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Tilting at Windmills

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September 7, 2010

AMERICAN EXTREMISM DOESN'T HAPPEN IN A VACUUM.... Chances are, you've heard about the radical Florida church that plans to "celebrate" the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by organizing a Quran-burning ceremony in Gainesville.

The problem is, you're not the only one who's caught wind of the story. International news outlets have reported on the Dove World Outreach Center's plans, fueling anti-American outrage, especially in the Middle East.

It prompted Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to suggest that the radical Christian church is directly undermining American national security interests and putting U.S. troops' lives in even greater danger.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort," Gen. Petraeus said in an interview. "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." [...]

Other senior military leaders echoed Gen. Petraeus comments Monday. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who oversees the effort to train Afghan security forces said he was informed of the planned Florida protests several days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government.

Gen. Caldwell said many Afghans do not understand either the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment or the fact that President Barack Obama can't simply issue a decree to stop Mr. Jones from his demonstration. Military officials said they were not trying to deny Mr. Jones his right to free speech, but feared he was not thinking about the consequences of his actions.

"There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue," Gen. Caldwell said. "The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan."

Just yesterday, hundreds of Afghans rallied in Kabul to protest the Florida church's scheduled event, and military leads fear protests will spread as news of the book-burning spreads. There were also reports that thousands of Muslims protested in Jakarta, Indonesia, after learning of the plan.

As a matter of principle, I feel a twinge of discomfort about military leaders criticizing a protest held by a U.S. church, even if that church is hopelessly insane and run by crazed bigots. That said, military leaders have troops to look out for, and this disgusting church is making that job far more difficult. I don't love the criticism, but I can appreciate why Petraeus and others feel compelled to speak out.

What I find especially interesting, though, is to see the rhetorical shift. Throughout much of the Bush/Cheney era, the right would incessantly accuse the left of undermining American national security by criticizing the administration. Terrorists have access to modern media, conservatives would remind us, and every time the left questioned the administration, it signaled weakness and American division to the world, necessarily undermining the war effort.

A few years later, it seems a crazed right-wing preacher is doing exactly what conservatives accused liberals of doing.

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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It should be clear by now that Republicans are de facto traitors.

Posted by: Mike on September 7, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Today Civics is not taught in most schools. I vividly remember being taught in my Civics class that "With every Right comes a Responsibility."
People don't seem to "get" that today.

Posted by: Miss T on September 7, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Telling certain Fundies that their book burning plans might launch world wide unrest and violence is more a "Go! Go! Go!" signal than anything.

Because a lot of them are looking forward to the End Times. If this triggers it then Hallelujah!

(Nice to be that confident that when things do down that you have a guaranteed place at the Right Hand of the Lord. Me? I am not sure I got a reserved seat on that flight.)

Posted by: Bruce Webb on September 7, 2010 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

You either believe in the First Amendment, or you don't, Steve.

The Skokie framing ring a bell?

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

"Dove World Outreach Center"? The irony...

Posted by: Gregory on September 7, 2010 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Have you seen this preacher's picture? Dude looks like he walked out of a leather bar in the Castro.

Posted by: A Texian Observer on September 7, 2010 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

And while this church has every right to burn Korans, why can't they have any consideration for the feelings of Moslems, just as they were complaining Imam Rauf's group were not showing?

Isn't there something in the bible about turning a cheek or something? Do unto others? Etc, etc.

Posted by: karen marie on September 7, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

There' our First Amendment rights and there's common sense. that Petraeus even had to comment on something like this is ridiculous.

It's not simply ignorance, many on the right are openly hostile in their opinion on the rest of the world (Freedom Fries, anyone?) Its a stunning contempt.

I often mention a former friend who is stridently conservative. Whenever I would mention how bad we look in the eyes of the world after some outrage her answer was always, "I don't care what THEY think!" But to this day she still can't look at the sky because it reminds her of 9/11.

I doubt Petraeus will get any support from Republicans or their right wing mouthpieces on this one, yet I would guess come November the military vote will go overwhelmingly Republican.

Posted by: SaintZak on September 7, 2010 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

This isn't complicated. The GOP will call anything their side does right, and anything the other side does wrong. They're willing to describe black as white, black or gray as necessary to do so. Refuting their arguments as if they were offered seriously is a waste of time.

