Anti-Muslim activists are walking an ideological tightrope, condemning the actions of the Florida pastor whose burning of the Koran on March 20 set off murderous riots last weekend in Afghanistan, while condemning President Obama for not emphatically reaffirming the pastor’s right to do what he did.
Terry Jones, the non-ordained “pastor” of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., held a mock “trial” of the Koran two weeks ago, during which the holy book of Islam was found “guilty” of several “charges.” The stunt drew little attention domestically, but Jones posted a video on his website showing a Koran being burned as part of its “sentence.” The online spectacle didn’t escape the notice of Muslim leaders in Afghanistan.
Various news reports said that between 22 and 24 people have been killed in the spasm of violence in Afghanistan since Friday, when a mob overran the United Nations compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing at least seven Western U.N. workers. An estimated 150 people have been wounded. Obama has been burned in effigy by angry Afghan mobs.
On Monday, a television reporter asked Jones if the event was worth it “even at the expense of an American soldier or two or ten.” Jones replied, “I would have to say yes. Perhaps in the long run we have saved hundreds or thousands of lives. …We do not take that lightly, but we can’t allow it to eat us up.”
Some American anti-Muslim activists were careful not to endorse Jones’ actions – apparently aware that any association with him could give the appearance of callousness toward the innocent victims of the rioting. They acknowledged Jones’ right to express himself even in such a tasteless and disrespectful manner – and yet criticized Obama for describing the tastelessness and disrespect of Jones’ actions.
In a statement issued Friday, Obama said, “The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity.”
That was enough of an opening for Pamela Geller, executive director of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). On her blog, Atlas Shrugs, Geller’s latest headline shrieked, “Obama Sanctions Islamic Blasphemy Laws in Brutal Slaughter of UN Workers, Condemns Koran Burning ‘Bigotry.’”
“It seems President ‘Constitutional Lawyer’ needs lessons in America 101. Seriously. Who is he working for?” wrote Geller, sarcasm turned up to high. “The President of the United States must protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, despite his Islamophilia or preferences of the sharia. Privately he can think whatever he wants, but his job and what he was elected to do was protect our freedoms, despite his personal preferences.”
Her SIOA co-founder, Robert Spencer, took a somewhat more sedate approach to making the same point.
“Obama condemns Qur’an-burning and calls Qur’an-burning murders ‘outrageous.’ He offered no defense, however, of the principle of freedom of speech,” he wrote Sunday on his blog, Jihad Watch.
A second post at Jihad Watch, by author “Marisol,” addressed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s request that Congress condemn the burning – and took a shot at General David Petraeus. Petraeus told Reuters, “We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Koran.” Marisol replied that Petraeus’ comment “appears to validate Afghans’ behavior.”
Geller, Spencer and other anti-Muslim activists distanced themselves from Jones last summer when he announced plans to stage “International Burn a Koran Day” on Sept. 11, 2010. Jones’ plan did a “ grave disservice” to the cause of seriously informing people about the threat of Shariah Law, Geller wrote.
Spencer agreed “‘International Burn a Koran Day’ . . . is a gift to Islamic groups who would so dearly love to portray all of us who criticize and question Islamic teaching (and triumphalist mosques) as frothing reactionaries.”
Following an international outcry, including appeals from Obama, Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – who placed a personal phone call to Jones warning that American troops could be endangered by the stunt – Jones backed down. Demonstrations in Afghanistan then resulted in five deaths even though the event was canceled.
The media largely ignored Jones’ follow-up event, which he called “International Judge a Koran Day.” But Jones, anticipating a guilty verdict, had promised to desecrate the Koran in some fashion afterward. He apparently kept his word.
Jones said his church has received more than 300 death threats since the riots in Afghanistan began.
The Southern Poverty Law Center designated SIOA a hate group in 2011. Jones’ church is also designated as a hate group.