A question for President Obama

| September 9, 2010 | 28 Replies

Florida Pastor Terry Jones is planning on burning a Koran this weekend.  For some reason, this is the hottest news around.  Even President Obama has weighed in on the controversy during an interview with George Stephanopoulos:

11th Century Koran from North Africa- image via Wikipedia

OBAMA: If he’s listening, I just hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values of Americans. That this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance. And as a very practical matter, as commander of chief of the Armed Forces of the United States I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We’re already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat –

STEPHANOPOULOS: What more could happen?

OBAMA: –that he’s making.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you worried about?

OBAMA: Well, look, the … this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who’d be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities. You know and so you know, I just hope that, he says he’s … he’s someone who s motivated by his faith.

But I wonder, which is a better recruitment tool for potential terrorists: the burning of a Koran or the following news items from the past month or so? Consider:

  • Civilian death toll in Afghanistan “soared” by more than 30% since 2009
  • Taliban asks for independent commission to investigate civilian deaths, insisting that they are not to blame.  U.S. says they don’t want to grant Taliban legitimacy by negotiating with them, stonewalls the issue.
  • 12 American soldiers on a secret “kill team” have been (allegedly) caught murdering Afghan civilians for sport.  They then (allegedly) took pictures posing with the bodies, mutilated them, and kept fingers of the dead as souvenirs.  They were turned in by a fellow GI, who was then beaten and told to keep his mouth shut and stop “snitching”.   Originally five soldiers were arrested, now seven more have been arrested as part of the cover-up and assault on the whistleblower.
  • Doctors in Fallujah, site of a major assault by U.S. forces in 2004, are complaining of a deluge of cases of serious birth defects and cancers in the wake of the U.S. military action there. Increases in cancer, leukemia, and infant mortality are greater than those reported by the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings (which were also perpetrated by the U.S.).
  • U.S. to spend $100 million on air base expansion in Afghanistan, “with construction efforts continuing into at least 2011.  Oh, you didn’t think we were leaving, did you?
  • Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai: private contractors [think Blackwater Xe] are engaged in terrorist activities, working with “Mafia-like” organizations, and “looting and stealing from the Afghan people.”  The Department of Defense is investigating at least 9 cases of “terrorism-related acts” by our personnel or contractors.

But yeah, I’m sure the Koran thing is a big deal too.  I believe that burning a Koran is an example of First-Amendment protected free speech, just as I believe that there is every right for Muslims to build a mosque cultural-center a few blocks from Ground Zero.  Mr. President, given that you are the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, when can we expect some accountability and truth about our imperial adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, etc…?  Why is burning a Koran so much more likely to be used as a terrorist recruiting tool than all the civilians that we are killing?

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Category: Current Events, Military, Orwellian

About the Author ()

is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.

Comments (28)

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  1. Lenticular says:

    My God this is so simple!

    Killing civilians is reprehensible enough. Even still you are just attacking the body. With this action it would be perceived as attacking the spirit. The soul. The belief system.

    You can tear someone's body down, but when you start messing with their faith you give people even more incentive.

    Have you never heard of a religion fueled war before? It used to be the thing to do. Joke about the 42 virgins or what have you.

    The point is, is our right to free speech worth the cost of the life of Staff Sargent Gregory Jacobson? How about Cpl Janice Mitchell or Private Anita Lorns? Or anyone serving in the armed forces? Is it?

    What patriot puts their own kinsman into harms way and in the same breath claim that they "support our troops?" I know, those with those silly stickers on their car. How about instead of buying a sticker, you send a care package? I did.

    Do you not understand that Americans are dying for us and that saving even one soldiers life is worth more than the effort it takes to restrain oneself from burning a book.

    Tell you what, go burn your book, then how about you write a nice letter to someone stationed there explaining why their life isn't worth it. They are there after all fighting for our rights for freedom of expression. I'm sure they will understand once you remind them of that fact.

    In addition to those that are destined to die already, we are going to eat our hamburgers, then add to the body count by acting like petulant children because in this ONE instance we can't have things exactly our way. Just like we can have our favorite burger.

    Can we just make this one sacrifice and think for our troops instead of some misguided self pride? Just this one time? Please?

    Also send a care package! They appreciate that. How about you use the internet to post on how to send our troops a care package. Or explore how they are fighting for our freedom OF religion as well as our rights to 'free' speech. I mean I'm not sure it's free if it's killing our guys and gals.

