Since I guess we’re having a national conversation about Koran-burning, some thoughts. I think obviously the idea that governments should not prohibit private expressive behavior is important. By the same token, that doesn’t mean everyone should run around acting like a jerk all the time. You have a first amendment right to say and do lots of things, but that’s no reason to actually do it. There’s also a difference, I think, between non-Muslims living in predominantly non-Muslim societies hurling critiques of Islam across the cultural divide and something like Piss Christ or The Satanic Versus that may upset observant people but also reflect a more substantive form of engagement with the theme in question.
Now all that said, it’s kind of nuts, isn’t it, that we have the general in charge of an ongoing war commenting on some guy in Florida being a jerk. Even nuttier is that he might well be right that this episode will endanger the lives of Americans soldiers. But that really raises deeper issues about Afghan society and the wisdom and nature of America’s engagement with it. The essence of a digital, globalized world with billions of inhabitants is that there’s always going to be some jerk somewhere doing something ridiculous. “Guy in Florida deliberately trying to antagonize Muslims” can’t become a global news story every time it happens.