The subject of this article is one example. The ACA, which is pretty much the 1994 GOP health care policy but was described as communistic socialism last year, is another.

And Americanist, there are no First Amendment questions here. No one is asking the government to shut down the Koran burning, just pointing out that it's unwise. Of course, your post was really a perfect example of my first point. Were you invoking the First Amendment when Ari Fleischer was doing his disgusting "watch what you say" act 8 years ago?

Posted by: drkrick on September 7, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

I can't emphasize how destructive the GOP's tactics of hate are and how badly we need to remind those who consider themselves Christians that this is unacceptable behavior - and certainly against the teachings of Christ:
1. The Southern Strategy is all about appealing to white racists and further alienating them from their black neighbors (it's always a bad sign if you wouldn't treat someone differently if you were blind);
2. Homophobia is still being promoted under the guise of family values and the protection of heterosexual marriage;
3. Despite a proven 67% drop in immigration, anyone who looks even slightly Hispanic is targeted and alienated;
4. And now it's Islam, a religion with over a BILLION followers that's been targeted for prejudice.

Who will the GOP marginalize next? When will they stop embarrassing white Christians like me? Love thy neighbor and treat others as you wish to be treated.

Posted by: Kiweagle on September 7, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Petraeus isn't saying the book burning should be stopped. He's saying it hurts his mission in Afghanistan. That's it. Sometimes, bigots might respond to a different dog whistle, particularly if their overlords at Fox and EIB blow it. That's what the esteemed general is doing in a nutshell. In the meantime, let's remind the right how there are real-world costs to their vaunted values.

Posted by: walt on September 7, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Of course burning a copy of the Koran is tacky, sort of like building a mosque near to the site of the World Trade Center; in America Christians have the same rights as Moslems whether PC liberals like it or not.

Posted by: Luther on September 7, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Krick -- on Ari Fleischer, yes I was.

And I was kinda hopeful that there was a legit government role to stop this dumbass move at one point, some sort of public bonfire permit with, I dunno, a crowd control provision. Again with the Skokie model: they had a First Amendment right to march, but I doubt even the ACLU would have helped 'em raise the $5 for a parade permit.

I don't know enough about the particulars of the proposed burning (where, under what crowd control, etc), but surely if there was a way to legitimately stop or minimize it, it'd have been done.

That said -- the REAL way to deal with something like this, like I said, is the Skokie model: you acknowledge the First Amendment, and then you go on to note, LOUDLY, that this guy is an asshole.

Which is what I said about Ari Fleischer -- as well as the guys (like Kos) who said of Americans killed in Iraq that they deserved it.

LOL -- face it: I'm not having trouble staying consistent here.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Luther - I didn't hear Petraeus complaining that Koran-burning was tacky. I heard him say that it would cost American lives. You don't care about the lives of American soldiers, but the rest of us do.

Posted by: Bloix on September 7, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

And oh yeah, karen marie, just cuz it's interesting: Jack Miles (who wrote God: a Biography and Christ: a Crisis in the Life of God, two of the very best theological studies) has a really good take on "turn the other cheek", which methinks the President should consider:

Actually act out "turn the other cheek" sometime. It's not the submissive, oh, hit me again message people assume.

Most people are right-handed. So if someone smacks you with their right hand, most of the time they hit you on the left side of your face. And naturally, you turn your head to the right with the blow.

So, as a simple matter of physical geometry, if you 'turn the other cheek' to someone who has just hit you on your left side, it is an AGGRESSIVE gesture, remarkably like cocking your own right fist to sock him back. (In fact, if you DO hit back with your own right hand, that's pretty much how you will do it: turning your face.)

If nothing else, 'turning the other cheek' is a kind of defensive escalation of the confrontation: a guy smacks you on the left side of your face, you more or less automatically assume a kind of submissive posture by turning your face to the right.

But when you 'turn the other cheek' in response, presenting the right side of your face to the guy who just hit you -- you're not signaling submission; that's not how the body language reads.

