The Pentagon issued a liberal use of the phrase "endangering US troops” during the aftermath of Wikileaks. Bombarded by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen, Washington attempted to make a criminal out of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for releasing what the Pentagon admitted was “old news.” Threats may have manifested towards individuals in the roll-calls, but so far the only area suffering visible damage is the Western and Muslim publics.
Gates and Mullen diligently avoided the ugly reality that many Americans, Europeans, and Muslims believe the war, not Wikileaks, represents the true threat to their interests.
US General David Petraeus, commander of all coalition forces in Afghanistan, isn’t exaggerating when he makes the same claim of Terry Jones. A longtime enemy of homosexuals and Muslims, the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center blames Islam for global violence and has organized a Quran burning on 9/11 in response to the 9/11 mosque. But two controversies snowball instead of cancel out and Jones’s actions have already begun to yield uncontrollable effects.
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Petraeus said on Monday.
In stark contrast to the local response to Wikileaks, Afghans immediately took to the streets in protest of Jones and America while pelting US convoys with rocks; similar protests have hit Indonesia with more to follow in other Muslim states. It’s also probable that the Taliban will make greater propaganda use of Jones than Wikileaks. And unlike Wikileaks, which reflects worse on the Pentagon than anyone else, Jones has just become a cliched, ill-informed symbol of American values in a fourth-generation war where perceptions are half the battle - sometimes all of it.
“Any religion which would profess anything other than this truth is of the devil,” reads the Dove World Outreach Center’s mission statement on Christianity. “This is why we also take a stand against Islam, which teaches that Jesus is not the Son of God, therefore taking away the saving power of Jesus Christ and leading people straight to Hell.”
Jones has also attached Israel to his vision. According to the Center’s website: Islam is Cursed by Cursing Israel; we are Blessed by Blessing Israel.
The irony of Jones’s racial and religious diatribe is hard to ignore. Without stepping too deep into several thousand years of history, Christianity has demonstrated its own violent tendencies from time to time. Muslims notice the hypocrisy. And considering that Jones’s constituency, presumably conservative, keeps support for Afghanistan afloat, he now threatens that very cause. Then again, Afghanistan likely means nothing to him compared to Jesus Christ.
Given his line of reasoning, perhaps it's no shock that Jones intends to rally as planned after being denied a permit to demonstrate, after being warned by Petraeus, and after conceding his “legitimate” concerns. Despite what has become a global warning in the international media, spokeswoman Rev. Stephanie Sapp said, “no one from the Pentagon or other federal agencies had expressed concern or asked that the event be canceled."
Jones told ABC News in a handful of press interviews, "What we are doing is long overdue. We are revealing the violence of Islam that is much, much deeper than we'd like to admit."
If these claims are true then the Washington should get to work on a new strategy. This controversy is bigger than Afghanistan and US officials can’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. Somewhat understandably, they have no desire to enter a religious battle with a Christian in a country that’s 80% Christian; roughly 60% of Americans oppose the 9/11 mosque. Yet protecting Christians at the expense of non-Christians violates the First Amendment too. Lt. General William Caldwell, who oversees the training of Afghan security forces, told reporters, "There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue."
But the First Amendment is part of the issue.
As gathering Afghan protests indicate, Jones’s words and actions present a clear and present danger to US troops in Afghanistan, which the First Amendment doesn’t protect. After insisting that military officials don’t want to deny Jones his right to free speech, Caldwell explicitly stated, "The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan."
"Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan - and around the world - to inflame public opinion and incite violence," Petraeus told the Associated Press.
So yes, Jones does present a clear danger to US citizens and to US international relations, and preventing his rally would be fully constitutional. There are other ways to protest the 9/11 mosque - he cannot be allowed to become a temporary face of 9/11. His fire will quickly jump from Florida to Afghanistan to the international community. Though Caldwell believes Jones is ignoring the consequences of his actions, the White House and Pentagon will regret their own if they allow Jones to preach his elitist vision of the world to the world.