There have been a considerable amount of violent protests around the world in the past week or so. So, what to do?
It is wise to think about whether your actions are rewarding or punishing actions. For example, if laws were successfully passed in Western countries that restricted free speech against the Quran or Mohammad as a result of the violent protests -- the message this sends is: one can get what they want if he resorts to violence to get it. This is exactly the opposite of the kind of behavior we'd like to promote.
In general terms, the problem is, as I see it: in response to a perceived insult to an inanimate object or idea, some people are prone to have a violent reaction against their fellow (innocent) humans. This subpopulation is attempting to hold the rest of humanity hostage to their insanity.
The question: how does one deal with this problem?
One of the first guidelines of interacting with people with whom you disagree is to start with taking them at their word for what they believe and why they believe it. It may come out later that they might be mistaken (or lying) about both what they believe, but it's a logical starting point.
So, let's take these protestors at their word, and think about saying something like this to them:
I completely believe you. Further, I believe that you think that insulting Mohammad is terrible and horrible and it causes you a significant amount of grief to even contemplate. This upsets you to the point that you simply cannot restrain yourself from acting in a way that will physically harm and even kill your fellow human beings.
Assuming this is roughly what's being claimed, this gives the rest of us a significant source of leverage; the strategy implications here are ridiculously easy to take advantage of. These protestors have self-identified a fundamental weakness to offensive words/images/ideas. Great! I'll never run out of ammo! I won't even have to reload.
Here's an idea that takes these ideas to what I perceive to be their logical conclusions. Why don't we simply hold the Quran hostage?
The basic idea: every time there's a confirmed story like this: 16 or 4 or 13, where N people are killed: have a prescribed, automatic, and guaranteed response. It's important that it's simply the total number of people killed, as each life loss counts whether the person shares the offended one's belief or not. Have an automated (think ifttt.com style) process with the following recipe:
- A video camera begins recording a single uncut video.
- A printer prints a message out: "[N] people were killed on [date]. In response this, [N] new pages of freshly printed out pages from [sacred text] will be printed and shredded. Future violence will be met with the same response. The goal of this project is not to offend, but to provide a reason to stop killing people beyond simple respect of human life."
- Then, the printer prints out [N] random pages from the [sacred text] which we watch go directly into a paper shredder.
- The new video w/ time-date stamp and link to the news story that prompted it gets posted to many different places (youtube, vimeo, liveleak, tweet it, and whatever).
If the destruction of the pages is really such a horrible thing to contemplate, then we have something of value to hold hostage. The key point is to make this setup as morally asymmetric as possible. We want to make it seem as absolutely crazy as possible to equate the two actions, so the following would help:
- Make it 100% clinical and unemotional -- This isn't a thing where the pages are desecrated and stomped on and lit on fire. No. This is an automated process which should highlight the absolute absurdity of this situation. Imagine the absurdity of a person trying to plead with the 'auto-defilers': "please stop shredding these pages! people are dying!"
- Make it 100% equal opportunity. Set it up in an open source way so that any group can use it -- publish the plans on the internet and have the default set include the Quran, the Bible, On the Origin of Species, the US Bill of Rights. I believe that this is a completely fair way to protest anything you want. Neo-nazi's offended about someone making fun of Hitler? Do the same w/ pages from Mein Kampf. Christians doing something sketchy? Print/destroy pages from the Bible. Americans doing something you don't like? Print/destroy pages from the US constitution. People don't even need to wait for murder and death, you could have a trigger that's a much lower bar -- the Belgians voted for a tariff you don't like? Print/destroy the Belgian flag... or something (I might be stretching on that last one).
- Print/shred only copies of 100% respectful pages; or 100% respectful images of Mohammad; or whatever else. You want the moral high ground, no need to stoop to doing something even remotely objectionable. Be as pure as virgin snowfall and people won't have anything to hang on you.
By the way: if I'm ever killed by a religious extremist for offending his/her religious sensibilities/ideas, I'd like this kind of a thing to be setup in my name. Hell, think if people around the world started making auto-defilers part of their will in the case of being killed by an extremist. Every single insane over-reaction would automatically generate a self-correcting response. The only way to stop this auto-desecration massacre is to stop killing people when you are offended. Seriously, we'd run out of people before we ran out of paper.
If you don't think this would work -- this has only one of two eventualities: an increasing spasm of violence that eventually kills everyone in the world OR a response that's essentially, "yes, the pages of the Quran were torn again today, what's new some people are assholes."
We want the second response, by the way.