prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Book Burning, the 1st Amendment, and Global Media

Posted by prof e on September 8, 2010

In case you haven’t heard, a pastor of a small church in Florida is planning to burn copies of the Qur’an on Saturday, the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The thing that makes this isolated incident the focus of our attention is that media attention is turning this into a global news story that will be seen by millions of Muslims around the world. And what they see will likely inflame passionate anger directed at the US. The Qur’an is a book, and books are a form of media. So in one sense this is a media story about media coverage of an act that involves the desecration of a media artifact.

Burning patriotic or religious symbols is nothing new. Flags and effigies of heads-of-state are commonly burned to send strong messages of disapproval to the “other side.” In America, the 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech specifically protects these kinds of political acts and we have a long history of protecting speech that is highly offensive. And while no one is debating the “right” of this pastor and his congregants to burn the Qur’an, many are critical of his decision to do something that will be seen as an extremely offensive act to millions of Muslims around the world. Much like the discussion of the mosque proposed for construction near Ground Zero, the right to proceed is not  in question, but the appropriateness of the act certainly is. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and General Petraeus have publicly condemned the proposed burning and have asked the pastor to reconsider. General Petraeus went to far as to say that the burning will endanger the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Book burning has a long and sordid history of its own…but to fully understand the gravity of this situation one needs to understand the esteem that Muslims have for  their sacred scripture. In 2005 a firestorm of controversy erupted in Muslim countries when it was reported that a copy of the Qur’an was flushed down a toilet in the process of interrogating an enemy combatant at Gitmo. While the Pentagon has been unable to find credible evidence that the desecration took place, the response was rioting that led to many deaths. If the book burning takes place this Saturday, the response may make the 2005 riots look like child’s play.

Of course, without media coverage this isolated incident would happen in a vacuum. Just like a tree falling in an empty forest, the silence would be deafening. But that is not the case in a world of 24/7 news coverage with instantaneous global reach. Secretary of State Clinton asked the media to deny coverage as an act of patriotism, but she knows that won’t happen. The Associated Press quoted Secretary Clinton as saying,

“It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Fla., with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world’s attention, but that’s the world we live in right now,” Clinton said. “It is unfortunate, it is not who we are.”

So what do you think? Is this a case where the 1st Amendment goes too far, protecting speech that does not deserve protection? Or is this the very essence of the kind of political protest that the Founding Fathers so passionately intended to protect?

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12 Responses to “Book Burning, the 1st Amendment, and Global Media”

  1. AJ Dome said

    Free speech protects ALL speech, and in because of this–in this case especially–the jerks of the world get their 15 minutes of fame. I don’t like it, and no one should.

    Also: where is the pastor in Florida going to get all of the Qur’ans to burn? He’ll have to buy them probably, right? So isn’t he going to contribute financially to the very religion he is offending?

  2. Gabby A said

    Sure, in my opinion, I think BOTH the Mosque idea, AND the book burning should have been met with immediate intervention from the President. But stopping one and not the other would be worse than allowing them both to happen. And since the President already responded to the Mosque at Ground Zero proposal by defending the Muslims’ religious freedoms to build whatever they want, wherever they want, it would be unfair for him to suggest that this Pastor isn’t within similar rights to burn whatever books he wants, whenever he wants.

    In both cases, I agree with the statement: “the right to proceed is not in question, but the appropriateness of the act certainly is.” It’s up to the President to decide which is more important: Standing up for individual Constitutional freedoms that will allow small groups of people to create havoc across the world, OR denying specific individuals their Constitutional rights, in order to maintain the necessary Peace. Personally, I’d go with the latter. But the President has already taken steps in the opposite direction…and will probably continue to do so.

  3. I think this idea shows a lot of ignorance,especially since it’s a church. I don’t think America would like it if a group of people burned a bunch of Bibles;It just shows a lot of disrespect in an unnecessary situation.

  4. Amy Delaney said

    This is an example of intolerance not just in America, but around the world; the media has exposed the issue, and the more the issue of sacred book-burning is publisized, the more problems there are going to be globaly. There are many countries where Islam is the dominant faith of its citizens; just one person in America can’t choose to throw religious diplomacy off balance, because such an action would be not only selfish, but detrimental to the cooperation of America with these countries in the future.

