Jonah Goldberg

"Since American liberals don't have the guts to say it, allow me: The Rev. Terry Jones hasn't done anything wrong. Nothing."

So writes my friend and conservative radio host Michael Graham in the Boston Herald. And on this, I think Michael's nuts.

Graham is referring to Jones, the pastor of a tiny fringe church in Florida, who held a Monty Pythonesque "trial" for the Koran and, to the surprise of no one, found the book guilty and then set it on fire. While the stunt got blessedly little attention in the United States, foreign media picked it up, and some radical clerics overseas used the incident to foment murderous pogroms against Westerners.

Various politicians, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), responded by demanding that Jones be held "accountable." "Free speech is a great idea," Graham insisted, "but we're in a war." He went on to claim: "During World War II, you had limits on what you could do if it inspired the enemy."


Sure, wartime censorship is an American pastime. During World War I, under President Woodrow Wilson, we not only shuttered newspapers, we unleashed goon squads on dissidents and imprisoned critics of the war. During World War II, FDR was somewhat less heavy-handed. Still, the people being censored weren't those demonizing the "Kaiser's Huns" or the Nazis or the Japanese. It's never been a crime to say bad things about the enemy.

Even if the senator's arguments are a hot mess, he has a point. We're in a different kind of war fought in an age in which news travels the world, uncensored and often distorted, with the speed of a mouse click. And in that context, there's simply no way to spin Jones' idiotic stunt as anything other than morally ugly and tactically unhelpful.

If, as we are so often told, the Muslim world is enduring a civil war between the crazies and the moderates, what good comes from Koran-burning? It offends "good" and "bad" Muslims alike. Moderate Muslims who seek to yank their societies out of the Dark Ages surely winced at Jones' stunt, and jihadists undoubtedly celebrated their propaganda windfall.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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