Koran Burning: Freedom Rears Its Ugly Head

Hell has officially been turned into a very large hockey rink. I am now "to the right" of Robert Spencer, Brigitte Gabriel, and even Pamela Geller in rushing to the defense of a book-burning fundamentalist preacher. Or rather, a would-be book-burner, as it seems the Reverend Terry Jones was talked out of the act by the President and General Petraeus. While I have no particular admiration for Jones and his little stunt, I am beginning to see this episode more in the light of the Mohammed cartoons. The West bravely stuck to its guns on that round, but what's going on here? It looks as if, in the five years since then, we have moved backward.

Also the Nazi book-burning metaphor needs to be checked. You have every right to burn a book if you own the book. It's burning other people's books that's the problem. On comparing the putative Koran-burning in Florida with other book-burnings, I find more differences than similarities. Take a look, for instance, at the history of Talmud burnings - among which, for example, we find:

On Sept. 9, 1553, the Jewish New Year, a huge pyre was set up in the Campo de' Fiori in Rome of Hebrew books that had been seized from Jewish homes.

I don't think Pastor Jones' burning of the Koran falls even remotely in this category. I would put it more in the league of the burnings of "Harry Potter" that made a blip in the news a few years back.

(Admittedly comparing the Koran to Harry Potter is disrespectful, and I apologize to all Harry Potter fans.)

Really, did anyone think that the fallout from 9/11 would not include, inter alia, this? That in a nation of 300 million people, mostly non-Muslims, there would not be, somewhere, someone who would see fit to take a match to the writings of the Prophet Mohammed? If the architects of our post-9/11 strategy could not see this coming, I think we are entitled to use phrases like "failure of imagination".

Book burning gives all of us a queasy feeling but in these times we had damn well better develop a strong stomach.


Now the President has stepped in to condemn the contemplated burning, saying it endangers the lives of our troops in Afghanistan. General Petraeus gets involved too: "It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," the General said in a statement.

Really? Burning a book does that? I thought the danger came from terrorists. And for that matter, I thought our troops were over there to BE a danger to the terrorists. If they are only there to be hostages to one fanatic with a match, then bring them home now.

When I was in the service we used to be fond of slogans like "I'm fighting for your right to spit on that flag." Now no more. Our Commander-In-Chief and our most renowned general have made it their business to beg American citizens to behave properly, lest they cause trouble for the soldiers who are supposed to be defending the rights of Americans. They have now given ominous warnings about the proposed Koran burning becoming a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.

And so it will, if Obama has his way: With Reverend Terry Jones duly chastened, the islamists of al-Qaeda will see their first tangible success in the American homeland in - well, nine years, but who's counting? They will see that, with patience and persistence, they have been able to retake the ground they had seeimingly lost with the Mohammed cartoons. They'll be able to point with pride to the fact that their holy warriors in Afghanistan have intimidated President Obama and General Petraeus into taking up their cause for them, and telling an American citizen: "Yes, technically you have the right to do that - but we really wish you wouldn't." It's small, but it's a first step. And the argument that "if you do that, the enemy will make things harder for the American troops" has limitless possibilities.

It is very, very hard for me to see this as a victory for our side.


And what happened to the President who waxed so eloquent about the Imam's "constitutional right" to build a mosque near Ground Zero?

The Belmont Club comes closest to expressing my thoughts on this.
Comparing Jones to Imam Rauf reduces President Obama’s defense of the Ground Zero mosque to absurdity. How could an administration which ordered Bibles sent to Afghanistan burned and endorsed the right of the Ground Zero mosque builders to proceed with their construction turn 180 degrees on the matter of Koran burning without spinning like a top? They were hoist by their own petard.

I hadn't known the bit about the Army burning Bibles. But it is a fine mess indeed for the President.


Is the Koran-burning a provocation?

In 2006, gay-rights organizations planned a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. The event was highly controversial, and my sympathies were divided. At first I opposed the event, arguing that it would be a "provocative gesture". But after further reflection I realized that people are responsible for their own actions: one must agree to be provoked.

And that's what I'm saying now. Terrorists, fascists, and extremists are responsible for their own actions. If we are serious about our defense of freedom, we must not allow ourselves to be blackmailed.


But it turns out it wasn't that easy.

I almost feel sorry for General Petraeus today. He's just spent the past few days running around and "putting out fires" - literally in this case - and succeeded in getting the Gainesville Koran-burning canceled. But just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, freedom rears its ugly head and some guy - we still don't know who - comes out of nowhere and starts burning pages from a Koran. Not in Gainesville, Florida, but at Ground Zero, New York City.

As one observer noted, there's almost an anti-climactic quality about the video. Some random, nameless guy - we'll call him Joe the Lighter - holds up a Koran, tears a few pages out and burns them, gets shouted at by angry New Yorkers, and is uneventfully escorted away by police. And that's it.

The contrast between the Reverend Terry Jones affair and Joe the Lighter could not be more striking. No signs, no press releases, no fanfare. He just does what he does. And after the event, he walks away without a single word.

Whatever will happen in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the Islamic world, will happen. I'm sorry if people get hurt. But as Americans and as free human beings, we are under no obligation to conform to any President's or General's idea of how we ought to act.

Joe the Lighter is Derek Fenton an employee - now, former employee - of New Jersey Transit.