Jack points out that very few priests or ministers box much, so it's understandable that they wouldn't have caught on to what was clearly Christ's actual -- and not so subtle meaning.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

@Luther: The sooner you and people like you begin to realize that 19 hijackers and their organizers do not constitute a representative sample of a billion people within the religion of Islam, the sooner people can stop being so bigoted.

For God's sake, stop punishing people who love America and the people in it as much as we do.

Posted by: Kiweagle on September 7, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

You know what Luther? You have a first amendment right to be a jerk, but I have the same right to call you out on it! Nobody said ONE thing on whether Christians have the same rights as Muslims. But JHC you gotta make yourself a VICTIM. THIS is the problem. I don't blame the GOP for this knucklehead in Georgia, right wing or not. I blame them for not standing UP and calling him out. He's a stupid ignorant ass. And saying I don't care what THEY think is the stupidest thing of all.

Posted by: SYSPROG on September 7, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

....and I'll just add...

the can go right ahead and throw the Bible on their little bonfire, too. Both of those books have done enough harm already.

Posted by: SaintZak on September 7, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Yet another surreal moment here in the early 21st century - a military, uniformed leader telling a religious order to stand down!

I easily see in my mind's eye a Christian soldier telling the Christian cowards to stop being such idiots! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on September 7, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

You know what just occurred to me might be a useful protest against this guy?

Sending him copies of the Recitation -- wrapped in the American flag.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

It's worth remembering that right-wing jingos have long criticized the conduct of the U.S. military in prosecuting the various war efforts in the Middle East and Central Asia with sentiments like "more rubble, less trouble" and "kill them all, God will know His own."

There is nothing new here.

Posted by: j h woodyatt on September 7, 2010 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

It is not only Patreus's right, it is his obligation to speak out against the would-be Koran burners. It is his troops that will be put in harm's way by this action, he should use his pulpit to try and talk some sense into these people.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on September 7, 2010 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Wait just a darned minute. In the name of "security," New York Police can pen up citizens who want to protest at a national political convention, miles away from the site, and this TRUE threat to national security can not be shut away from TV cameras?

I don't buy it.

Posted by: Cal Gal on September 7, 2010 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

This is clearly a political act. As such, if carried out, it should cost this "church" its tax exemption.

Posted by: m on September 7, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

"@Luther: The sooner you and people like you begin to realize that 19 hijackers and their organizers do not constitute a representative sample of a billion people within the religion of Islam, the sooner people can stop being so bigoted."

One could also point that out to liberals when they complain about Christianity. But that doesn't stop liberals from tarring all of Christians based on the actions of some radical fringe group does in the name of Christianity.

Posted by: Badlands on September 7, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

In a very practical sense, this is more of a hate crime than a First Amendment situation. This act endangers Muslims here and troops abroad. It also seeks to deny Muslims the free exercise of their religion by tacitly encouraging acts of violence. Your rights always end when they infringe dangerously on the rights of others. The far right is not shy in denying rights of protest from the rest of us.

Posted by: Sparko on September 7, 2010 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

The people who want to burn the Quran will not be daunted by the outrage of Muslims around the world. On the contrary, they will see that as validation.

Posted by: James E. Powell on September 7, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I cant recall christians going nuts calling for the deaths of artists worldwide for "piss christ".
I wont call for the death of someone burning a bible.

If someone goes ape*hit over burning a Koran, they need to relax. Its just a book.

Posted by: Joe on September 7, 2010 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno what I think of the First Amendment-itude of directly trying to ban the burning of the Recitation, or the Bible, for that matter, but it runs toward Justice Thomas' reasoning in Black vs. Virginia, the cross burning case: ""[T]his statute prohibits only conduct, not expression. And, just as one cannot burn down someone's house to make a political point and then seek refuge in the First Amendment, those who hate cannot terrorize and intimidate to make their point.""

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

No, Joe: it's not "just a book."

I'm not an expert on hate crimes, much less the law on what constitutes a hate crime directed at religion, but surely there is a difference of degree that becomes a difference in kind having to do with the relative sanctity of whatever is being desecrated.

For example, if somebody broke into a synagogue and, I dunno, stole the Kirby vacuum, that is surely a lesser crime than doing something awful with the Torah: right?

