The trial was a sham. After four hours of deliberation, the defendant was found guilty of a laundry list of crimes, including "the promotion of terrorist acts, crimes against humanity, rape and torture of people of other faiths and the persecution of minorities and women." The punishment had already been decided. After the verdict was pronounced, the defendant was placed on a black metal tray in front of the judge's bench, doused in kerosene, and lit on fire in front of a crowd of approximately fifty onlookers.
The defendant was the Qu'ran, the holy book of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. The kangaroo court responsible for sentencing and summarily "executing" the Qu'ran was organized by Florida pastor and hate group leader Terry Jones, who served as the judge - complete with black robes - during the bizarre mock trial last month. Jones, whose group Dove Outreach International is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-gay, anti-Muslim agenda, garnered international media attention for planning another event to burn the Qu'ran on September 11th of last year, at the height of the controversy over the construction of the Park51 Mosque in Manhattan. After an international outcry, Jones was convinced at the eleventh hour to abandon that particular act of desecration, and subsequently vowed he would "never burn a Koran." However, after this month's bizarre pseudo-courtroom ritual, Jones reneged on his promise and followed through on his initial threats.
Jones' desecration of the Qu'ran followed a host of urgent and regrettably prescient warnings that his actions could incite violence abroad. Although Jones' hateful display attracted little domestic media attention at the time, images and videos of the burning Qu'ran have circulated through the web over the last two weeks, and now the repercussions have begun. This week in Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in northern Afghanistan, protesters enraged by word of Jones' display stormed a UN compound. In the violence that followed, at least eleven people lost their lives, including seven UN staffers and guards. Similar protests in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar claimed nine more lives and left scores injured.
In subsequent interviews, Jones attempted to absolve himself of responsibility for the attacks:
"We do not feel responsible," Jones told ABC's Nightline on Friday, speaking about his Gainesville church. "We feel more that the Muslims and radical Islam uses that as an excuse. If they didn't use us as an excuse, they would use a different excuse," Jones said.
Jones has indicated plans to hold another "day of judgment" in the future, this time likely placing the Prophet Muhammad on trial in another twisted display of monumental, megalomaniacal callousness.
Jones' actions, particularly coupled with his response to the tragic killings in Afghanistan, belie the fundamental lack of both understanding and compassion that define Jones' particularly hateful brand of religiosity. The violence Jones' display spawned in Afghanistan, while horrific, hardly "proves" Jones' hypotheses about the dangers of radical Islam, as Jones has since claimed. While the loss of life in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar is tragic, the fact is that, at most, a few hundred of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims were incited to violence by Jones' acts of direct provocation. The measured response and condemnation from the remainder of the world's Muslim population - especially from Muslims in the United States, whom Jones has characterized as practicing "a religion of intolerance, violence, and oppression” - blatantly contradicts Jones' violent vision of Islam.
Jones absolutely bears a moral responsibility for inciting the recent spate of violence in Afghanistan. Although news reports indicate that local Taliban agents, who have since claimed responsibility for the outbreak of violence, exaggerated the extent of Jones' activities by claiming he burned multiple copies of the Qu'ran, Jones intentionally added fuel to a cycle of violence with proven consequences. As the Danish cartoon controversy demonstrated some years ago - when offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad were published in Danish newspapers, which fueled riots resulting in the destruction of Danish embassies across the Middle East and deaths in Nigeria, Libya, and Afghanistan - incidents like Jones' Qu'ran burning can be used to stoke the fires of localized unrest a whole world away.
The distance between Florida and Afghanistan cannot mitigate the responsibility Jones bears for the violence he knew his willful disrespect of the Muslim faith might well incite. Jones' disgusting display in no way justifies the horrific response it has drawn in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar. But the tragic severity of the response was a possibility against which Jones was repeatedly warned, and in his decision to carry out his misguided, deplorable actions, Jones assumed responsibility for those actions' consequences.
Congratulations, Pastor Jones; your particularly disgusting brand of Islamophobia now has a body count.
UPDATE: President Obama has released a statement condemning both Terry Jones' actions and the subsequent violence in Afghanistan:
Today, the American people honor those who were lost in the attack on the United Nations in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. Once again, we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed, and to the people of the nations that they came from. The desecration of any holy text, including the Quran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity. No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act. Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the UN workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan.