On Burning the Koran

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the planned burning of Qurans on Sept. 11 by a Florida church could put the lives of American troops in danger and damage the war effort.

General Petraeus points out that hundreds of Afghans attended a demonstration in Kabul on Monday simply in anticipation of the plans of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has said he will burn the Koran on September 11. Afghan protesters chanted “death to America” and speakers called on the U.S. to withdraw its military convoy. Military officials fear the protests are likely to spread beyond Kabul to other Afghan cities.

Some people may believe this is all overdone. Jones, after all, leads a church of just 50 people. He clearly does not speak for the overwhelming number of Christians in America. And of course, in a nation of more than 300 million people, there are a handful who can be found supporting every imaginable crazed cause.

But this incident has the capacity to be different. General Petraeus is a careful and cautious man; for him to speak out as he did means the danger is real enough. And there is precedent. As the Journal story reminds us, reports in Newsweek, later retracted, that a U.S. interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay prison had flushed a Koran down a toilet set off riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

If he carries through on his plan, then, the actions by Jones may undermine our mission in Afghanistan and threaten the lives of those serving in that theater. People with standing in Jones’s life need to stop him, in part because his actions are deeply antithetical to our founding principles. The Third Reich burned books; those who are citizens of the United States should not.

Jones’s actions would also be an offense against the Christian faith. From what we know, Jesus not only wasn’t an advocate of book-burning; he was a lover of them, most especially the Hebrew Bible, which he often quoted. Beyond that, Christianity is premised on evangelism, on spreading what the faithful believe to be truth about God, history, and the human person. There is nothing that would lead one to embrace coercion or to stoke (literally) the flames of hatred.

Whatever differences the Christian faith has with Islam, they are ones that followers of Jesus need to articulate with reason, with measured words, and with a spirit of grace and understanding. And whatever purpose Jones thinks he’s serving, it is not the purpose of the Prince of Peace. It is, in fact, very nearly its antithesis. We can only hope that this deeply misguided pastor is stopped before he does significant damage to his country, its gallant warriors, and the faith Jones claims as his own.