The small church in Florida that is planning to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11 says it is taking into consideration advice from all around the world not to do so. In recent days, Gen. David H. Petraeus has advised leaders of the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., not to go forward with the plan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton blasted it as “outrageous” and “disgraceful.” As of Wednesday, the church still planned to desecrate the holy book of Islam, but Pastor Terry Jones said he was continuing to pray over the decision.
While the church has a 1st Amendment right to engage in book burning (provided it takes precautions to prevent the fire from spreading), the observance of what the church calls “International Burn a Koran Day” would have negative repercussions all out of proportion to the group’s minuscule numbers. If Jones and his followers are immune to pleas for religious tolerance, they at least ought to be moved by Petraeus’ comments this week that soldiers and civilians could be put in jeopardy by the church’s actions and his request that it exercise restraint. That wouldn’t prevent it from continuing to spew hateful comments like “Islam is of the devil,” but it would deny this countries’ enemies an opportunity to claim that the United States is engaged in an unholy war on Islam.
The distinction between possessing a right and exercising it imprudently has figured into the debate over the construction of an Islamic center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks on New York. Some critics of the misnamed “ground zero mosque” would argue that if the Dove World Outreach Center ought to exercise restraint, so should the organizers of the Islamic center.
The situations, however, are completely different. The Florida church is preaching hatred of an entire religion; the Islamic center says it hopes to encourage interfaith tolerance. And no one is suggesting that construction of the center would lead to violence against U.S. troops. If anything, it’s the opposition to the center near the World Trade Center site that supports the terrorists’ narrative that America is waging war on Islam.
So would the burning of Korans. We hope that, after praying about it, Jones and his followers see the wisdom in Petraeus’ words.