The Blog

President Obama and Sarah Palin Agree: Muslims Can Be Dangerous

Muslims are dangerous. That's the bipartisan message of the day. That Muslims around the world can be provoked into violent rage by the burning of the Quran is a belief unquestioned by both liberals and conservatives.
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Muslims are dangerous. That's the bipartisan message of the day. That Muslims around the world can be provoked into violent range by the burning of the Quran is a belief unquestioned by both liberals and conservatives.

President Obama said the conflagration would be a "recruitment bonanza." Sarah Pain said on her Facebook page that "It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric." Robert Gibbs said, "there is no doubt that this has the potential to set back our ability to keep our soldiers safe, our abilities to keep our country safe."

Let's unpack this. What all these voices are saying is that Terry Jones -- this loony minister in Florida with something like 50 followers -- is capable of unleashing an unpredictable but inevitable cascade of violence. There is unanimity around those dire consequences.

This also means there is unanimity around a stereotype. The characterization of Muslims as unable to distinguish between a few headline-hungry, angry, spiritually vacant Floridians, and the rest of the country is, apparently, a universal portrait.

Essentially, President Obama and Sarah Palin are saying that the world is full of dangerous Muslims; on one hand, recruiters who see Jones as a heaven-sent marketing hook, and on the other, terrorist candidates, who have so much burning hatred of America that this could push them from seething bystanders to the next IED-carrier, or underwear bomber.

The American political establishment is in lockstep. They have made it clear that there are enough members of the Muslim community who either hate America -- or who are so primitive that they cannot determine whether or not Terry Jones is an outlier or a representative of American culture -- that they pose a real and present danger our troops.

If this were not the case, then we would hear President Obama saying that he condemns the threatened burning of the Quran, but he is confident that Muslims around the world will recognize that it is a despicable act of one man, and in no way represents America and the American way of life.

But no one is saying anything remotely like that. The implicit agreement is that Muslim antipathy is a lit fuse, and we need to do everything we can do avoid ignition.

In 2002, the American journalist Danny Pearl was kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan and beheaded. The video was circulated on the Internet. At the time, there was no pressure on the terrorists, no outcry in the Muslim community or among Muslim leaders to release Danny Pearl unharmed. There were no dire warnings that if Pearl was killed, it would be provoke violence against Pakistanis and other Muslims, that it would be a recruiting bonanza for Jewish terrorist groups seeking to perpetrate violence.

The Muslim community relied upon our ability to distinguish. That's just one example; there is no shortage of others. There is clearly no fear within the Muslim community that outrageous acts on their part -- violent or symbolic -- will provoke a sweeping American response against Muslims. That's because -- rhetoric aside -- Muslim leaders recognize that despite limited and inexcusable acts of violence of vandalism in this country, for the most part our culture has brakes.

President Obama and Sarah Palin worry that the Muslim community has no brakes. If they thought only a handful of isolated reactions to the Quran burning might occur, they wouldn't be responding as the Doublemouth Twins.

Back in the 90s, Samuel Huntington wrote a controversial book called Clash of Civilizations, in which, among other dialectics, he described the world as being threatened by a war between Islam and Western values. The events of 9/11 re-focused attention on Huntington, and he was both lauded for his prescience and attacked for his stereotyped and one-dimensional view of the world.

For me, the most troubling part of the Terry Jones debacle is the fact that a two-bit minister's "stunt" -- as Obama called it -- can escalate into a massive global media firestorm, in which there is undisputed agreement that one stupid thing can provoke many really bad things.

Despite the millions that we've spent on improving America's image through the pathetic efforts of the Office of Public Diplomacy, despite Obama's speech in Cairo, and despite many, many other initiatives, America is held in such low esteem that everyone recognizes the potential that one jerk in Florida can create.

Whether Terry Jones goes through with his ugly idea or not, that's the ugly truth that no one has the courage to be talking about.