Terry Jones Meet Oliver Wendall Holmes: Why Terry Jones Needs to Suffer Discipline (if not from the Government then from the Church)


What happened in Libya yesterday was a tragedy. There is no excuse for the murder of innocent lives, especially the innocent lives of someone who had previously saved the lives of his killer. The US Ambassador to Libya played a dramatic role in bringing the might of the UN Peacekeeping Force to bear in protecting the fledgling Libyan Resistance.  His actions decided the fate of Quadaffi and brought a measure of freedom to the people of Libya. The sad thing is that his life did not have to end this way. 

Here is a story that will make cry. Safe in the confines of his “Stand Your Ground” protected Florida Church, a pastor hosts an anti-Islamic rally, and posts a video to youtube which makes a joke of the prophet of Islam. Radical dissidents in a foreign country use said video and the allegation that this video and rally stand for the majority of Americans to launch a anti-U.S. rally.

Let us stop here for a moment. Imagine you are a citizen in one of the poorest and most repressed countries on the planet. You have no food, no future, no hope, and you have been forced to watch loved ones die needless deaths. Now the rulers of your country could have made things better for you, but then they would have to give up some of the bushels of wealth they have accumulated. But they are scared because they fear that one day the many people whom they have stolen from, and keep in degradations untold will realize what is happening and revolt. What they do is the same thing that authoritarians have also done, create a scapegoat. Just like Hitler appeased the German populace with stories of Jewish malfeasance, these men rage about the horrors of a country named America. Did your sister die from cancer, America did it. Did your child die from starvation, it’s the fault of the USA. They hate you, They hate your religion. See look at this 12 minute video that has garnered millions of views in the US. And now that they have you brimming with hate for the US (a far easier thing to believe- that someone unknown foreigner is to blame for your troubles, instead of the kindly grandfather figure you know), they hand you a protest sign and dump you at the US Consulate. 

So here we have a protest rally in front of the Consulate. Because protests in this country have turned nasty several times recently, the Consulate security is nervous (wonder why, see above, there is a lot of hate that needs to be released by this thing for it to work like the authoritarian regime desires). Shoots are fired when protesters get too close. People are hurt. The rage breaks. A full-on riot breaks out. Security breaks and runs. There is a fire and American bodies and the world watches in horror. 

Now to this point our story is simply a parable on the danger of unintended consequences. The protest did not mean to create a counter-protest. The protesters did not mean to cause a shooting incident. The shooters did not mean to start an uncontrollable riot. No one meant for 4 Americans to die. The Law of Causes and Effect. The Butterfly Effect.  Regardless of the name you use, what you have here is a case of actions creating consequences that no one meant to actually cause. What we have is a tragedy. 

But as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now the rest of the story.” Listening to an NPR broadcast of All Things Considered, you might have heard a clip of Jones discussing his rally and the aftermath. He said something along the lines of this: ‘I am always happy to show the world the true face of Islam.’ Parse that comment, I know I wished I could have played it back. Jones created his rally with the purpose of inciting a riot in the Middle East. He wanted the stupid Middle Eastern Muslim community to get mad. He knew that they would riot and things would look bad. He knew something would happen, and he did it anyway, in fact he was counting on it. He wanted a riot. 

In the U.S, Bill of Rights we protect the right of anyone to say anything. We call it free speech. As an American you can mock another religion or people group. You can hold rallies. You can post all the videos to Youtube you want. The Klan and other hate groups have been doing it for years, and we, even those of us who hate the Klan and all it stands for, say “have at it, march, protest, burn crosses, do it all, that is your right.” Yet this type of speech though protected has limits. According to U.S. jurisprudence your right to free speech exists up to the point it presents a viable threat to another human being, their good name, or their property. This often referred to as the “Yell Fire” clause after the statement of US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes in his Schenck v. United States  decision. Here he stated that a defendant does not have the right to falsely yell fire in a crowded theater. Such a statement is designed to create a panic and cause damage both to the facilities and people inside it. The later Brandenburg added the proviso that any such threat must be imminent and forseeable. That is if the speech simply has unintended consequences, it passes. 

Please forgive the history lesson, but look back at the statement above. Jones knew he was yelling fire in a crowded theater. He knew yelling would cause a panic. He knew something would go down, and he did it anyway. He did it because of that knowledge. Jones did not fire the gun. Jones did not torch the compound. Jones did not kill the ambassador. And to be honest we are still a little foggy as to how much of the protest was due to Jones, and how much to the repeated airings of the video on Eygptian news (along with the falsely asserted statement that this video represented the totality of American popular opinion).

Here there is plenty of blame to go around, but none of this does not mean that Jones is not a threat to world peace, and not a threat to innocent Americans abroad. But answer me this would you want a loved one out of country the day after a Jones rally? Because I have friends in Egypt, and Israel, and Libya, and Afganistan; and whenever Jones makes the news I fear for their safety. I fear that one day the unintended consequences of Jones foolhardy display of what he takes as manliness will cause my phone to ring or facebook to light up with news of the passing of a friend. 

Beyond that I wish that Jones could take his show on the road. I mean if he really wants to show us what Muslims are like, why doesn’t he perform his rallies in the heart of Cairo or Benghazi instead of safe inside some fortified compound in Florida with a steady supply of guns on hand and favorable SYG legislation to save his bacon in court? Guess he doesn’t want to be a martyr, just make them (which if you ask me ranks him right up there with the guys who hand teenagers bombs and send them into public places). 

But guess what Free Speech works both ways. We can stand up to this kind of hate speech. We can stop funding his church. We can stop listening to and watching his antics. We can yell at the top of our lungs that this guy does not represent us. We can put down our guns, and show love to the Muslims around us. We can commit to letting the violence and hate stop with us. Otherwise we might learn that Gandhi was right all along, “An eye for an eye, and the whole world will become blind.” 

Say no to hate. Say no to Jones. Say yes to Christ. Show that yes to the nearest Muslim community. 

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