Right-wing Islamophobes: Petraeus' comments about dangers of Koran-burning a "recipe for surrender"

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Earlier this week, Gen. David Petraeus released a statement condemning Florida* pastor Terry Jones' horrific plan to burn copies of the Koran outside his church on September 11 (which Jones has dubbed "International Burn A Koran Day"). Petraeus said:

It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan. It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community

He also commented of the proposed burning, "Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday."

We've previously pointed out that a nationwide climate of Islamophobia has followed the right-wing media's ugly, inflammatory, anti-Islam response to the planned Park51 Islamic cultural center. In addition to Jones' proposal, this anti-Muslim wave has included protests across the country in opposition to local mosques and Islamic community centers, vandalism of existing mosques, and rallies against Park51 that have echoed the right-wing media's disturbing rhetoric.

Now Gen. Petraeus is making the completely obvious point that viciously anti-Islam protests undermine our anti-terrorism efforts and could lead to a violent backlash against our troops. How have the stokers of those fires responded? By attacking Petraeus, of course.

Yes, although all three conclude that burning the Koran is a bad idea, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, and Frank Gaffney -- among the leaders of the anti-Park51 movement -- have declared that Petraeus' warning is "deeply troubling" and a "recipe for surrender." Instead, Spencer suggests that Petraeus should have issued a statement defending the church's right to burn the Koran.

Oh, and part of the reason that Geller and Spencer oppose the burning of the Korans is that they think the would-be burners are better off reading the books so they can learn about the evils of Shariah.

According to Geller, she is opposed to Jones' plan first because it "does a grave disservice to the cause of spreading awareness about Islamic teachings and the threat that Sharia poses to our way of life" and second because "the burning of books is wrong in principle." She also says that "Petraeus is wrong to say this will threaten American troops":

This is based on the assumption that they are fighting us because we are doing things they don't like. Actually they are fighting us because of imperatives within the Islamic faith. They will never like us unless we convert to Islam or submit to Islamic rule. If we stop doing things they dislike, where will we draw the line? How far will Sharia advance in the U.S., with Americans afraid to stop its advance for fear of offending Muslims and stirring them up to violence? The Muslim Students Association is already pushing for halal cafeterias, segregated dorms, segregated gym facilities on campus. This is incompatible with American freedom. We have to draw the line.

Spencer's commentary is quite similar. He opposes Jones' Koran-burning, writing: "I oppose the Qur'an-burning. I don't like the burning of books. I'd rather that the contents of the Qur'an, and the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence, be known." He writes that because "these people are free to do what they want to do," Petraeus "would do better to tell the Afghans that in America we have freedom of speech and expression, and that we put up with speech and expression that we dislike without trying to kill the speaker." Spencer continues:

He would do better to tell them that their likely murderous rage over this event is an outrageous overreaction, and that any bloodshed over this would be a heinous crime, far dwarfing any crime they think the people in Florida are committing.

The idea that in wartime one should be careful not to do anything that the enemy is likely to respond to with irrational and even murderous anger may seem tactically wise at first glance, but ultimately it is a recipe for surrender. One is already accepting the enemy's worldview and perspective, and working to accommodate it, instead of working on various fronts, not just the military one, to show why it is wrong and should be opposed.

Of course, to that Petraeus and his ilk would respond, Well, we are not at war with Islam or the Qur'an, and so to burn the book is a needless provocation. This ignores, however, the war that the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other Muslim groups are waging today against the freedom of expression -- and ignores also the ways in which Islamic jihadists use the Qur'an to justify violence and make recruits. Without approving of the burning, Petraeus should be defending the Florida church's right to do as they please, and using it as a teaching moment in Afghanistan to say, We are going to defend our vision of society, no matter what you bring against us.

Gaffney seems to have missed the memo about how it's important to read the Koran and learn of its horrors rather than burn it, instead commenting:

One can properly object, in principle, to book burnings of any kind. Or, one can argue that the publicity-hungry pastor of a tiny Gainesville congregation may have the legal right to burn Qurans, but - to paraphrase President Obama on the Ground Zero mosque - it would not be wise or right to exercise it. Either way, those who oppose shariah in America should also oppose this stunt.

Gaffney is, however, fully on board with criticizing Petraeus' statement about the possible response to an American Koran-burning bash, calling it "deeply troubling." He explains:

The risk is that, were one to take statements like General Petraeus' to their logical conclusion, any objection to the Quran-derived program of shariah could be deemed an endangerment to our troops overseas. The result of such a practice would inevitably be to put at risk here at home both the American people and their Constitution.

Obviously, it behooves U.S. government officials, whether civilian or military, to dispute such extrapolations as they have, after all, sworn a solemn oath to support and defend that very Constitution from all enemies, foreign, and domestic. In that connection, it would be helpful if Gen. Petraeus, who was careful in his factual characterization of the possible impact of the book-burning on the challenging task of force protection, were to recognize this need and affirm it publicly.

*State corrected.

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