From The Progress Report --- September 9, 2010:
Hate Takes Center Stage
Hate pastor Terry Jones and his small Dove World congregation are planning an event to burn the Quran in Gainesville, FL on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. His plan -- dubbed "International Burn a Quran Day" -- has now become a global story that, according to top American commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus, could endanger the lives of American forces and American foreign policy goals. While similar acts from Jones and others went widely ignored in the past -- in 2008 the incendiary Kansas-based Westboro church burned a Quran on a Washington D.C. street -- today they are front-page news. So what changed? Jones' event comes at the end of a hate-filled summer in which the right wing fostered anti-Muslim vitriol has risen to unprecedented levels. This has led to a growing sense both in the U.S. and around the world that perhaps Jones' hateful plan is not just an isolated incident, but is reflective of an increasingly intolerant America. If Jones follows through, it will inevitably further endanger our troops and increase animosity toward the United States. But this act of hate -- just like the burning of a cross, or painting of a swastika -- is also about the response it elicits. The response in the form of public statements and counterprotests will likely demonstrate the strengths, not the weaknesses, of American values: a country that not just protects the freedom to demonstrate, while showing that hate-filled individuals such as Jones in no way represent America.
ENDANGERING TROOPS: Jones' Quran burning could lead to tremendous blowback against U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan. President Obama, Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, and American military commanders all fear that images of Americans burning the Quran will put U.S. troops in heightened danger and will hand al-Qaeda a propaganda victory. The counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan is based on convincing the local Muslim population to side with U.S. and Afghan government forces in their fight against the Taliban, and inflammatory images that make the U.S. look intolerant of Islam will undercut these efforts. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Petraeus said the Quran burning "is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here [in Afghanistan], but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community." Gen. William Caldwell, the head of the Afghan training mission noted, "What I will tell you is that their very actions will in fact jeopardize the safety of the young men and women who are serving in uniform over here and also undermine the very mission that we're trying to accomplish." Large anti-American rallies have already taken place in Afghanistan and Indonesia." Several hundred Afghans rallied outside a Kabul mosque, burning American flags and an effigy of Dove World's pastor and chanting 'death to America.' Members of the crowd briefly pelted a passing U.S. military convoy with stones, but were ordered to stop by rally organizers." On Saturday, 3,000 Muslims marched through Indonesia's capital and five other cities to protest in front of the U.S. embassy, carrying signs reading, " Jihad to protect Koran" and "You burn Qu’ran you burn in hell."
SUMMER OF HATE: Jones' plan comes on the heels of a summer in which Islamophobia ginned-up by the right wing took center stage. The paranoid hysteria over the plan for a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan was followed by protests against mosques around the country and in some cases violence. In New York City this Saturday, the radical right-wing group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) plans to channel the prevalent paranoid hysteria into a rally against the proposed Islamic community center. The Wonk Room's Matt Duss notes that the anti-Muslim vitriol "doesn't come out of nowhere-- it's exactly what conservative elites have been telling their base for years. Whether it's Newt Gingrich cribbing Andrew McCarthy's doctored anecdotes about 'creeping sharia'... or Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney claiming, without any evidence, that Cordoba Initiative leader Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has 'terror-related connections,' it's clear that there's a well-funded and organized network of conservatives who see political profit in stoking Americans' fear of Islam. And Americans are responding to that, some of them in extreme fashion, such as the Quran burners." While conservative leaders were quick to fan the flames of hysteria against the community center, these same leaders stayed largely silent in response to the proposed burning of the Quran. Fred Kaplan of Slate notes the muted response from many prominent conservatives: "Republicans are usually eager to trumpet their support for the troops and the war against terror. So why aren't they condemning the Florida pastor who plans to lead his congregation in a Quran-burning bonfire on Sept. 11? ... With the exception of Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah... elected Republicans -- and, to be fair, most elected Democrats as well -- have ducked and run." Now, just a few days before the planned burning, some prominent conservatives, such as Mitt Romney have spoken out against burning the Quran. But others like Sarah Palin and John Boehner, while now condemning the act, claim that it is the same as building a Muslim community center near Ground Zero in Manhattan.
IT'S HOW WE RESPOND: While Jones and his small congregation will likely draw most of the media attention this weekend, their event will be dwarfed by the many counterprotests planned in Gainesville. Last week in Gainesville, " 20 Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy gathered on the steps of City Hall to denounce the nondenominational Dove church." Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe also declared Sept. 11 "Interfaith Solidarity Day." The Christian Science Monitor reports that "counterprotests are planned across the street from the church during the burning. In addition, the Gainesville Interfaith Forum is organizing a 'Gathering for Peace, Understanding, and Hope.' That event is set for Sept. 10, Friday night, and is open to Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and all others." Dan Johnson a minister at Trinity United Methodist Church that is hosting a counterprotest said, "The message I'm getting is that the vast, vast, vast majority of people believe that we can all get along." These protests will likely demonstrate that Terry Jones and his small congregation represent a fanatical fringe that is anything but representative the U.S. However, Slate's William Saletan noted the lesson to be learned: "This is how it feels to be judged by the sins of others who destroy in the name of your faith. You're no more responsible for 30 Christian extremists in Florida than Muslims are for the 9/11 hijackers. Yet most of us, when polled, say that no Muslim house of worship should be built near the site of the 9/11 attacks. In saying this, we implicitly hold all Muslims accountable for the crime of the 9/11 hijackers. Now you know how it feels to be judged that way. It's inaccurate, and it's wrong."
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States is calling on Fox News host Glenn Beck to denounce a Florida church's plan to burn the Quran. "I think it would help if Mr. Glenn Beck came out against it, and said that people of faith do not burn the books of people of other faith," he said. In a statement, Beck said burning Qurans "is wrong," adding, "burning the Koran is like burning the flag or the Bible."
On August 19, the FBI released an intelligence bulletin warning of Islamic retaliation to Saturday's Quran-burning event. The bulletin notes that, though no information currently indicates a planned attack, the FBI has "high confidence" that "as with past incidents" desecrating Islam, "extremist actors will continue to threaten or attempt to harm" those involved in the event.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said last night "that if he had known how much strife would arise over his plan for a Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site, he would not have proposed it." Still, he said he would not change the location now, because that would embolden radicals and thus create risks for Americans living abroad.