  5. Paul B said

    I don’t like how the Muslim people are being stereotype as if all of them are radicals that hate America. The problem with America is we are always judging people. Building the Mosque next to where the twin towers fell is not the greatest idea, but burning a bunch of Qur’ans just to show how much you are against someones religion and what they stand for?….wrong.

  6. Marcus Dabney said

    The whole muslim religion didn’t plan a attack on the twin towers it was only a handful of them so what gives us the right to destroy somthing the whole muslim population treasures and values greatly. I think it is a horrible idea to offend a great number of people, and I also think that if the press or media would have ignored the situation it wouldnt have caused major problems.

  7. Matt Albright said

    This one is a hard one for me. I have always stood by Freedom of Speach. I feel it is one of the most important freedoms we have as Americans. We all should if we have picked this as our path of study. On the other hand, both of my brothers fought in the war, and my oldest is about to return. So this story hits close to home. Im not a fan of book burning, but it is a protected right. Like the blog said, this preacher would be a nonissue if the coverage wasn’t so heavy. As we all know by now, the preacher decided not to burn the Qur’ans, yet protests and riots are still presist.

    Free speech aside, it is illegal to insite a riot. This could be seen as insite, although off of U.S. soil. It really turns into fame over safety of others. The preacher knew he would be putting lives in danger. Some have said in his defense, they burn U.S. flags, books and Bibles all the time. Ture. He has the right to retaliate, but is it right to retaliate? You have to decided that, its one of the best and worst things about being American.

    I feel that he wanted to make a seen, he did, inturn putting our troops in more danger then before. The quick 24hr media helped make this man. Even with out burning he has used his given rights to endanger others. He and all of us will now have to live with his choices. With freedom comes great responsibality. I wish more people would remember that.

  8. Daymeon Vaughn said

    It’s crazy to think that a person would want to burn the holy book of a community that already hates us, just because of what an Islamic country that attacked us years ago. The pastor of the church just shows the American attitude an eye for an eye motto and thats wrong. It shows that the first amendment can be pushed over the edge, a person should not be protected to say something that could harm or be harmful to the USA.

  9. Jishirll Clifton said

    Personally, I am so glad he didn’t burn the Qur’an. First of all it was an act of ignorance, what was the point of burning the Qur’an? I think that whole thing was for attention. It made the church community look horrible and two-faced. The Qur’an is what the muslim community believes in and if your agree with it or not you still should respect there beliefs. I know that I would be so upset if someone threatened to burn the Holy Bible.

  10. Kayla Fisher said

    No matter how anyone feels on the situation, the first amendment does it’s job and protects the pastor with an imbecile idea. As for the question as to whether or not this is a case when the protection of the first amendment went too far, I would say that is a definite yes! This guy just wanted his time in the spotlight or his “15 min of infamy” if u will. Well, once again, our media coverage gave him exactly what he wanted. I think the pastor should have just “Twittered” his thoughts of burning the Qur’an and been satisfied. That is all the coverage his story of ignorant behavior should have received. On a positive note, he didnt end up burning the Qu’ran, which was probably best for his benefit!

  11. Alex Miller said

    The first amendment protects the right of free speech. Immigrants and people of different ethnic groups in America should also have fair rights to this amendment. I think that the first amendment, or anyother for that matter, didn’t go too far. The amendment has to be upheld in order to prevent controveoursy within the nation. The pastor should have been able to freely express his emotions no matter the content.

  12. Danita Wyatt said

    I believe that everyone has a right to feel and say what they want. Everyone isn’t always going to like what we say or do all the time, thats just life, but i do think there is a line between saying/doing what you feel is right and saying and doing things just to get attention. I feel that when someone is causing a huge stir based off of an opinion it gets ridiculous. Especially in this instance. This pastor should already know that burning this holy book of muslim belief would cause a huge riot and or retaliation amongst the muslim people. I also feel that as a minister, he should be more about helping to keep peace instead of creating turmoil.

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