    But yeah, go ahead and argue against that. Then argue how heck we're already slaughtering civilians what harm could spitting on their God/faith do?

    Instead of bringing our 'A' game we've got to bring our ASS game.

  2. This is perhaps a little off the track of the issue discussed, but this whole Rev Jones thing has had me in a personal twist.

    See, I believe burning books—any books—is wrong. It is an attempt to control ideas through destruction and the ideas being destroyed represent the work of living people. Metaphorically, burning a book and burning someone at the stake is the same thing.

    On the other hand, the utter fear with which so many people are reacting to this ("Oh no! They'll kill more Americans as a response!") is absurd. For the people they're talking about, any excuse or no excuse will do, and reacting this way is pathetic.

    What Obama and party ought to be saying is "Reverend Jones, this is America—we don't burn books here." They should use it as an opportunity to promote more of our ideas of liberty in opposition to the kind of censorship we associate with theocracies in general. We aren't afraid of ideas here.

    (Of course, many people here ARE afraid of ideas, otherwise DI wouldn't have such lively discussion over some of the most ridiculous things—ID vs Evolution, bibilical literalism vs. history, etc.—and in many places we see and decry attempts to censor, alter, or simply eradicate ideas some people find offensive.)

    I have no more regard for the Koran as a "holy book" than I have of the Bible (or the Book of Mormon, or the Hindu Vedas, or the Bhagavad Gita…) but I have profound regard for the idea of Books.

    Once again though, the Public Discourse seems to be thoroughly missing the point.

  3. Lenticular,

    The thing to keep in mind is for Rev. Jones, this is not a free speech issue—this is a "my god is bigger than your god" issue and he would not hesitate to burn "The Origin of Species" if he thought it would advance his cause.

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    I was going to post my own direct thoughts on this event – but having read those here (Mark, especially), PZ Myers post on the same topic, and also Ed Brayton's posts here and here… I discovered that I wasn't so ready to add to the flames. I also discovered that my thoughts run a little deeper than this one incident.

    As PZ says

    the serious problem here isn't Jones at all…it's all the lunatics who are insisting that burning the Koran is a major international catastrophe. … The problem is a whole fleet of deranged wackaloons, including the president of the USA in addition to raving fundamentalist fanatics, who think open, public criticism and disagreement ought to be forbidden, somehow.

    As Mark alludes – this is a swinging dick issue for Jones – it is attention seeking. Our media has obliged, because they thrive on 'manufactured controversy'.

    As for the muslims who will be upset. They are already upset – as Brynn says

    Why is burning a Koran so much more likely to be used as a terrorist recruiting tool than all the civilians that we are killing?

    If anyone is responsible for putting American soldiers in harms way it is our media. They were complicit in our entry to Iraq, and our entry to Afghanistan. They have been complicit in elevating 'talking point' news, and in eliminating challenging journalism. They are complicit in the dumbing down of America, and in the the gung-ho rampage that has been American foreign policy for too long. It is the media who have fueled the fake controversies of our age, and have stoked the fires with their supposed 'fair and balanced' perspectives.

    Who is killing American troops?

    Our media.

    Jones isn't even a sideshow.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Tony: I absolutely agree that our media is has enabled the insanity, including the mass killing of U.S. soldiers in "wars" that were totally unnecessary. You won't hear "news" editors admitting the following, but this is how I see what most of them are doing: "All we do is hype up conflicts, get people hating each other and then we make lots of money off of the strife." The purported 4th estate has brought this on with glee, all of the to-do about, yes, a sophomoric attention-seeking ploy by Jones. Our corporate media has lots of blood on its hands. Note also that some of our big corporations both make some of our expensive weapons and then encourage us to use them through their media subsidiaries by seeding distrust. E.g., GE http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assets_owned

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Arianna Huffington says that the Koran-burning is a non-story akin to the balloon-boy stunt. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-tv/arianna-qur

  6. maybelle says:

    How do we know that Pastor Jones isn't working for Al Quaeda and that he himself is a recruitment tool?

  7. Tony Coyle says:

    Arianna (and HuffPo) is the perfect example of the complexity of both people and politics.

    She is generally progressive, left of center, on the side of social justice, and corporate oversight and controls.

