As a strategy for winning friends and influencing people, Terry Jones Quran-burning stunt has very little to recommend it. He hasnt converted any Muslims to Christianity. No one who values religious freedom has gone over to Jones side. Friends and relatives of the victims of the resulting violence in Afghanistan are furious. So, presumably is Gen David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forceds in Afghanistan, who warned, when Jones first promoted his book-burning plan last fall, that such violence would endanger American military personnel. Little has changed, and none of it for the better.
As symbolic acts go, burning a book even a holy book isnt as potent as crashing jets into tall buildings filled with people. Jones has quite a ways to go before the indirect consequences of his ill-conceived insult catch up with the direct result of Osama bin Ladens carefully executed assault. Nonetheless, Americans standards for acceptable behavior are higher, and burning the Quran does not meet them.
Having taken his place in a lineup that includes Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, whose demonstrations of hate are probably more offensive to most Americans and also probably less potentially lethal, Jones isnt backing down. We must hold these people and countries accountable for what they have done, he told the New York Times. By these people, he means terrorists, although he paints all Muslims with the same broad brush.
The accountability only goes one way; Jones says he doesnt feel responsible for the backlash, however predictable it may have been. One reason for that may be that its not Jones himself who is likely to pay with his life.
Although many wish hed sit down and be quiet, few Americans are arguing that Jones should have been prevented from lighting the bonfire. Overseas, some Muslim clerics have called for Jones to be arrested and tried. Thats hardly likely, because in the United States his actions, although offensive, not only are not criminal, they are constitutionally protected.
One response to the 9/11 attacks was to claim that the enemies of this nation hated us for our freedoms. The right to freely express ones religious beliefs is among those freedoms for which many patriots claim our troops are fighting. It is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it was recently affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving Westboros funeral protests.
Therein lies the difference between the United States of America and the nations where we are now at war. Here its the Constitution, not the party in power, that protects our rights.
In the court of world opinion, its a good thing that the Supreme Court recently stood up for the right to say and do something offensive to most Americans. That allows Americans to stand up for the right to say and do something offensive to most Muslims. We know you can tolerate it, we can say, because we have.
That doesnt mean Jones should continue his campaign. As parents and teachers have long taught, just because he can doesnt mean he should. There are far more effective ways of demonstrating that Christianity is the better way, and Jones should try some of them.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world should turn their backs on him. The First Amendment serves Americans well. Terry Jones does not.