Koran Burning Day Overreaction

Everyone from David Petraeus to Sarah Palin is speaking out against a nutbag pastor's Koran burning event. While they're right, they're emphasizing the wrong message.

The plan of some nutbag pastor to observe International Burn A Koran Day continues to draw national attention.    David Petraeus called it a threat to U.S. troops earlier in the week.   Now the FBI has issued a bulletin warning of grave consequences:

“While the FBI has no information to indicate a specific attack has been planned against the United States or U.S. assets in response to the ‘International Burn a Koran Day’ event, the FBI assesses with high confidence that, as with past incidents perceived as acts of desecration against Islam, extremist actors will continue to threaten or attempt to harm the leaders, organizers, or attendees the event,” an FBI intelligence bulletin notes.

The FBI is concerned not only about the potential for an attack at the event — but also about retaliation going forward. The Aug. 19, 2010 intelligence bulletin out of the Bureau’s Jacksonville field office is entitled, “Extremists Likely to Retaliate Against Florida Group’s Planned ‘International Burn a Koran Day.'”

The intelligence bulletin states that Jones’ advertising of the event drew an immediate response from a known terrorist website frequented by radicals. Postings on the Al-Faloja website included a forum member writing, “I wish to detonate myself in this church now. … I want to become a martyr and detonate myself in this filthiest filth.”

[…]

FBI officials told ABC News that FBI agents from Jacksonville have met with Jones to inform him of the intelligence and potential threat. FBI agents from the Jacksonville field office are planning to have assets at the ready in case of an attack at the church.

The FBI bulletin further observes that INSPIRE, a new online terrorist propaganda magazine, specifically instructs “home-grown extremists to conduct small scale attacks” and “attacks on persons who disrespect symbols of Islam.”

Attorney General Eric Holder says the Koran burning even is “idiotic and dangerous.”   And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced, “”I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths.”

Sarah Palin, a leader respected by Christian conservatives, has issued a statement on her Facebook page titled “Koran Burning Is Insensitive, Unnecessary; Pastor Jones, Please Stand Down.”

Book burning is antithetical to American ideals. People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation – much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.

I would hope that Pastor Terry Jones and his supporters will consider the ramifications of their planned book-burning event. It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don’t feed that fire. If your ultimate point is to prove that the Christian teachings of mercy, justice, freedom, and equality provide the foundation on which our country stands, then your tactic to prove this point is totally counter-productive.

Our nation was founded in part by those fleeing religious persecution. Freedom of religion is integral to our charters of liberty. We don’t need to agree with each other on theological matters, but tolerating each other without unnecessarily provoking strife is how we ensure a civil society. In this as in all things, we should remember the Golden Rule. Isn’t that what the Ground Zero mosque debate has been about?

Well, actually, it’s been about whether all Muslims are implicitly tied to al Qaeda.  But otherwise, I agree:  The event is mean-spirited, intolerant, and rather obviously in violation of core Christian teachings.  Then again, so what?

Moreover, is it really appropriate for our attorney general and most prominent military officer to be speaking out against Americans exercising their free speech rights?   Much less those doing so in a religious context?

I happen to think that the nutbag pastor in question is at best a fool.   And Petraeus and the FBI are doubtless right:  This could well spark violent reaction among radicalized Muslims.  These are, after all, the same people who riot and kill over innocuous cartoons of Muhammed.

Still, while such deliberate provocation is worthy of contempt, it’s well within the bounds of legitimate speech. Instead of condemning it as “idiotic and dangerous” — words our nation’s chief law enforcement official should not be using against citizens exercising their 1st Amendment rights — our political leaders should be condemning religious intolerance but, at the same time, emphasizing that tolerance works both ways.

No, I’m not making the idiotic “but they don’t allow religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, so we shouldn’t have to, either” argument.   Rather, I’m saying that mature human beings are required to deal with distant protests that offend them through means other than violence.   We’re not talking about “fighting words” or some clear and present danger or direct incitement here.   This is a three hour ceremony conducted in some remote church parking lot.

Get. Over. It.

If met by head shaking and open discussion rather than violence, the protest will shame reasonable Americans who harbor anti-Muslim sentiments, much as the fire hoses and police dogs attacking peaceful demonstrators did for those who harbored racial prejudice.  Most people want to be on the other side of the issues championed by despicable people.

Meeting a peaceful if disgusting protest with violence, though, will play into these idiots’ hands.   That, not that fact that the book burners are idiots, is the message our leaders should emphasize.

Correction:  The original posting confused this nutbag pastor with a scumbag pastor who runs a church with the same name.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jay says:

    I happen to think that the nutbag pastor in question — he’s the same scumbug who pickets funerals of soldiers killed in combat to let us know God hates fags — is a vile human being.

