“If you want to be technical, I guess we broke our word. We thought twice about it.”
—-Rev. Terry Jones, agreeing with criticism that he had promised last September not to burn the Quran, but did so anyway last month when he felt that his anti-Islam campaign was not getting enough headlines.
If you want to be technical, Rev. Jones is probably the biggest asshole in the United States right now. I know, I know—civility. But there are rare situations in which only our crudest, most insulting words can fairly describe individuals and acts. Rev. Jones richly deserves the asshole label, indeed the U.S. Champion, Gold Plated, #1 Asshole label, because nothing else adequately describes his reckless, self-promoting, hateful, irresponsible, deadly, virtually treasonous conduct—all completely legal, of course.
What do you call someone who pours gasoline on a brush fire to get attention? Jerk is too mild. What do you call someone who intentionally makes a difficult problem of international perception even more difficult—intentionally? Fool is too kind. Unethical, my staple, is too abstract. There just is no civil term for someone like Jones.
He is an asshole. There are others running loose right now—Julian Assange, Michael Moore, Charlie Sheen—but none come close to Jones.
Immediately after he burned the Islamic holy book on March 20, an enraged mob in Afghanistan attacked a U.N. compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing seven U.N. employees. Jones was pleased—he finally got the publicity for his tiny 30-person Christian congregation at the Dove World Outreach Center that he had failed to receive when he announced that he was putting the Quran “on trial.” Kangaroo courts presided over by wacko pastors don’t make news, but deadly riots do. There are still riots in Afghanistan over his “broken word.” People are dead, many are hurt. His actions are endangering the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Jones’ defense:
“Is it a provocation that should lead to death? When lawyers provoke me, when banks provoke me, when reporters provoke me, I can’t kill them. That would not fly.”
Asshole. He knew with 100% certainty that his actions would provoke violence. He can’t create the provocation and duck accountability by saying, “they really shouldn’t react that way.” They do react that way, he knows it, and his conduct cannot be excused because it “shouldn’t” have happened, because he wanted it to happen. His Quran burning was streamed live on the Internet. To make certain he enraged Muslims overseas, Jones included Arabic subtitles to the Web video.
20-year-old Afghanistan protester Jalil Ahmad offered his own assessment of Jones. “He is not a human being, he is a brain-dead animal.” Not bad…still not quite right.
Terry Jones—I’m sick of calling him “pastor” or “reverend”, as he disgraces both of those titles—is not an elected official, he is not an expert on Islam or the Middle East, and he has no business meddling in delicate international relations and putting both Americans and the citizens of foreign lands at risk. He is the epitome of a U.S. citizen who abuses the First Amendment for selfish ends, aided by the internet, which makes Free Speech in the hands of an asshole the equivalent of an AK-47 in the hands of a 9-year-old.
I detest restrictions on our rights to free speech. I think they are dangerous. One of the many ways First Amendment-wielding assholes like Jones harm the nation is by making the idea of restricting Free Speech look attractive to intelligent people, creating a real peril for our most precious ideal. The ability of the internet to make irresponsible speech deadly, however, may require some kind of restrictions to stop future Joneses from sparking a world war. No one who ever falsely shouted “Fire!” (or “Charlie Sheen!”) in a crowded theater caused a fraction of the harm Jones’ stunt has caused.
It may be that in this technologically-linked, culturally-explosive world the United States can no longer tolerate the worst of our assholes. Mere jerks and fools can be endured, and we once were able to let our assholes frolic as well. Terry Jones, the worst asshole within memory, may have spoiled it for the rest.