"An act of extreme intolerance and bigotry"

I then added:

People who run our government have to govern in the real world. They have to protect the welfare of our troops in the field; do whatever they can to see to it that these troops do not face even greater risks and difficulties than they already do in protecting the U.S. national interest; try to bring the Muslim world to our side – especially now that the Arab world appears to be opening and the views of the people, not just the view of a few rulers, would matter much more; try to dry the swamp in which terrorism thrives; attempt to create a Sunni Arab coalition to contain a rising Iran; try to encourage the Palestinians to make peace with Israel; try to make sure Turkey does not drift too far away from the West — and this is just the short list of the challenges Obama, Clinton, Gates, Petraeus, Muller, etc. face and the responsibilities they shoulder.

All these challenges — and many more — would have been more difficult to meet effectively had the Koran burning taken place. All these responsibilities would have been much more difficult to carry out without as clear and as unequivocal a signal as possible to the Muslim world that the U.S. government resolutely opposed that burning (Ben Frankel, “Gratuitous insults: The staying power of bad ideas,” 4 March 2011 HSNW).

Predictably, Jones’s Koran burning had precisely those consequences which Obama, Gates, Clinton, Petraeus, Mueller, and others have warned about — and we are just at the beginning of the backlash.

In Afghanistan, demonstrators attacked a UN building, killing twenty and wounding eighty-three. Among the dead are Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish, and Nepalese nationals. Experts worry that the wave of protest will sweep the Muslim world.

Here are the opening lines from a report filed by the Los Angeles Times reporter Laura King from Afghanistan:

One clear beneficiary has emerged from the wave of deadly riots that swept Afghanistan after members of a Florida evangelical church burned a copy of the Koran: the Taliban.

The insurgents, according to Afghan and Western officials, have been able to exploit the ongoing tumult, using riots as cover for attacks against Western and government targets and reaping propaganda benefits by allying themselves with popular fury over the desecration of the Muslim holy book.

Moreover, the violence has fueled tensions among NATO allies, Western diplomats say, sparked as it was by an American figure, albeit a fringe one. The riots have tapped a well of anti-foreign and particularly anti-American sentiment that exists even among Afghans who do not condone the deaths that have occurred.

More is to come. Jones said that he will put Mohammed “on trial” next.


President Obama said the desecration of the Koran “is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that “Free speech is a great idea, but we are in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.”

The constitutional rights of Americans are guaranteed, including the rights to engage in unpopular and disagreeable conduct. Jones’s sheer recklessness and narcissism should not change that. His blithe disregard for the welfare and well-being of American soldiers on the front line, however, his casualness when it comes to weighing his actions in light of the national interest, and his moral carelessness should give us a pause.

Nearly a hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson said that a major American foreign policy goal was to make the world safe for democracy. Governor Samuel Walker McCall of Massachusetts (in office 1916-19) corrected Wilson, saying that we should rather worry about “mak[ing] democracy safe for the world.” Indeed.

Ben Frankel is editor of the Homeland Security NewsWire