    She is also overflowingly stuffed full of woo.

    That's why I try* not to stereotype individuals. I may use a stereotype in an example to make a point, but I recognize that people are always much more complex and nuanced and contradictory.

    * I said try!

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Tony: I agree about the need to appreciate complexity. Smart people often get things wrong and dunderheads sometimes utter truth. Huffington post provides much valuable information, but some of the "medical" advice they offer makes me cringe. I know that Huffpo is supposed to be a big tent, but I would think that they would want to make sure that their "science" articles were scientifically credible. And I would agree that there is a lot of woo offered in many other topics addressed by Huffpo.

  8. Tony Coyle says:

    Maybelle asked How do we know that Pastor Jones isn’t working for Al Quaeda[sic]

    What? Is this even a serious question?

    How much influence do wingnuts think Al-Qaeda has? Is this the manchurian candidate again? It's not enough to have the president as a secret muslim (would that be an anti-marrano?), now we have wingnut pastors as deep cover agents!

    Sheesh!

  9. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Maybelle-

    Perhaps I'm giving your comment too much credence, but here's how we know: this is apparently all a big stunt to get that Islamic cultural center in New York moved. It's the act of a petty, jealous, small person who cannot tolerate a diversity of opinions. Here's the news, if you're really interested:

    Jones said he had canceled what he advertised as International Burn a Koran Day, repeating comments he made Thursday after meeting with Muhammad Musri, an imam and president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, based in Orlando. At a televised news conference on the front lawn of Dove World Outreach on Thursday, Jones had said he made the decision after he received “a sign from God” in the form of an assurance from Musri that the Islamic center to be established near the World Trade Center site in New York would be relocated.

    And talk about hoist by his own petard, apparently Jones was visited by the imam planning to build the New York cultural center at the heart of the controversy:

    “We were able to break some ice and get some genuine conversation on his concerns,” Musri said. “I asked him, what would Jesus do in your position today? Would he love his neighbor? If we are your enemies, you are supposed to love your enemies. I think that resonated a bit.”

    Jones, who wrote a book titled “Islam Is Of The Devil” and sells T-shirts and coffee mugs with the slogan on the church website, has made his case against the Muslim religion on YouTube, where he has posted more than 10 videos this year under the rubric “The Braveheart Show.” Titles include “Is Islam the Anti-Christ” and “Islam Will Take Over If Christians Remain Silent.”

    So that's how we know he's not a secret al-Qaeda sleeper pastor, Maybelle. It's also how we know he's not a real Christian… what would Jesus do indeed.

    Mark:

    I fully agree that book-burning is a vile, despicable act. And of course, I also agree that the Koran is, after all, just a book. What it all boils down to for me, is that I wish we could collectively summon a small part of the outrage generated over these manufactured controversies (Koran-burning, Mosque in NYC, etc..) for real, actual people living and dying for this so-called War on Terror.

  10. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Erich-

    Yeah, I'd put it at least since Operation Ajax in 1953 to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in favor of the brutal Shah, who would at least sell us oil. We only like democracy insofar as it also means "willing to sell resources at low prices."

    Also, Glenn Greenwald does is usual masterful job of <a href="http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/09/10/blood?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+salon%2Fgreenwald+%28Glenn+Greenwald%29&quot; rel="nofollow">pointing out the hypocrisy on this issue here. I also agree with this point of his:

    I find the reflexive, intense condemnation of speech on the ground that it will "harm the troops" to be quite creepy and dangerous. … This "endanger-the-Troops" theme has been used to justify everything from demonizing war opposition as vaguely Treasonous to re-writing FOIA to suppress torture photos. We're frequently told that what our Troops fight for is our core freedoms, so demanding that those freedoms be curtailed in the name of the Troops — either forcibly or through self-censorship — makes little sense. What actually endangers the Troops by spawning anti-American hatred is what Ted Koppel described: sending them to invade other countries, dropping bombs on civilians with robots from the sky, imprisoning the invaded populations without due process and torturing them, etc. etc. Those who claim to be so concerned by the welfare of Our Troops would be well advised to oppose those policies rather than demanding that American citizens refrain from expressing their views on U.S. soil. Burning Korans is a repellent thing to do because of how bigoted and hateful it is, not because it harms our war efforts.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: That's what I was thinking of: the U.S. overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran (though I didn't know that it was called "Operation Ajax").

