Column on Does the General Understand Freedom?

Does the General Understand Freedom?

Tibor R. Machan

Here is the relevant exchange:

News’] Martha Raddatz: Is this [the public and widely publicized
possible burning of the Koran] something that could have a long-lasting
effect on soldiers here?

Petraeus: We fear it could. This could provide indelible images, images
that in an Internet age will be non-biodegradable. They will always be
in cyberspace and available for extremists to use to incite and inflame
public opinion against our troopers and civilians.

job as a commander is to be concerned about the safety and security of
our troopers. I think it’s important to provide an assessment of an
incident that could jeopardize that safety, I think that’s very
important. I think I have a moral obligation in fact to speak out on an
issue like that….”

this reminds me of how, in contrast to the general’s words, many
sensible people reacted to the Danish cartoon episode:  They thought it
was perhaps unwise, unnecessarily provocative to publish them but once
published, the issue became whether the newspapers had the right to do
so.  They did and this right needs to be defended, even while its
particular exercise could be judged ill advised, even outright

not the same attitude about the prospect of burning the Koran? The fact
that certain people may respond to it by violently lashing out against
innocent individuals is lamentable.  When one deals with people with a
tribal mentality who lump everyone in a country or those of a certain
religion or nationality or ethnic background together, never considering
that these are different
individuals whose
deeds are their own, not those of the others in the group, one must
realize that such reactions are possible even if totally irrational.
 Yet not by any means excusable.  Muslims who join in are guilty of
violence against innocent people, even if some other people who look
like those innocent people have insulted them by burning the Koran.  

while it is an affront to burn what some billions of people regard as a
holy book (to those people), it is not an attack on them but on their
beliefs.  Well, get used to it.  

a pluralistic world millions of people constantly denounce millions of
other people, including by way of insulting the books they deem
important.  Millions of people have denounced the US Constitution and
Declaration of Independence, various examples of important literature,
and so forth.  Books by Karl Marx, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote
Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Ayn Rand and by thousands of others have gotten
condemned as well as praised. But, as that wise saying has it, “Sticks
and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  Indeed,
denouncing people is something acrimonious but peaceful, as is offending
them, and in a civilized world one is free to do what is peaceful
however offensive it may be.

unfortunately, has been overlooked, even implicitly denied, in many
regions of the world, including in the West where politically incorrect
language is often deemed to be legally actionable.  When the thought
someone has while committing a crime, a so called hate crime, is
punishable, then it is difficult to reject the thinking about offensive
albeit peaceful language and deeds in evidence among many, many Muslims.
 It is wrong, but so is the thinking that supports punishing more
severely a crime deemed to be motivated by hate than the crime without
that motivation or motivated by something else. Such is the result of
faulty thinking–one cannot cherry pick what inconsistencies one will
accept and which are those one will reject.  They must all go!    

Petraeus sadly got it wrong when he wants to shut down the Koran
burning on the grounds that some will react to it irrationally.  Sure,
the burning should not happen because it is a needlessly provocative
deed but no one should be forcibly stopped from uttering even the most
provocative, blasphemous words or carrying out even the most insulting
but peaceful deeds.  One has a right to be wrong in a free society and
public officials may have to cope with the results, including the
perpetration of irrational reactions from people who don’t get it, who
don’t understand what freedom entails.

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