And if somebody broke into a Catholic church and robbed the bingo receipts, that would not be as significant a crime as if they carefully found consecrated hosts and did something unspeakable to them?

For Muslims, the Recitation IS divine, the way the Eucharist is from most Christian denominations. It's not "just a book" -- and so might possibly be treated differently in hate crime legislation.

Does anybody know what Florida law says about this?

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

How about a counter-protest with a Bible-burning and U.S. flag-burning? That seems to be equally valid as a First Amendment demonstration, as long as the bibles and flags are the property of those doing the burning. That is another question: who is providing the Qu'rans for the burning? If they do not belong to those doing the burning, then to whom do they belong? And, whoever is buying them is contributing directly to Islam, aren't they? How do they justify paying money to Muslims who may use that money to terrorize us Americans?

And, what of the U.S. soldiers who hate Muslims and see their mission as a crusade against Islam? Do you suppose there may be some U.S. soldiers who join in the burning of sacred texts? What if one of them participates in the Dove Outreach burning? Is there a consequence to them? This is a much greater mess than anyone is acknowledging. Yes, in one way the Qu'ran, Bible, Torah, etc. are "just books," but the reality is that people attach huge emotional status to them, and that has to be considered in context.

May God/Allah/Spirit have mercy our souls.

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
st john

Posted by: st john on September 7, 2010 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

To theAmericanist:

So the message is less important than the form?

I'm a mostly agnostic Catholic. If the Vatican were to be destroyed, there would be sadness. But eventually a new pope would be annointed (?). And the message of love would still continue.

If you argue that Muslims can't be mocked becuase they would go nuts, then why would should we tolerate them?

Posted by: Joe on September 7, 2010 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Benen engages in typical left-wing hyperbole when he tars Florida church members as hopelessly insane and crazed bigots. They are not that. Nevertheless, however well-intentioned their motivation may be, their method is egregious, and the consequences are so predictably a violent world-wide Muslim backlash, that you would hope the church would think again about burning books. Belen's comment about the effect the church's protest will have on Obama policy in prosecuting the war is fully correct -- and another reason for persuading the church to desist. Was there ever a time when book-burning made any sense?

Posted by: libertasdon on September 7, 2010 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Joe, you're confusing a bunch of stuff. (For one thing, I'm not the guy who has been oversensitive to Muslim concerns around here.)

The absolute character of the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion and its guarantee of speech nevertheless allow for all kinds of common sense rules that in practice limit what religions can do and what kinds of speech are legit.

For example, there are faith traditions that promote forced marriages of underage girls to old men. That's illegal here -- and rightly so. The LDS was pretty much founded on polygamy, which actually caused a WAR with both the Federal and a series of state governments -- and it was the LDS that backed down. (And got Utah, rapidly followed by a third or so of Union Pacific stock.)

Likewise, there are lots of legit restrictions on "freedom" of speech; it's not just that you can't shout "fire!" in a crowded theater.

In a case like the Gainesville guy who wants to burn Koran, if there was a legit way to use fire code or crowd control laws to stop this guy, I'm not such a First Amendment absolutist that I'd feel bad about it -- any more than I would have objected if the Nazis hadn't gotten to march in Skokie, not because there was a First Amendment issue, but because they couldn't scrape together the $5 for a parade permit.

I wouldn't have given 'em the dough. If I was Fire Marshall Bill, or whoever writes the permits in Gainesville, I might lose this guy's application (if there is one). Labor Day Weekend, and all that.

That was why I was musing if there was some hate crime statute that might cover burning the Koran, as I suspect there probably is some such statute that could cover desecrating consecrated hosts. Trouble is, so far as I know the only way you can get a consecrated host in order to desecrate it is theft, just as the only way you can pull a stunt like those radio clowns in NYC who wanted to do the wild thing during mass at St Patrick's Cathedral is trespassing.

Jones has evidently purchased or had donated the copies of the Recitation he's going to burn (and at least one of 'em is actually in Arabic, so it's a REAL copy), and he's planning it on private property.

