The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan says an American church’s plan to burn Korans on September 11 could endanger U.S. troops and damage the overall war effort in that country.
General David Petraeus warned Tuesday that the planned burning of the Muslim holy book “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban would exploit for propaganda purposes.” He said it could stoke anti-U.S. sentiment not only in Afghanistan, but across the Muslim world.
The Dove World Outreach Center, a small evangelical church in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida, says it plans to burn copies of the Koran to mark the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The church has been denied a government permit to conduct the burning, but has vowed to go ahead with it anyway.
This country’s founding principles express the most benevolent and hopeful aspirations for a civil society. As examples, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” are declarations that separate the United States from even other Western democracies. They are also principles of which most of us are justly proud.
As Americans, we like to think that our country is exceptional partly because of those ideals. But, at the moment, we’re having a hard time living up to them. Indeed, some of the people most enamored of the notion of American exceptionalism are among those least committed to the principles of individual freedoms — at least for those who are somehow a bit different in worship or accent.
(During the Bush years, many conservatives liked to say that jihadists attacked us on 9/11 because they “hate our freedoms.” Sometimes, we don’t like them much, either.)
Take the current plight of American Muslims, who are bearing the blunt of ugly prejudices and nativism. From the NYT:
For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.
Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of vandalism. The knifing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City has also alarmed many American Muslims.
“We worry: Will we ever be really completely accepted in American society?” said Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of two young girls. “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”
Eboo Patel, a founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based community service program that tries to reduce religious conflict, said, “I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11.”
That was a refrain echoed by many American Muslims in interviews last week. They said they were scared not as much for their safety as to learn that the suspicion, ignorance and even hatred of Muslims is so widespread. This is not the trajectory toward integration and acceptance that Muslims thought they were on.
Some American Muslims said they were especially on edge as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches. The pastor of a small church in Florida has promised to burn a pile of Korans that day. Muslim leaders are telling their followers that the stunt has been widely condemned by Christian and other religious groups and should be ignored. But they said some young American Muslims were questioning how they could simply sit by and watch the promised desecration.
They liken their situation to that of other scapegoats in American history: Irish Roman Catholics before the nativist riots in the 1800s, the Japanese before they were put in internment camps during World War II.
I used to think that Americans had learned the lessons of history well enough that we would not repeat those ugly periods of prejudice and resentment. I was wrong.