The controversy surrounding the proposed and ill conceived burning of a Koran by a preacher named Terry Jones has devolved, to some degree, into an intellectual parlor game as to the rights of this preacher to do, untrammeled, what he pleases and the rights related to building an Islamic Cultural Center in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Lost in all of this intellectual exercise is the welfare of those Americans now serving in the armed forces overseas. Some would suggest that if Muslims have the right to build a religious and cultural institute in lower Manhattan, then Preacher Jones is justified in carrying out his burning of the Koran, as if the two were somehow conceptually equivalent as it relates to the potential fallout. Lost in all of this is the reality that while people have rights of freedom of speech and expression, those rights are in fact neither absolute nor boundless. Such rights are conditioned by an operative test as to what extent these actions fall within a society’s accepted norms and fundamental mores. Both individual and group actions are viewed within the bounds of what rational people would consider reasonable in a civilized society. That’s why we operate with common sense conditions on human action with the overall welfare of the population in mind, the prohibition of yelling fire in a crowded theater being an often cited example. The point is a very simple one, while as citizens we constitutionally have the freedom of speech and expression, those freedoms don’t extend to or accommodate license and reckless behavior. Thus viewed against the social, political and legal realities of American society, one could only classify the intended behavior of Preacher Jones as that which has now gone beyond the pale of protected behavior and into the realm of unmitigated recklessness. Behavior that can only increase the threat level for Americans both at home and abroad.
By itself, the preacher’s actions could be dismissed as the ranting and raving of just another maladjusted soul who seems prone to bizarre and anti-social behavior. But when that behavior puts the lives of Americans serving in the Middle East and Southwest Asia in jeopardy, then these actions are clearly at variance with the well being of both the nation’s military and it’s citizens. General David Petraeus has already raised the alarm that Preacher Jones’ actions will increase the risk of attacks on Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and protests of the planned burning have already materialized in the region. The General has drawn parallels with Abu Gharib and how the mistreatment of Muslim prisoners aided Al Qaida’s recruitment efforts thereby directly adding to the number insurgents we had to face in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Like Abu Gharib, the burning of a Koran by a Christian preacher will provide images that directly help Islamic radicals in their recruitment efforts, the General said. Jones’ intended act will undo much of the progress made in winning the hearts and minds of Afghanis and Iraqis as well as creating further disincentives for moderates in the region to align themselves with the American effort. The net affect of Preacher Jones’ act of freedom of expression, if carried out, will most likely be Americans losing their lives so that this glorified storefront preacher can garner his fifteen minutes of fame. That’s what’s really at issue here and all of the rest of this intellectual gymnastics is both now misplaced, misconstrued and totally misses the point that when freedom of speech or expression crosses over to the reckless, then it need be proscribed for the good of the overall public. While people can certainly continue to discuss the pros and cons of Preacher Jones’ actions, those who chose to do so are blind to the larger issue entwined within all of this and that is the safety of their fellow Americans. The time for the intellectual games has passed and the time for an advocacy of the rational and reasonable as it relates to this issue is now upon us .
Steven J. Gulitti