Burning Qur'ans and Free Speech

So I'm going to retread a topic that's being done to death right now, the tiny christian church in Florida that was, until today, planning to hold a book burning on 9/11, that book, of course, being the holy text of another religion, the Qur'an. Today, the pastor of that church announced that the book-burning had been canceled because of "having been given assurances" that the proposed site for the 'ground-zero mosque' in Manhattan was to be moved by it's sponsors. Of course, the mosque's backers deny that this is the case, but that's immaterial to the book-burning discussion.

I think most rational people were taking the position that this proposed book-burning is disrespectful and foolish, but should still be allowed under the aegis of 'free speech', like Nazi marches and other such hateful things. At worst this was as a pissing contest between two equally baseless and hateful ideologies, worth noting for the object lesson of its results, but little more than that. I know that was certainly the position I was taking, up until the past few days.

However, as the media frenzy has continued, I've heard a lot of voices that have made me reconsider my position. Interpol popped it's rarely seen head in to tell us that "There is a strong likelihood that violent attacks on innocent people would follow." The US forces' General Petraeus chimed in that the burning would "incite violence" against his troops. ABC News reported two days of Afghani protests replete with the usual effigy burnings, etc. Even the president and attorney general made statements that while they wouldn't act to stop the burnings, that they were "stupid and dangerous". References abound to the worldwide riots after the Danish 'anti-Mohammed' cartoons were published.

It seems to me that maybe there's a bigger question here than protected speech and responsible communications between religious groups. It almost seems as though radical islam has been accorded a special status, *specifically because* they are so willing to commit acts of violence over stupid, trivial issues. Doesn't that mean they are winning?

I'm not normally a fight-picker, but isn't self-censorship to avoid violent reprisals a major *goal* of terrorism? I can't believe I might be beginning to side with a petty, small-minded religious bigot like Terry Jones, but when he says, "Sooner or later we're going to have to say no to radical Islam," maybe we should listen! Though the idea of burning *any* kind of book revolts me at the deepest level, maybe it would be better to flood the islamic world with these petty little "affronts", day after day, year after year, until they just give up on trying to be offended by them. Maybe that's the only way their culture can come to terms with the need to coexist with other philosophies of life.

I'm feeling some cognitive dissonance over this one. On the one hand, hateful speech would seem to always be a bad idea, but on the other, perhaps this is the rare case where we actually need *less* accommodation to make the world a better place. Maybe *every* day should be 'Draw Mohammed Day'...

[ADDENDUM: 2010.09.17]
Strangely, given my passing reference to 'Draw Mohammed Day', today's news brings us the story that the cartoonist originally responsible for the idea behind the humorously intended event has been placed into witness protection, with her identity completely erased and a new one adopted, to avoid attempts on her life. This is madness! I was just thinking out loud before, but this convinces me that all of western civilization really is being beaten by a tiny group of religious crazies. How long are we going to let this go on?

About the Author

Despite a decade of Catholic school, I have never been a believer. I guess I was just born without the gene! Nevertheless, I've always tried to explore others' ideas and practices, on the theory that just because you can't use one part of a product, it doesn't mean you have to throw the whole thing away.
I spent over a decade traveling the world, and I've lived in both Europe and the US. I've read the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Koran. I've studied engineering, yoga, martial arts, shooting sports, and ballroom dancing. What I've discovered is that a) spirituality is just a spooky sounding word for any of a number of methods for learning about yourself and your mind, and b) whatever word you use, doing so is the single most important thing in learning to be happy.
My blog, The Passionate Rationalist (http://www.societyofreason.com/devoutrationalist) is dedicated to my thoughts both on gaining self-knowledge and using your mind to eliminate misunderstanding and delusion.