    Actually, you’re confusing him with Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, though this clown and his huge congregation of 50 have shown support for Phelps and his mega-church of 24 members.

    Ugh. Correction made. The combination of the similar church name and having read another blog post making the same error. – jhj

  2. Simon says:

    <blockquote>“idiotic and dangerous” — words our nation’s chief law enforcement official should not be using against citizens exercising their 1st Amendment rights</blockquote>Why? Since when has the First Amendment guaranteed a right to be free from criticism, by government or anyone else? Is there any reason to believe that such criticism has even a chilling effect?

  3. JKB says:

    This “event” has revealed more about those who’ve moved against it than it does about those planning it.  I secretly hope that come time for the fire, the pastor comes out with a statement saying, “made you show your a$$.”  We went from religion of peace and how irrational views of islamic hegemony are, to “Oh, my god, don’t make them mad” in no time at all.  So which is it great minds of the left, religion of peace or do we walk around on eggshells lest they let loose on us because we burned the toast?

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Given that some idiot somewhere in the US is going to do something stupid and repulsive, maybe it’s good that it is this particular bonehead.  After all, it has changed the tenor of the anti-Muslim rhetoric from the usual gang of idiots, if only for a moment.

  5. john personna says:

    I think the key is that they are all saying “don’t do it” to the Koran burner.  They aren’t sending cops.  What this becomes really, is an illustration of our free speech with many voices and many conflicting opinions aired.
     
    Hopefully the message will get sent that Koran burning isn’t popular here.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Since when has the First Amendment guaranteed a right to be free from criticism, by government or anyone else? Is there any reason to believe that such criticism has even a chilling effect?

    I’m not claiming they’re abridging his rights, merely pointing to the impropriety of their taking a public position one way or the other.  Palin, I have no problem with:  She’s a private citizen.   Holder is our chief LEO and anything he says is under color of that authority.  Petraeus, a general, shouldn’t voice any opinions about matters of domestic politics, period.

  7. john personna says:

    Doesn’t it sound like Patraeus is one voice in essentially a diplomatic (or public relations) offensive?
     
    It looks coordinated.   So then, the question might be less about “Patraeus’ opinions” and more about the official message: that the US allows these things, but the government does not approve.

  8. Simon says:

    I’m not claiming they’re abridging his rights, merely pointing to the impropriety of their taking a public position one way or the other

    Alright. Now you’ve conceded that Holder has no legal (or at least Am1) obligation to refrain from calling this stunt “idiotic and dangerous” (trap snaps shut), what is the impropriety of his doing so? Petraeus is one thing; there’s a much clearer argument that generals should keep quiet about such things, although it’s not a slam dunk. But why is it improper for the executive branch to criticize “idiotic and dangerous” conduct by citizens? If the President does it and the citizenry doesn’t like it, they can do something about it, and if his functionaries do something the citizenry doesn’t like, they can do something about that, too (that’s the point of Chevron, for instance).

  9. James Joyner says:

    But why is it improper for the executive branch to criticize “idiotic and dangerous” conduct by citizens?

    Because we’re citizens, not subjects.  They work for us, not vice versa.

    In the specific case of the AG, it’s even more problematic because anything he says has the implied threat of “and we’ll be investigating you if you don’t do what I say.”   Surely, there’s enough actually criminal conduct out there to occupy Holder’s attention?

  10. John Burgess says:

    I think Petraeus, as a commander, have an absolutely legitimate role in calling attention to things that put his troops in danger. He violates no law in doing so, even when the issue is free speech/religion. I would argue that he’d be derelict in his duty to not do so.
    This, of course, does not make him immune from criticism. He would be sharply and correctly criticized were he to go demagoguing about ‘aid and comfort to the enemy’. That’s not what he’s doing here: he’s saying that the proposed action is likely to put his troops and civilians for whom he is responsible in a situation of enhanced danger.
    Holder’s case is, I think, a bit different because the enhanced threat against targets for which he is responsible are more diffuse, ‘terrorist acts’. As with most law enforcement, his powers come into play after the fact, after a terrorist act that cites Terry Jones’ actions. He can better point to a cause-effect relationship. That doesn’t mean he has any legal case to make against Jones, just that he can say, ‘I told you so’ and have evidence to prove it.

  11. sam says:

    @JJ
    I’m not claiming they’re abridging his rights, merely pointing to the impropriety of their taking a public position one way or the other.
     

    James, why is this case any different from the “Loose Lips Sink Ships” warnings of World War II?

  12. Vast Variety says:

    “mature human beings”
     
    That would not describe probably 90% of the planet’s human population.

