As we prepare to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, America finds itself in a precarious position that seems also to be an untenable one.
Our leaders are trying to repair our reputation in the Islamic world while simultaneously fighting a war against the extremists of that religion.
That extremism is alive and well nine years later, too. The top Taliban mullah on Wednesday proclaimed that victory over the U.S. in Afghanistan was imminent. A militant sect in Nigeria launched an attack on a prison Tuesday to free its followers in what some see as a precursor for an attack on that country’s government. In Iran, a woman convicted of adultery waits to hear whether she will be stoned to death. In Iraq, despite our government’s proclamation that combat is over, thousands of U.S. troops remain, bombings and ambushes continue and fighting goes on.
At the other end of the spectrum, people fed up with hearing about the “peaceful religion” are drawing lines in the sand. They argue it’s not our reputation that needs repairing, that the mosque at ground zero and the tribute to a Muslim stone mason at a Catholic cathedral are slaps in the face, just more proof that the Western world is more interested in placation than victory. They argue that a religion with so many followers who offer no tolerance deserves none.
One man had chosen to protest demonstrably his disapproval of Islam by destroying that religion’s holiest of books. Now it looks like he’s called it off, but who knows what’ll happen between my writing this and Saturday.
Either way, the world succeeded in marginalizing the Rev. Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who intended to burn Qurans on Saturday. They set him apart as a radical extremist, in effect placing him in the same category with murderers like the Taliban and al-Qaida. Did he deserve to be there? It’s a hard question to answer.
Is burning books of any kind despicable? Sure. It’s up there with flag burning. I certainly don’t want to see any Bibles burned. But we have the right to protest those things we have qualms with, and some people don’t see the war as one against terrorism. They see it as an idealogical war, a religious struggle. Wouldn’t you expect the most extreme believers of that idea to be all out of tolerance for what they see as the enemy?
More rational people will recognize that there is a difference between radical Muslims and people who just want to live and let live. However, the ones who want peace have a duty to stand up to the hijackers of their religion.
It’s time for Muslims who are sick of this struggle to marginalize the ones who propagate it. They need to say, “Look what you’ve done. You’ve got people in a country that celebrates freedom of religion wanting to destroy ours.”
At the same time we have to be stalwart in our defense of our own rights. The terrorists have used fear to stifle the free speech of people around the world for far too long.
A Dutch director was assassinated for making a movie critical of Islam. The creators of “South Park” found where their cable channel stood on free speech when their cartoon parody of Muhammad was suppressed. An execution order still hangs over the head of Salman Rushdie for “The Satanic Verses.”
And of course, the death threats have already been issued over Jones’ protest. This was reported by the Associated Press:
“I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed.’’
That’s not from a mask-wearing terrorist in a hole somewhere. It’s from a candidate for Afghanistan’s parliament.
You know, the country we’re trying to liberate from radicals.
Ironically enough, a country whose name was once synonymous with the restriction of liberties took a small step this week toward fighting back. Germany honored Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose caricatures of Muhammad sparked violent protests, with an award for his efforts at defending free speech.
At least someone has some guts. Radical Islam certainly has no fear when it comes to defending its beliefs. It’s high time we had no fear in defending ours.
E-mail Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays.