The violent reaction to Terry Jones burning a copy of the Quran at the Florida pastor’s tiny church continued to spread Saturday, and with it questions about freedom of expression with murderous results.
Officials in Kandahar, Afghanistan, reported that nine people were killed and scores injured when a protest turned violent. This followed by one day the attack on a United Nations compound in Mazar-e Sharif in which five demonstrators and seven UN employees were killed.
Jones first became notoriously newsworthy last year when he threatened to burn a Quran on the anniversary of the 911 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Only when US Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, warned that the defamation of the Quran would likely cost the lives of US service men and women did Jones call off his "International Burn the Koran Day." Defense Secretary Robert Gates had called Jones as well.
The violent protests Friday and Saturday appear to have been encouraged if not instigated by those opposed to the American-led western presence in Afghanistan, including supporters of the Taliban. A high school for girls supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was among the targets.
For his part, Jones (who’s also written a book titled "Islam is of the Devil”) is unrepentant.
“Of course we were very saddened and devastated by that,” he told ABC News. “It is of course a terrible thing anytime anyone is killed.”
But, he went on, “I think it definitely does prove that there is a radical element of Islam.”
“I believe we need to take this evidence, we need to take this action and those people and those countries should be held accountable,” he said. “I believe the US needs to stand up. I believe the UN needs to stand up to countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Muslim-dominated countries. They have been persecuting, killing Christians for generations.”
On its web site, the Dove World Outreach Center describes Islam as “a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to masquerade itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society.”
Meanwhile, Jones plans to join an “anti-Sharia law” protest outside the Islamic Center of America on April 22 in Dearborn, Mich., which has a large population of Arab Americans. The protest has been organized by an obscure northern Michigan militia group called “Order of the Dragon.”
Religious leaders in the area are concerned about the impact of such an event.
The controversial Westboro Baptist Church also has burned the Quran. The Topeka, Kan., church is best known for its anti-gay protests, often held at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While such activities held by the Westboro Baptist Church and the Dove World Outreach Center may be highly offensive to most Americans – and may, in fact, incite others to violence – they are generally protected as free speech.
“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and – as it did here – inflict great pain,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion for a case brought by the father of a Marine killed in Iraq. “On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”