Who would have thought that it would be the threat of burning Qurans that would persuade pols and pundits of all stripes to show a little unity? That’s exactly what's been happening this week, and we have Pastor Terry Jones and his flock in Gainesville, Fla.—they of the “International Burn a Koran Day” (scheduled for the ninth anniversary of 9/11 this weekend)—to thank.
As Jones’s planned stunt has garnered more publicity, a remarkable array of public figures has condemned it. Many, including Sen. John McCain, have noted the practical danger it poses to Americans: as Gen. David Petraeus said earlier this week, extremists across the globe would “undoubtedly” use images of the event as a recruiting tool and perhaps respond with violence. President Obama likened the impact of Jones’s proposed desecration to a “recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda.”
Yet what stands out in this news cycle is not the practical argument against what might happen in Florida this weekend. It’s the “values” argument—those intangible issues on which, as the Quran-burning discourse proves, Americans have more in common than we think. “What [Jones] is proposing to do is completely contrary to the value of Americans,” the president said. Added Mitt Romney, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate-in-waiting, “It violates a founding principle of our republic.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “It is unfortunate. It is not who we are.” Sarah Palin responded in a similar vein, writing, “Book burning is antithetical to American ideals.”
Conspicuously silent as of Thursday morning was Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House, whose use of the term “stealth jihad” echoes the same fear of an undetected, international Muslim conspiracy that Jones expressed in an interview Thursday. Jones said he and his followers were burning the Muslim holy books to send a message to radical Islamists that “we do not want them to do what they appear to be doing in Europe,” namely, to “push their agenda” and impose Islamic law.
As NEWSWEEK’s Christopher Dickey notes in a column published Thursday, the idea of an international Muslim conspiracy is as misleading as it is helpful to Al Qaeda and other smaller groups of extremist Muslims who want to see their enemies crippled by fear. At least on this issue, our leaders appear to be wise to the propaganda game.