So, like I said: this is one of those moments when progressives should sorta kinda wish they hadn't gone out of their way to dis folks who merely said "ick" about the NYC mosque -- because now we really need credibility that was squandered on a guy who wants Sharia judges in the American judiciary and is on the wrong side of democracy in Iran (not to mention that tax problem for the Cordoba site).

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK


Point noted.

Of course, he can always have a saftey demonstration on the use of Fire Exstinguishers....

From what i have read, its only a fine for violating the no burn permit. So i dont see how anybody can stop him.

Posted by: Joe on September 7, 2010 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

"...As a matter of principle, I feel a twinge of discomfort about military leaders criticizing a protest held by a U.S. church, even if that church is hopelessly insane and run by crazed bigots..."-Benen

Pray tell Mr. Benen, just when do you find "sedition" uncomfortable. Trying to start a war or endanger our troops by a fanatical recklessness meant only to inflame others against our nation and our citizens is like asking for a terrorist attack by some minute minority's petty views.

This is equal to yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater. It goes well beyond "first amendment rights" to a state of malicious intent and sedition.

Compare it to black people bursting in at a KKK rally with a Jesus character having anal sex with the not so virgin Mary...you get the point.

Inciting riots or war or terrorism is not a first amendment right...it is malicious sedition. You should be outraged at this Christian Taliban hypocrisy and stop calling it a right...but call it sedition and harmful to our nation and its people.

Posted by: bjobotts on September 7, 2010 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

I've said it's rank hypocrisy for Steve B to be bitching about folks who don't meet his standards for doing to this Gainesville clown, or Keller in NYC, what he condemned people for doing with the Cordoba folks.

But there IS an intriguing bit of real hypocrisy on the Right -- the conservatives in the Corner have been patting themselves on the back for their, oh-so-righteous tea party view that burning Korans is in poor taste (even though they find the the ickiness is simply more proof of a double standard favoring Muslims), and yet these are the same folks who indulged in a seriously delusional discussion of nuking Mecca in March 2002.

In case you guys ever hallucinated that I don't notice a wide range of foolishness and hypocrisy, just cuz I smack y'all around.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

"...Benen engages in typical left-wing hyperbole when he tars Florida church members as hopelessly insane and crazed bigots. They are not that..."-Posted by: libertasdon on September 7, 2010 at 4:54 PM |

Bullshit. I heard the interview with this nut and he is definitely a crazed bigot, hopelessly insane.
If you have not seen him talk or listened to his "logic" then you know nothing about just how insane this fanatic really is. He wants to kill all Muslims and curses all others who don't believe in his Jeebus.

He is definitely a bigot and full of hypocrisy as he is the most anti-christian I've ever heard...filled with so much hate and condemnation. So f**k him and the Jeebus he rode in on. He represents the 'American' Taliban with his own form of Sharia law.

Posted by: bjobotts on September 7, 2010 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist, just one question -
WHERE does Mr. Benen say ANYTHING against the church exercising its 1st Amendment rights? He wrote: "...I feel a twinge of discomfort about military leaders criticizing a protest held by a U.S. church...". That sentence was AFTER he printed three paragraphs from the article which specifically stated that the military fully understands the church's Constitutional rights.
In other words, and as usual, you're misquoting and setting up strawmen.
Surprise! Surprise!

Posted by: Doug on September 7, 2010 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Dougie, I'd commend remedial reading classes. Even at your age, they can work wonders.

I had noted of Steve B that either you believe in the First Amendment, or you don't. I had not accused him of calling on the government to prevent this Gainesville clown from exercising his First Amendment rights.

What I DID note -- ad infinitum, ad nauseum -- is the utility of the Skokie model, which (if you were literate) you would know BEGINS with defending the First Amendment.

Including the part about free speech.

DO let us know when you learn to read, Doug.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 7, 2010 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

"and then you go on to note, LOUDLY, that this guy is an asshole."

People have been noting that loudly about you all across the internets for years.

From 0 to condescending to DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM in under 60 seconds.

Posted by: Anthony on September 8, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Simple solution... get the troops out of the middle east ALL OF THEM not just enough to shut them American people up. Let them continue killing each other again. THEN can we begin turning the other cheek, completely ignoring them blowing up each other again.

Posted by: Mac on September 9, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK



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