Monte Kuligowski
Why do 'our values' tolerate the mosque but not Koran burning?
By Monte Kuligowski
September 15, 2010

Proposing the building of an Islamic center and mosque a stone's throw from the former Twin Towers, in a building damaged by the 9/11 attacks, was insensitive and provocative, to say the least.

In response to the imam's plan, proposing a "burn a Koran day" for the anniversary of 9/11 was insensitive and provocative, to say the least.

In the first instance the president of the United States seemed to endorse the mosque while speaking to a Muslim audience at the White House iftar dinner. The president stated that Muslims have a right to practice their religion and "that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable."

Later, when asked about his support for the mosque, Mr. Obama quickly clarified that he wasn't speaking of the "wisdom" of the mosque's proposed venue, just of the "right" to build it there.

In the second instance, Mr. Obama did not speak of the constitutional "right" to burn the Koran, but instead he "denounced" and "decried" the proposition and "requested" that the Florida pastor call off his plans. And so did other top spokespeople for the administration, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who personally phoned the pastor.

I find that troubling. Imam Rauf's intentions are troubling. The response of Pastor Jones was troubling. The inconsistency of Barack Obama, as president of the United States is perhaps the most troubling of all.

Mr. Obama proclaimed that Terry Jones' intentions were "completely contrary to our values as Americans."

In the iftar speech, Mr. Obama also made ample mention of "our values," in endorsing Imam Rauf's right to build the mosque.

After listening to Obama's iftar speech, one might have walked away believing that "our values" consist of tolerating religious freedom and speech. Our American values mean not judging the wisdom of one's religious expression. Our values mean not discriminating against those with whom we disagree.

Our American values mean tolerating things we may find repulsive. Well, not exactly. Mr. Obama and his spokespeople recently sat in judgment of Terry Jones' proposed religious/speech expression.

According to Mr. Obama, "our values" mean tolerating what many view as a 9/11 Islamic victory mosque. Interestingly, our American values also mean denouncing a religious expression that is offensive to Islam. The problem with moral relativism is that its practitioners do not find everything morally relative.

In his "our values" system, Mr. Obama defines our values for us and necessarily makes judgments in matters of morality. Unsurprisingly, his judgment with respect to Koran burning is cloaked in terms of national security.

But the argument that burning the Koran presents a threat to our troops is untenable. Why should Mr. Obama and his spokespeople believe that burning the Koran would incite more human passion and violence than building a victory mosque on sacred grounds? Surely, they have seen the polling data on the mosque and the rallies against it.

Should Muslims worldwide be appeased because they are more violent?

The endangering the troops argument is also hypocritical. When the media released the Abu Ghraib photos in 2004, jihadists reacted violently, resulting in an increase in attacks on our troops. Yet, those of Mr. Obama's political stripe had no complaints. In fact, early into the Obama presidency, Mr. Obama was planning to release additional "prisoner abuse" photos to the world until public opinion turned sharply against him. The release of more photos showing American troops "abusing" and "torturing" Muslims would have excited the passions of Muslims everywhere. As Obama said about the pastor's prospective Koran burning, releasing the photos would have caused "a recruitment bonanza for Al-Qaida."

If everything is relative and "our values" of tolerance is our guiding principle, then Mr. Obama shouldn't have referred to Jones' intended religious expression as a "stunt" anymore than he would have referred to building a mosque at Ground Zero as a "stunt," or a "victory monument." In perspective, Jones may sincerely believe that burning the Koran is a religious (or civic) duty; and Imam Rauf may equally believe that his religion is calling him to persist with the mosque in spite of the requests to cease.

One liberal politician who at least remained intellectually honest on the matter is Mayor Bloomberg. He supported both the right to build and the right to burn. He understands that under the current system, burning a Koran is no different than burning the U.S. flag, Bibles, draft cards or a puppet of Bush on a stick. Islam doesn't get special treatment.

The unfortunate reality, of course, is that Islam does get special treatment in the West out of fear. As we've witnessed over the years, any offense to Islam may send the elusive peaceful Muslim majority over the edge. Crowds of tens of thousands may gather in Islamic cities at the drop of a keffiyeh with chants of "death to [whomever]."

In our context, we must ask: Should offense to Muslims worldwide trump offense to Americans because Mohammed's followers are more prone to death and violence?

© Monte Kuligowski


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Monte Kuligowski

Monte Kuligowski is an attorney and writer whose legal scholarship, including "Does the Declaration of Independence Pass the Lemon Test?" (Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy), has been published in several law journals... (more)

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