      Glenn Greenwald is one of my heroes for his willingness to carefully present the facts and let the chips fall where they may. He puts much of the American media establishment to shame.

  11. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Both extremes, the religious right-neoconservative free-market fundamentalists, and the Islamist fundamentalists both have their share of jerks with boulders on their shoulders looking for a fight. They will use any excuse to claim they are the injured by the actions of the others to cop a victim status, to enlist more numbkopf followers to defend and protect their idiocracy.

    I see it as a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The real problem is the media, which having abandoned journalism in favor of sensationalist tabloidism, presenting biased Op-Ed pieces as reporting, and playing lap-dog to the greater evil of corporate unaccountability, has dragged the nation down to uncivilized level many people are convinced that someone deserves to be attacked, injured, or killed because they look different, read the wrong books, listen to the wrong music, or have the wrong surname.

    Given the choice between religious fascism and corporate fascism, I would rather have neither.

  12. Tony Coyle says:

    Erich – you & Glenn Greenwald continue to make it hard for us to stay true to a key tenet of the revolution – that the lawyers will be first against the wall!

    How dare you show sense and rational judgement!

    Now we'll need even MORE meetings to rewrite the damnmanifesto! (yes – it is now one word!)

    • Erich Vieth says:

      I do think the DI "Manifesto" is due for a rewrite with group input. I wrote it back in 2006 when the there were only a handful of writers and we were just starting. Let's do consider our guiding principles and try to put them in writing. I'll send out an email to the authors soon and we'll solicit ideas.

      I've noticed that there is a lot of debate about the famous Shakespeare line about killing all the lawyers–is it a compliment or a disparagement of lawyers? Whatever the meaning, I tend to keep a low profile when I hear people reciting the line.

  13. Erich Vieth says:

    From Jason Linkins at Huffpo:

    Let's remember that all of this paralysis was caused by 50 people who wanted to burn a book that's available for free, on the Internet!

    There were many, many moments where someone could have simply said, "No, we should really not be doing this. These Islamophobes are objectively wrong, objectively stupid, objectively contradictory, objectively harmful, and by God, as someone with a functioning brain and a devotion to the pursuit of reason above all else, I am going to stand here and say no to all of this." But as it turns out, it wasn't until yesterday afternoon that someone finally had the guts to say maybe we cannot really believe a word this man is saying.

    Well, they should have thought of that before they decided to point a bunch of teevee cameras at him, I guess.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/10/this-is-

  14. Erich Vieth says:

    Another gem from Glenn Greenwald:

    The media circus surrounding the Koran-burning pastor illustrates this cowardly dynamic even more extremely. Media figures who would never dream of treating with hostility Respected Political Officials who start wars of aggression are competing with one another over who can most flamboyantly express contempt for this inconsequential, powerless joke of a figure on the ground that he risks "spilling blood."

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald

  15. Tony Coyle says:

    Erich – when they come for the lawyers, I can provide papers that prove you are not and have never been a lawyer (for a very small fee).

    For a slightly larger fee, I'll even use two colors of crayon.

  16. Erich Vieth says:

    But, of course, it's a nutcase preacher threatening to burn the Koran that endangers our troops:

    "According to charging documents, the unprovoked, fatal attack on Jan. 15 was the start of a months-long shooting spree against Afghan civilians that resulted in some of the grisliest allegations against American soldiers since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Members of the platoon have been charged with dismembering and photographing corpses, as well as hoarding a skull and other human bones."

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti

    And note the article's information that the U.S. military has not worked very hard to let us know about these horrendous incidents, which occurred in 2006-2007. How much of this kind of thing is going on in our names in the Middle East. You can build 1,000 schools, and even one of these incidents will wipe out all of the good will.

  17. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently admitted what I have been saying all along:

    "We're not leaving Afghanistan prematurely," Gates finally said. "In fact, we're not ever leaving at all."

  18. Brynn Jacobs says:

    The Huffington Post has a discussion of a new book which posits that spikes in terrorism, especially suicide bombers, correlate strongly with the U.S. military presence in a country.

    In the short five-year period since, from 2004-2009, there have been 1,833 suicide attacks, 92% of which were anti-American.

