- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2010


Tomorrow, Americans of all stripes will wake up and remember what, for many of us, was the toughest morning of our lives. Across the country, we will mark this hallowed day in our own ways, as we do each year, with our families and communities or privately. Later that evening, a small group of extremists in Florida had planned to hijack this sprit of remembrance to spread their own personal message of intolerance and hatred.

As director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 2001 to 2003, I spent the nine months following Sept. 11 at Ground Zero, where I witnessed many of the 2,977 Americans who gave their lives there pulled from the rubble. Not a day of my life goes by that I don’t see their faces etched in my mind. While I’m aware that I may never find a way to fully honor their sacrifice, I do know this: In the nine years since that day, I have never once come across a more offensive way to ostensibly honor these heroes than the Dove World Outreach Center Church’s planned “Burn a Koran Day.”

When the 19 terrorists hijacked those planes on Sept. 11, it was an attack on our nation, an assault on our values and an attempt to hijack their own religion from the more than 1 billion Muslims around the world who peacefully practice Islam day in and day out. Many of those Muslims stood in solidarity with Americans that day, insisting that they would not let their religion be hijacked by hatred. Today, it is just as important that we stand up and show the world that these 50 extremists in Florida do not speak for Americans. Our country was founded on respect for religion, and the burning of other people’s holy books is a deplorable practice that Americans of all religions rightly have condemned. Freedom of speech may give Dove World Church’s members the right to do as they please, but duty to country gives us all the responsibility to speak up when a line has been crossed.

Putting aside the issue of freedom of speech, as well as anyone’s personal feelings about Islam, it is unconscionable that any individual or group would assert the right to hijack the news on this sacred day for any personal reason or political agenda. The desire of Dove World Church members to burn Korans would be offensive on any day and in any context, but the fact that they have billed their actions as a remembrance of the fallen victims of Sept. 11 takes this outrageous event to an even more despicable level. Attempting to stir the pot and inflame hatred on what is essentially a holy day - and to do so in the name of the victims who are not here to speak for themselves - is beyond the pale. Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Church, has admitted that the event was designed to attract attention. Holding such a publicity stunt in the name of Sept. 11 is a desecration to those who gave their lives at Ground Zero and an insult to the family members and survivors.

As each year goes by, I am more fearful that those heroes who gave their lives on Sept. 11 will be forgotten, that the collective, painful memories will slip slowly from our minds. We’re in danger of letting this happen if we tolerate disrespectful antics from the likes of Dove World Church. Allowing these sideshows to take place on this hallowed day draws our attention away from the real story of Sept. 11 - the heroic actions of the men and women in those towers and the enormous strength of a nation determined to overcome.

There is one day a year when the vast majority of Americans put aside all political disputes and focus on our mutual respect for our fallen heroes. I am pleased that 50 members of Dove World Church have canceled their Koran-burning event. This day should honor the 343 firefighters, 60 police and port authority officers, and 2,350 others who died in New York that day as well as the 44 who died outside Shanksville, Pa., and the 184 at the Pentagon. Dove World’s inappropriate message of hatred should not have been tolerated in this country. Not on this day. Not ever.

Joe M. Allbaugh was director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration in President George W. Bush’s first administration.

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