President Obama, General Petraeus, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf are all agreed. If Americans burn the Koran or decline to accept the Park 51 mosque, there could be an explosion of anger in the Muslim world and people could get hurt. It’s a matter, says, Rauf, of “national security.” Obama, by implication, agrees with him.
The choices in question are separate and unrelated, in spite of Terry Jones’ drive-by implication today that there’s a link. Burning the Koran is inherently distasteful and pointless; whether there should be a mosque on Park near Ground Zero is a topic reasonable people of goodwill can disagree on.
But in the space of 24 hours, the paroxysm of identical themes from multiple sources – “the anger of the Muslim world should constrain our actions” – has risen to a crescendo.
The timing is interesting. Rauf made his comments the evening of 8 September, after Petraeus’ concerns had flooded the infosphere. He would have known what Petraeus said, and therefore knew he was only paraphrasing and repurposing the concern expressed by America’s most respected military leader.
I believe Obama, for his part, was expressing his own reaction on Good Morning America. He probably wasn’t even aware of what Rauf had said. He simply regards Petraeus’ objection as the paramount concern. People will have different opinions as to why he does; I attribute it to his very conventional intellectual bent, which always leads people reflexively to the most defensive posture.
But what’s interesting is that everyone – US authorities and Muslim cleric alike – reverted to the same theme. Resisting this reaction, if you’re a civil-liberties, consensual-governance constitutional republican, requires active effort. Mere passive pragmatism will lead you to, well, dhimmitude.
Some critics have really pounded Petraeus for voicing his concern, some of them implying he shouldn’t even have it. I agree Petraeus should have voiced the concern through his chain of command, but not to the press. It was, however, his duty to voice it to his seniors.
It’s the president who has to do the right thing in a situation like this. No one else can snatch the brand from burning. It’s not Petraeus’ job to express what the highest principle is for America. And only the president can commit us as a people – troops or civilians – to facing the consequences of Muslim anger in upholding that principle. The latter is what he should have done in the case of the planned Koran-burning. It’s what he should do in the case of Rauf’s veiled threat. He shouldn’t do it belligerently; he doesn’t have to. He should just do it.
Cross-posted at Hot Air.