Should the burning of Islam’s holy book, the Koran, be banned? This is the question many in Washington are asking, following last weekend’s deadly rampage in Afghanistan. On March 20, Pastor Terry Jones, who heads the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., presided over a Koran-burning. The actions of this crazy church leader set off cascading demonstrations across Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly denounced it, fanning the flames of religious hatred.
Muslim clerics called for mass anti-American demonstrations. Last Friday, in northern Afghanistan’s largest city, Mazar-e-Sharif, thousands of protesters poured out of the large Blue Mosque and marched toward the United Nations mission a mile away. The angry, fanatical mob descended upon the compound and slaughtered seven United Nations workers - including defenseless women. The protesters chanted “death to America” and burned the U.S. flag. Demonstrations have continued to spread throughout the country.
Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of 150,000 U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, called Mr. Jones’ actions “hateful, extremely disrespectful and enormously intolerant.” Top congressional Democrats, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, have condemned the Koran-burning. Even some senior Republicans are infuriated. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggests that limits on free speech may be necessary to protect American troops on the ground. He recently said that he would like to hold Mr. Jones “accountable” for defaming and destroying Islam’s holy book.
Mr. Graham is wrong. In fact, one expects this kind of trendy politically correct nonsense from Democrats and the liberal media, but not a senior Republican from a conservative Christian state. This is not the first time Mr. Graham has demonstrated his progressive leanings. He has championed cap-and-trade legislation, amnesty for illegal immigrants and massive public spending. Yet, even by his establishment standards, this is beyond the pale: Who appointed him the arbiter of what is acceptable freedom of expression?
Moreover, Gen. Petraeus does not - and should not - determine the limits of the First Amendment. Mr. Jones (or any American) has the legal and moral right to burn any book - the Koran, the Bible, the Talmud - no matter how offensive. The point of freedom of expression is not to protect what is safe and socially acceptable; rather, it is precisely to safeguard provocative, even insulting actions or words. This is the true test of freedom: whether we are willing to allow those with whom we profoundly disagree to have free expression without fear of government coercion.
The paradox of liberal multiculturalism is that it seeks to undermine basic liberties in exchange for not offending the sensitivities of some officially designated protected identity-group - homosexuals, feminists, atheists, minorities and Muslims. Our freedom is being gradually eroded.
The cultural double standard and hypocrisy is appalling. Christianity is routinely denigrated in America - and across the Middle East. When a crucifix is dipped in a jar of urine, it is art. When cartoons mock the Prophet Muhammad, it is blasphemous and dangerous. In other words, because Christians are genuinely peaceful and will not engage in jihad, their faith can be systematically mocked. Radical Islamists, however, are able to determine the boundaries of legitimate expression. Our leaders are now bowing to the twisted whims of violent Muslim fanatics. Islamism trumps the Constitution.
Moreover, Muslim-majority societies are deeply hostile toward non-Muslims - especially, Christians and Jews. Bibles are banned in Saudi Arabia; when confiscated, many of them are burned or tossed into the garbage. Construction of churches and synagogues is prohibited. In Egypt, churches have been razed to the ground and Coptic Christians massacred. In Iraq, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, half of the Christian population has been exterminated or expelled; the other half lives in mortal fear. Iran executes Muslim converts to Christianity.
Shariah law - the legal basis of most Islamic states - is a form of religious apartheid, systematically classifying Christians and Jews as third-class citizens. Christophobia and anti-Semitism are rampant in the Muslim world. America’s political class, however, refuses to speak out.
Washington’s reaction to the Koran-burning is perverse. The rampage at the U.N. mission is not the fault of some blowhard, kooky pastor. Instead, responsibility lies solely with the savage attackers.
The bloodbath at Mazar-e-Sharif is a watershed. Afghanistan is America’s longest war. We have been fighting there for more than 10 years - with no end in sight. Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the United States had no choice but to topple the Taliban and smash al Qaeda. The perpetrators - and enablers - of that horrendous war crime needed to be punished.
Yet, that noble mission was transformed into Wilsonian nation-building. The result is that Afghanistan has become another Vietnam - a protracted quagmire squandering precious American lives and treasure. It is time to cut our losses.
The tragic reality is that our efforts to transform this primitive, backward land into a South Asian Switzerland have failed. After all of our sacrifices, one Koran-burning event is able to trigger mass protests against America. The Afghans are clearly not ready for democracy or pluralism. Nor are they grateful for everything the United States has done. Islamic tribalism is all they know - and all they will probably ever know.
The Afghan adventure has cost us enough. It should not cost us our precious freedoms as well. Otherwise, the Islamists will have succeeded in the battle that really matters: defeating us from within.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.