The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, May 26, 2005


I have not been able to get myself exercised about the Newsweek/Koran flap. Let's review the bidding:

1) Any U.S. resident can buy a Koran at a bookstore, and desecrate it to his heart's content, and this is perfectly legal protected speech in the U.S. I am too lazy to do this myself, but it has occurred to others. In light of this fact, I am at a loss to see how the U.S. government can respond to calls for punishment, or even give an honest apology. Expression is protected; objects like books are not. It is better that Muslims should find this out sooner rather than later.

2) In the riots, it appears that a mosque was burned. I cannot say for certain whether any copies of the Koran were destroyed in the process; but it puts the veneration of the book in a different perspective.

3) Even the Newsweek-bashing seems overwrought. Without the benefit of hindsight, I think most people would have agreed that they tossed in a not-very-important aside, which received little authentication because it was not a crucial part of their story. They could be faulted for not anticipating Islamic hypersensitivity; but would we really prefer a Newsweek written with those sensibilities?

Some Moslems can abide the idea of a society where Koran desecration is simply not a punishable offense; some, apparently, cannot. As I noted in my previous post, our lack of language to distinguish these two cases is a major weakness in the ongoing war. We will not obtain victory until our enemies are dead or their will to resist is destroyed; so we had better find a way of identifying our enemies more precisely.