This morning I blogged on the overwhelming Christian repudiation of Quran burning involving everyone from the Vatican and the USCCB to the Patriarch of Jerusalem to Evangelical luminaries like Franklin Graham, Rick Warren and Chuck Colson. “Outrageous and grave,” “contrary to the respect due to all religions,” “contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ,” “insensitive,” and “foolish and cowardly” were among the many words that world Christian leaders addressed to would-be Quran burners.
Jacob Isom, a 23-year-old skateboarding enthusiast from Amarillo, Texas, had something more succinct to say: “Dude, you have no Quran!”
The facts seem to be these. Isom, a skateboarding enthusiast, came upon a confrontation between would-be Quran burners and counter-demonstrators in Amarillo’s Sam Houston Park. The would-be Quran burners represented a group with the unsurprisingly fringe-sounding name of Repent Amarillo, led by a David Grisham. Grisham’s group was considerably outnumbered by counter-demonstrators made up of “Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists,” who reportedly numbered around 200. (Apparently some counter-demonstrators were Unitarian Universalists; hopefully there were actual Christians there as well.)
Grisham had come to the park armed with kerosene or lighter fluid, a lighter and a copy of the Quran. The Quran, soaked in lighter fluid, lay on a grill. Some counter-protesters had put their hands on the grill next to the Quran to discourage Grisham from lighting the fire.
As Isom approached, Grisham was apparently distracted by an argument with counter-demonstrators about his plans to burn the Quran. Acting on the spur of the moment, Isom reportedly said, “Dude, you have no Quran,” then snatched up the book and ran off with it. Isom then gave the Quran to an imam from the Islamic Center of Amarillo, apparently present among the counter-protesters.
While Isom’s intervention may have been more symbolic than actual (Grisham says he had already surrendered his lighter since he wasn’t going to light the grill while counter-protesters had their hands on it), his gesture quickly went viral, inspiring hats and T-shirts bearing a logo with a skateboarder holding a book.
Grisham says he finds it ironic that Isom is celebrated for breaking the law while he is excoriated for exercising his First Amendment rights. True, Grisham was within his legal rights, and Isom broke the law by stealing Grisham’s Quran. That just goes to show that legality isn’t everything.
Grisham’s free speech exercise was outrageous and objectionable, while Isom’s act of theft was also an affirmation of social decency, not unlike, say, throwing tomatoes at a local scoundrel. Or, to pick a much more serious example, a priest slapping a man for desecrating the Blessed Sacrament — an act that many NCRegister.com combox participants heartily applauded. (The particulars of the case in Spain are complicated by the fact that (a) it looks like the priest slapped the wrong young man, and (b) the young man’s sacrilege may have been more or less inadvertent. However, in principle I have no problem with a priest slapping someone for deliberately desecrating the Blessed Sacrament.)
Of course desecrating the Blessed Sacrament — the holiest object presented to our senses — is infinitely graver than burning a Quran, which is not in fact the divine revelation that Muslims believe it to be. Nevertheless, it is an outrageous and antisocial act—and such acts may have social consequences, occasionally even consequences that go beyond the letter of the law. (But not necessarily the moral law. Theft is defined morally as seizing another’s property contrary to the reasonable will of the owner. If an act such as Quran burning is antisocial and harmful to the social order, then preventing this act for the sake of the public good may not contrary to the owner’s reasonable will, and may thus be morally licit even if legally actionable, like the priest’s slap.)
Isom, reportedly “an atheist concerned with religious liberty,” said, “I believe in freedom for everyone and not to mess with everybody’s beliefs. I don’t believe in the Quran. I believe you shouldn’t burn it in front of people that do.”
Three cheers for the atheist defending Muslims—and for the Christians and other counter-demonstrators—and a raspberry for Repent Amarillo’s skewed version of evangelistic zeal.