In Burkas in No Time

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We are now seeing another round of international silliness, in which we can clearly see (if we are looking straight at it) just how social justification works. A Florida pastor with a whopping two dozen parishioners recently burned a Koran, which set off a round of riots in Afghanistan. These riots ended with with some U.N. workers getting murdered, and senators calling for an investigation of Koran-burning. Lindsey Graham says, “Freedom of speech is a great idea, but we are in a war.” It is great to have such a thundering defense of our freedoms from the Republicans.

When this sort of thing happens, social justification means you start pushing in terms of it. And when you do, you push in one of two directions. You either push in the direction you want to go, or you push whomever you believe to be pushable, with the hope of refining the questions about steerage later.

For example, nobody says about the rioters in Afghanistan that they should chill, because we have lots of unstable pastors over here, and if they don’t stop beheading people over there, we might have some more Koran burnings over here. No, that’s not the direction we push.


When the Danish cartoon fiasco broke, there were plenty of liberals who wouldn’t stand with the cartoonists (i.e. wouldn’t publish the cartoons), but the transparent motive in this back-away move was fear. Nobody called the cartoonists goons, or dopes, or any of the other things that we might with impunity call the Florida pastor. No, the cartoonists were noble and courageous, and perhaps a bit too zealous for freedom. This distinction was made because editorial cartoonists still have a significant amount of social justification, albeit still behind rampaging Muslims looking for a random innocent bystander to behead. For those keeping score, Pentecostal pastors in Florida who burn Korans have no capital in the social justification bank.

But tell me, all ye who pontificate within the Beltway, why is drawing Mohammad as a bombhead an act of noble free speech courage, while burning a Koran is the work of an irresponsible bigot? Is it because one happened on an editorial page, which is your church, and the other happened in an actual church, which isn’t?

And this is why Graham’s statement is so ridiculous. If we really were in a war, we wouldn’t be handling airport security the way we do — we would actively and openly profile the passengers. If we were in a war, as in the Second Big One, we wouldn’t have made the troops in Europe speak respectfully of Mein Kampf, or wear swastika arm bands, to keep from offending the locals. If we were at war with Hitler again, and some twerp with personal problems in west Texas burned Hitler in effigy, nothing bad would have happened to him because nobody would ever have heard of it.

We are not at war with radical Islam. We are at war with American liberties in the name of fighting radical Islam. This is not said, as some on the libertarian right might do, because I believe radical Islam is not a real threat. It is a real threat, and ought to be fought. But it has to be said that the general gang of Republicans in support of the “war on terror” are about as serious in that endeavor as they have been in their efforts to reduce the deficit. And if Republicans fight radical Islam the same way they have fought overspending, we should have all our wives in burkas in no time.

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