Murders Committed by People Upset by Alleged Anti-Islam Blasphemy — or by Violent Men Angered by Their Ex-Lovers

I haven’t had much to say about the murders committed by the Afghans angered by the Terry Jones Koran-burning. But as readers might imagine, I refuse to blame Terry Jones for the crimes, even in part. (I blame him for his largely pointless, non-substantive rudeness — as opposed to fair and substantive criticism of Islam, which would be perfectly proper — but that’s a different matter.)

I refuse to blame Salman Rushdie for the deaths, injuries, and property damage caused by people upset by his Satanic Verses (see here for some examples); I’m not sure how many of the deaths were of innocents as opposed to of the rioters, but I would likewise not blame him for deaths of innocents. Nor do I blame the Mohammed cartoonists for the deaths, injuries, and property damage caused by people upset by the cartoons. Nor do I blame the Indonesian man for the damage caused by church-burning rioters upset by his alleged blasphemy against Islam. Nor do I blame a woman who “provokes” her violent husband or boyfriend by leaving him — or even provokes him by saying insulting things about him, or for that matter by cheating on him — which then leads him to violently attack her family or friends or coworkers or anyone else. I think Terry Jones is in the same moral position as these people.

To be sure, all these people, including Jones, are factual causes of the deaths, injuries, and other damage. And they might even have foreseen that there would be a violent reaction to their actions. But that foreseeable risk of harm cannot constrain their liberty, either legally or morally. People are entitled to speak their mind. If their speech is unkind or irrational or similarly improper, it should be condemned on those grounds. But neither law nor morality can demand that they restrict what they do because of the murderousness of others. That’s as true of Jones as it is of Rushdie, the cartoonists, or the people who anger their violent ex-lovers.

Finally, some people are faulting Terry Jones on the grounds that his actions caused the death of others at supposedly no risk to himself. Actually, I suspect he is at quite substantial risk; he reports having gotten many death threats, and I find such a report credible. Salman Rushdie and cartoonist Kurt Westergaard are certainly seen by the authorities as being in serious danger, and I’m sure Jones is, too. Even without this, I think he would not be morally culpable for the murderers’ actions; but I thought I’d note this.