Another thought regarding the Koran-burning thing.
Nobody’s disagreeing that Pastor Jones’s chosen form of protest was both metaphorically and literally incendiary. I imagine everyone shares the concerns that the Islamic extremists’ response would be violent, and would hurt people unnecessarily. As I’ve said before, these concerns are both reasonable and demonstrably correct.
One place where a difference of opinion comes in, though, is in whether Jones should be allowed to go through with it anyway. Is he acting within the boundaries of his own rights to free expression? Or do those rights not extend to a knowing incitement and provocation to violent acts?
I’ve seen more than one person comparing what Jones is doing to shouting fire in a crowded theatre, a classic free speech cliché intended to demonstrate that it’s sometimes necessary to place some restriction on people’s right to say any damn thing they want. A case can be made that, for instance, concerns for public safety overrule anyone’s first amendment rights to go raising a ruckus.
However, I don’t think this is a fair comparison.
The first distinction you might notice is that shouting fire would only be considered unworthy of protection under free speech laws if it is knowingly untrue. Of course you’d be justified in alerting people to an actual fire, and presumably if you had good reason to suspect that there was a danger then you’d be on safe ground too, even if it turned out to be a false alarm.
Burning a Koran, on the other hand, is not an explicitly declarative act. There’s no potentially untrue or defamatory statement being made.
But this might not matter, if the incitement is still predictable as a result of the act. There’s a more interesting point I haven’t seen being made yet though.
If you do raise some kind of alarm amidst a packed crowd in an enclosed space, you may cause people’s lives or health to be endangered as they charge towards the exits to get the hell out of there. You can reasonably expect that they’ll take your warning at face value, and might be harmed while responding reasonably to this.
However, the danger from Muslim extremists was not because Pastor Jones had provided them with a falsified threat, and they were reacting appropriately to a perceived danger. A violent reaction might be predictable, but you’d only cause violence and harm in response to someone else burning some books if you’re fucking crazy.
People should run for the exits if they’re stuck in an enclosed space and told that there’s a fire. If they’re sensible, they’ll be compelled to take action by a legitimate fear. But whatever reason the extremists might think they have for attacking the nearest standing structure in fury at someone’s disrespect, they are wrong.
In the case of the Koran-burning, then, people will only get hurt if other people behave like unreasonable shits.
Nobody’s entitled to shift the blame for their evil actions onto somebody else’s provocations, simply because they made threats or have a reputation for being dangerously irrational. Which is why I don’t buy Pastor Jones’s actions as an incitement to violence that should be censored.