Hooray For Canada!

Ya gotta love it! The border guards between Canada and Michigan refused admission into Canada of pastor Terry Jones and his fellow passengers. The story begins with a couple of tasty paragraphs:

Stephanie Sapp said fellow pastor and her husband Wayne Sapp, along with Jones, were turned back at the Michigan-Ontario border after being detained for several hours. Jones, who leads Florida’s tiny Dove World Outreach Center, and Wayne Sapp, were scheduled to attend Freedom Showdown, an inter-faith debate Thursday evening outside the Ontario Legislature.

Stephanie Sapp said Jones was denied entry because of a fine he got in Germany almost 20 years ago for using the title “doctor” there (he had received an honorary doctorate in theology from a Californian university in 1993). Also, both men had been charged with breaching the peace at a planned rally in Detroit last year.

I’ll overlook the fascinating question of why the man wanted to be addressed as “doctor” after holding an honorary doctoral degree from “a California university.” (But I do wonder what on earth they were thinking??) The Germans had it right: they should have fined him for impersonating a respectable person. And I would defend anyone’s right to “breach the peace” in the name of conscience. But bear in mind that this is the man of God who ordered the burning of the Quran not long ago precipitating a riot in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. He is apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But I love to think the Canadians have it right to refuse admission of this man into their country. I’m all for freedom of speech (which he claims he is being denied), but there are certain people who simply shouldn’t be allowed to open their mouths in public. Defending a person’s right to spread hatred is pushing the first amendment to its limits. Hate speech is designed to drive people apart and start riots; that sort of thing coming from a professed man of the cloth is doubly reprehensible. However, we cannot pick and choose what a person is allowed to say, though (speaking for myself) there are times when I would like to!!

In this regard, one can sympathize with those in the Middle East who wondered why this country doesn’t refuse to allow films such as “The Innocence of Muslims” that promote racial hatred and which has recently led al-Qaida to declare a “holy war” against the United States and Israel. One can understand, if not sympathize with, those who were outraged at the insults heaped on the founder of Islam. Our notion that free speech is a basic human right is not one that is shared by every other culture. But our defense of free speech is vital to what this country means and we were right to allow the film to be shown in spite of the fact that it stirred up hatred and violence in the Middle East.

We must protect any person’s right to say anything as long as it doesn’t directly result in harm to another person. Determining just what this might be before the person speaks or writes is a problem. One must try to determine the person’s intent, which is not always clear. And the intention of the film-maker in this case was to increase sympathy for the Christians living in Egypt, not to spread hatred — or so he says. Whenever speech is prohibited there is always the danger of censorship which, like any form of repression, is anathema to a free country. Thus, while I may applaud the Canadians for doing what I would love to do myself — namely, refuse to allow Terry Jones entry into the United States — I must admit that he has a right to his opinions no matter how hateful and stupid they might be. It’s the price we pay I suppose.

Revenge is Bitter

There is more news from Kabul these days following the bizarre shooting of sixteen civilians by an American soldier recently. The story begins: KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan lawmakers expressed anger Thursday over the U.S. move to fly an American soldier accused of killing 16 civilians out of the country to Kuwait, saying Kabul shouldn’t sign a strategic partnership agreement with Washington unless the suspect faces justice in Afghanistan.

And more recently  we read: “In a near-simultaneous announcement, the Afghan Taliban said it was suspending nascent peace talks with the United States seen as a strong chance to end the country’s decade-long conflict . .  .”  This was predictable. But leaving aside for another time the tempting conspiracy theory that this soldier went “berserk” in order to purposely scuttle the talks with the Taliban, let’s turn our attention to the first story as it raises more pressing issues.

In one sense, the removal of the soldier from Kabul makes perfect sense in light of the fact that the Army wants to deal with its own. It always has and probably always will. But again given the unrest in the region and the attempts by this country to smooth over ruffled feathers following not only this incident, but also the recent burning of the Quran by American troops, the move to fly the soldier home seems unwise. In the Quran incident 30 people were killed and Afghan troops killed 6 American soldiers, an incident that was followed by anti-American demonstrations in the streets. These events, coupled with the fact that the U.S. would love to leave Afghanistan in relative tranquility (!), make clear the diplomatic dilemma.

If the shooting had happened in this country, I dare say there would be a huge outcry about the “criminal” being moved elsewhere. We would want to satisfy our blood lust. The families of those slain in Kabul feel the same way. Now whether or not we approve of revenge and blood-lust, it is a fact of life. We all share that urge. Law is simply a civilized way of channeling that urge. But it doesn’t satisfy on the visceral level. So we can understand the outrage the families are expressing in Afghanistan, even if we cannot condone it.

The Army has not ruled out the possibility that the soldier will be tried in Afghanistan, but one suspects this is merely rhetoric to sooth the outrage that is being expressed. What will be interesting is the question of whether he will be given justice in Kuwait or whether there will be an outpouring of sympathy in this country for the soldier who is mentally unstable and was at risk in a country brimming with hostility. Again, it’s a question of understanding, not condoning. By no moral standards can we condone what this man did. But we can understand why he might have done it under the circumstances, and we can certainly understand the outrage from those who want the man tried in the country where he committed the crime.

But the end result of this latest “episode” in Afghanistan simply proves that McGovern was right all along and that Obama should never have gotten himself more deeply involved in a country where chaos reigns. When will we ever learn?