  13. Simon says:

    James:

    Because we’re citizens, not subjects.  They work for us, not vice versa.

    And that makes it improper for them to criticize misbehavior because…? Recitation of a truism about the general relationship of citizens to government doesn’t actually answer the point. If the government works for us, why is it improper for government to become, within Constitutional limits, a focal point for public opinion? This isn’t a close case; this isn’t a situation where government is using the bully pulpit on an issue that divides the public, and few people criticize that kind of government speech, so why criticize a yet more innocuous kind of government speech in which the people’s employees voice the concerns of the people to a few fringe whackjobs?

    In the specific case of the AG, it’s even more problematic because anything he says has the implied threat of “and we’ll be investigating you if you don’t do what I say.”   Surely, there’s enough actually criminal conduct out there to occupy Holder’s attention?

    That would be a speech-chilling argument, but those belong to the First Amendment, which you’ve already ceded.

  14. James Joyner says:

    James, why is this case any different from the “Loose Lips Sink Ships” warnings of World War II?

    Three ways, at least. First, it was directed mostly at soldiers, not private citizens.   Second, the information in question was government-related — troop movements and the like.  Third, even to the extent it was directed at civilians, it was a general statement to be careful about sharing information rather than a criticism of a particular individual’s or group’s action.

  15. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:
    Too bad our general and flag officers didn’t think to ask the lefties and draft dodgers to stop flying those Commie rag-flags during the Viet Nam war lest they encourage our enemies and those of our allies or endanger our troops in the field.  I’m quite sure that they would have, patriotic-in-a different-way Americans that they were, responded with total acquiescence.    

    General Patreus, regardless of his other accomplishments, has spoken A Bridge Too Far.  That speech would have been appropriate to his subordinates to alert and prepare his troops, but he has no business “warning” civilian citizens how to exercise their rights.  It seems to me to be more of that “force protection” mythology that is an outgrowth of Colin Powell’s “Great Theory of War”.  If you want to force protect, leave them in their barracks in America.    Except maybe Fort Dix, New Jersey and Fort Hood, Texas.

    Back during my thankfully limited days in the Federal bureaucracy, a personnelist spent a delightful evening with me explaining the, then popular, idea of “progressive discipline” and how each subsequent behavioral failure by an employee should result in a greater degree of punishment.  I think it’s time to share that concept with our muslim brothers and sisters.  On a practical level.

  16. Steve Plunk says:

    I wonder which action endangers our troops and their mission more, burning the Koran or setting withdrawal date?  Does our perceived weakness encourage our enemies?  Should we compromise our free speech support because of threats?  Should public officials criticize this while they remain silent about such things as ‘Piss Christ’?  This is a tricky issue in so many ways and I expect we will learn a great deal about ourselves before it’s over.

  17. JKB says:

    I think the key is that they are all saying “don’t do it” to the Koran burner mosque builder.  They aren’t sending cops.  What this becomes really, is an illustration of our free speech with many voices and many conflicting opinions aired.

    Hopefully the message will get sent that Koran burning mosque building near Ground Zero isn’t popular here.

    And yet no one has threatened to kill over the mosque.  Oh wait, Iman Rauf just said if they are stopped from building the mosque, “They’ll attack.” (again)  So what we have here is the religion of peace threatening murder with senior members of our government ready to ….  (Certainly not stand for American values.)

  18. JKB says:

    Somehow the strike-through and indention of the first two paragraphs in my 12:07 comment didn’t post.  So use your imagination.

  19. RGardner says:

    I want to see coverage on the coverage of this non-event. I’m sure the reporters and cameramen will outnumber these loons by at least 10:1.   I’d never heard of these folks, and hopefully they will fade back into obscurity.

  20. Franklin says:

    Should we compromise our free speech support because of threats?

    Who’s suggesting that?

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    Jesus don’t need for you to burn books on His behalf. PASTOR!!!!

     And you might want to ask yourself who figured out that Freedom of speech meant every stupid,perverted, disrespectful, spiteful, hateful, and just plain self gratifying attention grabbing nonsense crappy ACTION you could dream up and take.
     

  22. wr says:

    I’m continually fascinated with the right-wing obsession over Piss Christ. It’s a 23 year-old photograph, the sum total of NEA money spent was fifteen thousand dollars, and Sister Wendy Beckett, an art critic who happens to be a nun, has said that it’s not blasphemous, but instead alludes to the cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture. (It is also, aside from any meaning, quite a beautiful picture…)

    But for so many right-wingers, this is the stab in the back, the proof that the entire culture is against them, or justification for just about any outrage by a member of the right.

