Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Learning the wrong lessons from 9/11

It is sad that media attention has helped cast the shadow of a small, irrelevant church in Florida over the remembrance of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 this year.

The plan by the curiously named Dove World Outreach Center  to burn copies of the Koran is being roundly denounced across the US. Hillary Clinton finds it "disgraceful." Attorney General Eric Holder finds it "idiotic and dangerous." General Petraeus too finds it "dangerous," and hints darkly at how this might complicate his troops' mission in Afghanistan.

In the Middle East, the press is predictably aghast. Jamil Mroue of Lebanon's Daily Star, a reliable indicator of the average thought process, writes in his editorial "Koran burners threaten the US":

"The planned action of the church could in the end threaten the achievements – some of them universal in their reach – of US civilization. This incident highlights the treacherous balancing act that the branches of government must perform in building and maintaining a society of free citizens who do not destroy one another."

He goes on to talk about averting the planned burning, followed by some silly statements on the US "record of aggression."

Wow. Dude. Chill out!

It is hard to know who is worse: Pastor Terry Jones who is burning the Koran, or those condemning the burning and would rather see freedom of expression stifled for the sake of political expediency.

It is facile to argue that 9/11 was just an attack on the US. If it was about US power, the attacks would have simply focussed on the Pentagon and (if the high-jackers of United 93 had succeeded) elsewhere in Washington.  The attack on the World Trade Center was an attack on a conspicuous representation of the way of life of the most advanced society in the world. It was an attack on the values of the Enlightenment that made that society as enviable as it is, by a gang that would rather see civilisation go back 1000 years, rather than move forward by 1.

Mr. Mroue is dead wrong to talk about the "precipice of a clash of civilisations." It is not about a clash between two civilisations. It is about a clash between civilisation and anti-civilisation.

The only acceptable commemoration of 9/11 is to uphold the very values that were targeted by the attacks. Freedom of expression, however irritating, is sacrosanct. Burning the Koran harms no one. No Molsem will be harmed. No Moslem will have his right to worship abridged in any way. No one should really care if a bunch of pyromaniacs in Florida burn a few books. This is all absurd.

Moslems that are offended by Pastor Jones, and believe in freedom, should consider the words often attributed to Voltaire: I disagree with what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it.  A good slap in the face of Pastor Jones would be for Moslem organisations to speak in defence of his right to burn the Koran.  If it becomes a trend, "smart-money" Moslems might consider investing in a  Koran-printing business....


  1. I found your commentary enlightened and a fresh outlook. I agree with you and find the "Koran-printing business..." remark both humorous and appropriate in its response. Saw your comments on Brookings Institute...Kari