Is Terry Jones a mass murderer?
Probably not, under American law. But does he bear moral responsibility for the deaths today of at least a dozen people in Afghanistan, after mobs enraged by his March 20 burning of the Koran stormed a United Nations building and killed men and women inside?
That’s an entirely different question.
Jones is the wretched “pastor” who tried to hold an “International Burn a Koran Day” at the height of the Ground Zero controversy in New York last summer. He was finally persuaded not to do so after high officials including Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, personally asked him not to, citing the firestorm he predicted would erupt.
Even though Jones didn’t follow through that time, there were furious demonstrations then across Afghanistan, and at least five people died.
Twelve days ago, Jones and his tiny congregation at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., held a little-noticed mock trial and “execution” of the Koran. An assistant to Jones confirmed to reporters today that the group had burned a Koran and released a statement offering no regrets. Jones called the attack “very tragic” and said “the time has come to hold Islam accountable,” The New York Times reported.
Reports said that thousands of Afghans, emerging from Friday prayers in Mazar-i-Sharif, marched to the United Nations complex, where they overwhelmed guards and stormed through the compound. Early reports were confused, but it appears at least seven foreign workers were killed, including a woman. Their nationalities were not immediately known. There were also reports from local hospitals that five Afghans died.
The Times also reported that a prominent Afghan cleric who heads the Ulema Council, an important religious body where the Koran burning was recently discussed, called on American authorities to try Jones as a war criminal. He said that if that did not happen, violence and protests were likely to continue.
President Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the brutal mob attack. And, ultimately, responsibility for this atrocity obviously rests mainly with the murderers who committed it and those who encouraged them to act in response to Jones' provocation. But as barbaric as the crowds were, it’s hard to avoid assigning a great deal of the blame to Jones, even though his despicable actions are protected under the First Amendment.
And he’s not the only one. In the aftermath of Petraeus’ remarks last year, as the ThinkProgress blog pointed out today, many well-known Islamophobes criticized the general. Robert Spencer called his comments a “recipe for surrender,” while his partner in the Stop Islamization of America hate group, Pam Geller, wrote, “If we stop doing things they dislike, where will we draw the line?”
Hopefully, with people like Gainesville’s Terry Jones.