Opinion - Maggie Gallagher

I have a message for Pastor Terry Jones, who has promised to publicly burn a Quran on Sept. 11:

Just don't do it.

Rights are important. Constitutional rights to free expression are critical. But some things are more important than rights, and one of them is to do the right thing.

Burning a Quran on Sept. 11 is not a religious act, it is certainly not a Christian one. "Put away your sword," as the Master pointed out. "Those who use the sword will die by the sword."

Worse, in this case, they may cause innocents to die.

Pastor Jones attempts to cite Acts 19 as the "scriptural basis" for his Quran barbecue:

"Many of those who had become believers came forward and openly acknowledged their former practices. Moreover, a large number of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in public. They calculated their value and found it to be fifty thousand silver pieces."

But those early Christians were burning their own books, not someone else's sacred scriptures. Books were expensive luxury items in the days before the printing press. They could have made money selling these books, and instead they tossed them on the fire in a costly act of sacrifice as a proof of their own faith, not as an act of aggression against another's.

I could have more sympathy for Pastor Jones if he were running risks for a cause greater than personal self-expression. If he were stubbornly handing out Bibles in Kabul, even though Afghans rioted, for example, Pastor Jones' action might be foolish and unwise in worldly terms, but it would at least be morally admirable.

If he were a plain Mr. Terry Jones, a performance artist, a New York Times editor or even a professional atheist, I might have more sympathy. The guys who sling elephant dung over a Madonna or dunk a crucifix in urine to prove their commitment to their unfettered artistic freedom -- if any of those guys were doing this, I might still think it unwise, but at least they would be, for once, taking a real risk in pursuit of art instead of doing only what will win plaudits from all their friends, grant directors, museum curators, art reviewers and cocktail party hangers-on.

I could perhaps understand it if on Sept. 11 Pastor Jones were doing something that primarily endangered himself, but instead, from the safety of America, he is endangering the lives of others in far distant lands, not the least of which are American troops in Afghanistan, who may fight and die for his publicity stunt.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort," Gen. David Petraeus said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community." Already in Indonesia, thousands are protesting in front of the U.S. embassy and demanding the U.S. government intervene to stop it. That would be wrong, of course; it won't happen.

Pastor Jones is free to do what he knows will provoke murderous rage in less enlightened people and lands -- in order to accomplish what? To prove that he can? To provoke bad behavior he can denounce?

(Maggie Gallagher is the founder of the National Organization for Marriage and has been a syndicated columnist for 14 years.)

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