    Pape argues that the key factor in determining spikes of suicide terrorism is not the prevalence or profile of radical Islamic clerics or mental sickness but rather the garrisoning of foreign troops, most often US troops or its allies, in these respective countries.

    They discuss the cases of Japan and South Korea, but also that of Osama bin Laden:

    When terrorist tracker and New America Foundation Counter-Terrorism Initiative director Peter Bergen was invited to interview Osama bin Laden in 1997, bin Laden told Bergen point blank that America had become an arrogant nation in the wake of its victory in the Cold War and that the basing of American troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of the two Holy Mosques, had made the US a target for al Qaeda. It is also true that the Saudi government invited in and agreed to host on a temporary basis US forces in order to help deter Iraq's Saddam Hussein. But after ten years, the phrase "temporary bases" actually shifted in then Defense Secretary William Cohen's remarks to "semi-permanent."

    The shift was noticed by media, government officials, and incensed Islamists throughout the region – though hardly noted at all by American strategists that only saw one side of the cost-benefit ledger.

    <a href="http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/10/06/terrorism?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+salon%2Fgreenwald+%28Glenn+Greenwald%29&quot; rel="nofollow">Glenn Greenwald had a post this week which was much along the same lines. How do we determine cause and effect in terrorism? In the case of 9/11, American media and government officials loudly proclaimed that we were innocent victims, that we were facing a new kind of enemy who simply hated us for our freedoms, not for anything we may have done.

    In fact, virtually every perpetrator of an attempted anti-U.S. Terrorist attack — beginning with 9/11 and even before — has cited similar rationale for why they are willing and eager, even at the cost of their own lives, to attack the U.S.: because the U.S., through its own actions and its enabling of Israel, constantly brings violence, invasions, bombings, occupations, child-killing sanctions, overthrows, foreign control, and widespread death to their part of the world, and has been doing so for many decades. Obviously, religious fanaticism plays a role in causing people to be willing to give up their own lives, but so constant and consistent is this claimed rationale from Terrorists — we're doing this in retaliation for U.S. actions in the Muslim world — that it should no longer be questioned or doubted what principally motivates these attacks.

    It's one thing for Americans to argue that we have the right to engage in these actions, that we are justified in doing them, or that we somehow are doing Good Things for Muslims with our bombs and drones even though these primitive ingrates don't realize it. But it's another thing entirely to act shocked, surprised or confused when our endless (and still-escalating) stream of bombings, invasions, occupations, and other means of control in their part of the world end up provoking a desire to retaliate and return the favor. It's not just expected that our actions will produce these reactions, but inevitable. It's the most basic part of human nature there is. John Cole put it this way yesterday:

    When you bomb people and kill their family, friends, and neighbors, burn down their homes and burn down their businesses and kill their livestock, spewing unexploded ordnance and munitions in fields where they work and their children play, it pisses them off. Many of them even get pissed off enough to fight back against the people they think are responsible for the bombing. They probably even form lifelong grudges when they find their mother and children in thousands of bloody pieces in their former homes.

    Again, this is not rocket surgery. If they were not sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda before, after you bomb the shit out of them, they will be.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: I am amazed at how happily ignorant most Americans are about our military actions. Many people I have spoken to say things like: "There will always be war" or "They hate us for our freedom" or "We ought to nuke Iran and get it over with." I've actually repeatedly heard these things from people (I like to gently invite comment on these things with I meet people). What if they knew that we are trying to do social surgery with rockets and guns, and that the net result is MORE terrorism? I don't think that most Americans want to hear that. Take Guantanamo. Many people assume that almost all of them were terrorists. Of the 759 men imprisoned at Guantanamo, only 35 of them will actually be prosecuted, and 50 other held indefinitely. The rest have been released because we have no evidence that they were terrorists. .112 is an anemic batting average for baseball. For imprisoning people, it's outrageous and a national embarrassment. http://dangerousintersection.org/2010/04/08/hundr

      But we live in a society that is proud to swat away inconvenient facts. Even when the thing at stake is our relationship with the Creator of the Universe and our eternal life after death, we don't take facts seriously. We don't even know the basics of our own religion or the basics of competing religions. http://dangerousintersection.org/2010/09/29/ameri… It's all surreal, because we are highly discriminating when we want to buy a new electronic gadget or when we are trying to decide what movie to watch.

      When it comes to important things, we can't stand to be bothered with the facts.

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