Whether the obviously demented Terry Jones and his oxymoronically-named Dove World Outreach Center goes forward with his Quran burning or not -- and at this point, the confusion surrounding the situation makes it a 50/50 proposition -- the fallout from a burning has reached Defcom 5 because of the media circus around it.
If Jones and his coven had burned the Qurans in silence on 9/11, it would have been the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Reprehensible, yes. Misguided, obviously. Stupid, take that to the bank. But without the media inflaming this domestically and, more importantly, in the international arena, this could have been chalked up to another bigot that, at best, would be a local news story buried next to the obituary section.
Having lived abroad in my youth, and having been on the receiving end of anti-American riots, I am especially sensitive about how this nutjob may be putting American lives in danger. But having lived abroad, it is oversimplistic to say that the actions of this lone idiot will lead to putting the lives of American soldiers and civilians abroad.
The blitz of talking heads, ranging from Secretary Clinton, General Patraeus, saying that this person does not represent close to a majority of Americans, is important. Having Al-Jazeera and other sources of news to the Muslim world report on the denunciations and condemnations from American leadership and clergy is important. In a very real and desperate and apologetic sense, we are engaging in a PR blitz to isolate Jones from America as a whole.
At the same time, however, it is an opportunity to explain to a world that has too many people ignorant of how American democracy really works, or suspicious of America in general, that freedom is a complicated and wonderful and yes, sometimes frustrating thing. That the freedom that allows a bigot to burn Qurans also allows protesters to burn American flags. To ridicule our leadership. To protest peacefully and to do so, even as a tiny minority, without the fear of the secret police taking you out in the middle of the night. That in America, unlike almost anywhere else, you can voice your opinion without fear of, to put it bluntly, being jailed and killed. It is both the price and peril of democracy, and one that we must continue to teach to the world in general.
But the part of me that has lived overseas, who has relatives overseas, is also angry. Angry that there will be people who will use the Quran burning, if it happens, to exact some payment on Americans abroad. I am not only angry with Jones for putting them in harm's way; I am angry at the people who might be doing the harm and using this as an excuse to commit harm.
I would like to see American leadership also, in the same breath that they are condemning Jones, to strongly state that because this person does not represent the United States, it does not give anyone the excuse to attack Americans abroad. And that anyone who does attack Americans abroad will pay the consequences. Protest against us, yes. Voice displeasure, go ahead. Physical attack -- we will come after you. And we should be pressuring foreign governments where Americans might be in danger to look after the protection of our citizens.
I hope Jones does not go ahead with the Quran burning. Just because he can, doesn't mean he should, and if he had any scintilla of common sense, he would quit. But at the same time we have an opportunity and responsibility to educate the world about the freedoms that allow the demented actions of a single man to exist, and a very serious responsibility to remind extremists everywhere that going after Americans is going after America. And we will take it very, very seriously.
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