other individuals will have to make the ultimate sacrifice because of two different viewpoints on spiritual beliefs.


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