09/08/2010 02:01 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jones' Bonfire Lights an American Debate

Terry Jones is timing his Koran-bonfire so carefully that leaders -- in the administration, the army and the established religions -- are hurried into preventive action.

Laurie Goodstein reports in the New York Times about religious leaders convening for "an extraordinary 'emergency' summit" in Washington to oppose Jones.

The clergy members dislike Jones' intentions -- on moral and religious grounds.

They are "appalled" by "a disrespect for a sacred text." The New York Times quotes the Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, saying to Jones and his likes:

[S]hame on you. As an evangelical, I say to those who do this, you bring dishonor to those who love Jesus Christ.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, invokes Jewish experience, always handy to teach a lesson:

We know what it is like when people have attacked us physically, have attacked us verbally, and others have remained silent. It cannot happen here in America in 2010.

"This is not America," confesses Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the emeritus Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, "America was not built on hate."

The administration agrees with the Cardinal's take. The newspaper quotes a State Department spokesman calling Jones' plan "un-American."

But make no mistake, the administration is concerned with the consequences of Jones' acts, not with his intentions. Robert Gibbs voiced the White House's concerns about activity "that puts our troops in harm's way."

Gen. David. H. Petraeus warned that a video showing Americans burning the holy book "would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan -- and around the world -- to inflame public opinion and incite violence," risking American soldiers.

The administration -- and rightly so -- leaves the evaluation of Jones' heart to God and his spokespersons, and limits its role to the danger of his actions.

This conflict -- between tolerating the intolerant action and the government's responsibility to curb its damage -- is an American dilemma. I live in the U.S. with a visa but without an American passport, and I admire the seriousness in which Americans struggle with the tension. I hope Americans are proud of how they debate Jones. The bigot Jones shows me how American this country can be.

As a practical compromise I'd like to suggest to Jones to consider burning memory sticks with the Koran instead of the books themselves. Or if he's willing to go a step further, instead of burning the files, he can just delete their content with much fanfare, as CNN is recording the event. This version of the bonfire would be friendlier to the environment, but not necessarily the geopolitical one.