    Hasn’t there been any new outrage in the art or cultural worlds in the last quarter century that can replace this obsession? Because this is the second time in a week one of the local hard-line Righties has brought this up — and in completely different contexts. What’s the big deal?

  23. matt says:

    JKB sees evil everywhere.. well only when it involves Islam or a group of people he’s desperate to paint as evil..

  24. john personna says:

    I really don’t think you all should be discounting the idea that Patraeus’ message is coordinated, or at least cleared.  Think about it, is McChrystal that long ago?

  25. john personna says:

    JKB:
     

    And yet no one has threatened to kill over the mosque.  Oh wait, Iman Rauf just said if they are stopped from building the mosque, “They’ll attack.” (again)  So what we have here is the religion of peace threatening murder with senior members of our government ready to ….  (Certainly not stand for American values.)

    I’m sorry, what should I take away from this?

    If you mean that our government’s (coordinated) messages should not be fear-based, but should be values-based, I get that.  I mean look at how animated you just got.  That’s not productive.

  26. john personna says:

    BTW, I’m reading the blogs here and see news I hadn’t seen about Abu Ghraib rape pictures and Americans taking finger trophies … is the administration taking this opportunity to dump bad news in a confused media environment?

    Or does bad news just come in threes?
     

  27. G.A.Phillips says:

    “What’s the big deal?”

    It’s the poster child for wasting tax money on worthless art, if you want to call it art, and very stupid thing to do. I find it more stupid then an affront to my Christianity, just another sad little liberal attacking his God with someone else’s money…

    (It is also, aside from any meaning, quite a beautiful picture…)

    So how do you feel about me smearing some poop on pictures of say Obama or Darwin and spending 15 k of your money that someone took from you to do it?

    AND CALL IT ART?!? NOT A DUMB A$$ STATEMEMT!?!?!

    lol if I did it to a picture of Beck or Bush you would probably pay top dollar for it and hang on you living room wall…..

  28. matt says:

    GA : I’d  totally be fine with you smearing poop on any pictures you want and if you manage to get 15k to do it more power to you. Unlike with the piss Christ dude you probably wouldn’t have the grants stripped out from under you. Oddly enough I sympathize with the artist and you sort of further prove that point that Christianity is being cheapened by corporate interests..

  29. wr says:

    Wasting taxpayer money on worthless art… sure, I get that. I mean, I did a quarter century ago. But you’re still frothing about 15 thousand dollars spent in 1987. The Bush administration sent pallets of cash to Iraq and billions of dollars simply disappeared from the trove — and you’re angry about 15k 23 years ago.

    This, to me, is a truly weird fixation.

  30. G.A.Phillips says:

    keep things in context, It would be hard for me to be more clear. And then your  gonna start with not Obama but Bush making pallets of money disappear lol…….,…

  31. MarkedMan says:

    The Piss Christ thing does stick in the craw.  It’s one of the reason I think the government should not be supporting the arts in the US, except when commissioning works for a government building or park, and then it should be quite conservative in its commissions. As a support of NPR for more than 25 years I’ve always said the same thing about it – the government has no business taking my tax dollars and giving it to a non-governmental news source or for that matter subsidizing classical music.

  32. BobHope says:

    Would you dumbasses listen for once: THE MOHAMMAD CARTOON RIOTS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CARTOONS DRAWN BY THE PRESS.
    Depictions of the prophet are actually very common in the Middle East. However, when terrorists, looking for recruits to fight against the colonialism of the West, released re-drawn cartoons showing the prophet being sexual desecrated… the moral outrage went up, just like it would anywhere for anyone that has to deal with another group of people who has insisted that they be viewed as an imperial enemy (that’s us).
     
    The point is not that violence is ok in response to freedom of speech challenges, the point is that our foreign policy is the reason we are hated so much… RELIGION AND FREE SPEECH HAVE ZERO TO DO WITH ANY OF IT.
     
    I strongly recommend reading Atran and Robert Fisk… and getting an education

  33. […] bigoted Pastor who may or may not have actually intended to ever go forward with his Koran burning, obtained the attention of various high level military and political officials, and, perhaps most outrageously, received a personal telephone call from the Secretary of Defense: […]

  34. John Burgess says:

    James, your correction was merely a manifestation of your prescience:
     
    <a href=”http://www.ocala.com/article/20100909/ARTICLES/100909743/1412?Title=Westboro-Baptish-Church-to-burn-Qurans-if-Dove-doesn-t”>Westboro Baptist Church to burn Qurans if Dove doesn’t</a>

  35. Censorship? says:

    […] don’t want to get too far into the Koran burning fiasco, as James and Doug have covered it admirably. Apparently the service provider for Dove World Outreach Center […]