Something did not sit right with me when General Petraeus weighed in on the controversy just down the road (in Gainesville) regarding the well publicized Koran burning. For what it’s worth, I do not like such gestures; I find them atavistic, and I recognize that religion is indeed a sacred thing to those who believe. For every Muslim who is out there seething and hurling bricks, many more are simply respectful of the religion of their forefathers, scared of western influence in their lands, and are getting from this event the wrong impression of Americans, who have no natural disrespect of other people’s religious practices.
There is no reason for either our government or ordinary Americans to sow conflict with Islam, and the best solution, as I’ve said before, is deliberate separation both at home and in foreign policy with a long run and realistic goal of containment. This too would be offensive to some, but it’s better than the perpetual conflict we have now as we intermingle both at home and abroad in the name of liberal ideas of universalism.
All the same, it is a storied and treasured right of Americans to express themselves, ridiculously if they choose, and it is quite predictable, quaint even, that an old school fire and brimstone preacher would act in this way. It’s a very American eccentricity at work here. And it has served an important purpose in showing that Islam, far from being a religion of peace, is filled with people that may, at a moment’s notice, become violent. Further, it has shown the hypocricy and cowardice of the American politically correct establishment.
General Petraeus has suggested that this Koran burning hurts the war effort. Isn’t that interesting? What other things that Americans take for granted hurt the war effort? Wouldn’t the recent push for same sex marriage or five minutes of MTV or women wearing bikinis at the beach also offend Muslim sensibilities? Didn’t our protection of the Saudis from Saddam offend Muslim sensibilities, simply by allowing Americans to set foot in an Islamic land? Doesn’t our presence now in Iraq and Afghanistan deeply offend Muslims, not to mention the numerous civilians killed accidentally (but inevitably) by airstrikes and drones and scared shitless 19 year old American soldiers. Indeed, much of our country and its practices, some good and some not so good, are deeply offensive to any traditionally religious person. Nonetheless, none of these things have typically been up for debate as part of a “hearts and minds” campaign halfway around the world. Recall the Danish cartoons, which were eminently defensible, also caused similar mass Muslim rioting. While uneasy with Koran burning, I see that there is something valuable in Terry Jones’ provocation simply for revealing so many people’s true colors, and this was, in fact, one of his stated reasons for this event.
As for the General, there is something altogether gratuitous about Petraeus’ words. He undboutedly knew they’d be looked on kindly by Obama, in a way that a condemnation of equally problematic pacifist protests would not. Where was General Petraeus when the Abu Ghraib photos were plastered all over Time Magazine and anti-war protests? And what of the demoralizing “Bush Lied, People Died” canard? Petraeus is hardly taking a courageous or conistent stand here; he is simply saying what he thinks the boss wants to hear. And it is a problem when the military pursues its own (or the President’s) anti-democratic agenda in a free society; the military is supposed to be the instrument of the elected, political branches of government, and those branches (and the people to whom they are accountable) have varied opinions and views on what Islam means, how it should be addressed, and how that view should be expressed by private citizens. And, lest I remind the general, he took an oath to the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment.
A just war preserves a people and a way of life. I have not forgotten that Petraeus, ever the politician, let the cat out of the bag sometime ago when asked by Senator John Warner (R-VA) if the war made the US safe, responding “I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.” Indeed. The current war now has a logic all its own, nearly completely separate from domestic security, which can be easily vouchsafed by capping Islamic immigration and pressuring those here to Americanize or go home. The idea that to win a war American citizens must be cajoled by uniformed military men to show respect to an alien religion shows the ultimate impossibility of the current nation-building strategy, which aims impossibly and unprecedentedly to reconcile western institutions with an ancient, anti-western religion. This war, animated by ideological principals of universalist liberalism and multiculturalism, threatens as it drags on to degrade the society it ostensibly is being waged to protect.