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Lindsey Graham shows us exactly how not to respond to barbarity

Posted by Jesse Singal  April 4, 2011 03:54 PM

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It's hard to overstate the horror of what happened in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, where locals, whipped into a frenzy by mullahs over Florida pastor Terry Jones' burning of a Koran last month, overran a United Nations mission, killing around 13 employees there (different sources appear to be reporting different numbers). But it' s also hard to comprehend Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) call to revisit free speech rights in the wake of the attack.

Jones has blood on his hands for his hateful stunt. He and his entourage knew exactly what would happen, and indeed that was probably part of their plan — by inciting Muslims to kill, they could then paint all Muslims as killers.

But Jones is just one lunatic, and the angry crowd, as unforgivably as its members acted, is just one angry crowd. The discussion over free speech, on the other hand, is a larger, perennial issue, and that's why Graham's severely bungled response is so discouraging:

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Congress might need to explore the need to limit some forms of freedom of speech, in light of Tennessee pastor Terry Jones’ Quran burning, and how such actions result in enabling U.S. enemies.

"I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war," Graham told CBS' Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” Sunday

Graham seems to think that burning a Koran constitutes such a uniquely dangerous act that we should consider banning it — similar to the classic "shouting fire in a crowded theater" conception of dangerous speech (which a later Supreme Court decision actually modified somewhat).

The obvious problem with this is that any criticism of Islam could conceivably lead to the same sort of violence. Burning a Koran is a uniquely offensive act, but what of the countless American pundits who time and again go on TV to bash Islam? They're offensive as well, and in the aggregate are probably responsible for some of the violence that has been visited by radical Muslims upon Westerners in recent years.

As soon as you go down this road, you'll find out that a huge range of statements on religion could very easily lead to violence. But the right to challenge deeply held beliefs — including religious beliefs — is what makes free speech so vital. What Jones did may be inexcusable, but that doesn't mean it should be illegal.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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