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The Rev. Jones and Both Sidesism

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For once, I'm with Hillary Clinton. Regarding the Rev. Terry Jones, would-be Quran igniter, the secretary of state said, "It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and ... disgraceful plan and get the world's attention, but that's the world we live in right now."


"Get the world's attention" is putting it mildly. The until-recently justifiably obscure Jones is now famous on seven continents. He is doubtless far better known in the Muslim world than, say, N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has carried water for the World Trade Center mosque, and certainly better known than nearly all of those who have lined up to denounce him.

And what a long line it is! Take a number. Just about anyone in what used to be called Christendom who can command a microphone, starting with President Obama, has condemned the book-burning pastor. Gen. David Petraeus has warned that "Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday. Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy, and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult."

Julius Scruggs of the National Baptist Convention reproved him, as did the Rev. Pat Robertson, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sarah Palin, the Vatican, Attorney General Eric Holder, Mitt Romney, Angelina Jolie, Ann Coulter, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Glenn Beck, and Gov. Haley Barbour, among many, many others.


All of the denouncers are obviously right, but why in the world were sane people called upon to respond to this flyspeck anyway? How did the Gainesville pastor become such a world-bestriding figure?

He became news because he fulfilled a need for the press. They had to have another side to the ground zero mosque story. Why? Because members of the press are total suckers for "both sidesism." There is nothing they like better in a news story than to present two conflicting views and to pronounce that "both sides" are guilty of provocation, mistrust, violence or bad faith. They are confident that truth nearly always lies between two extremes. Exceptions are made when the antagonists are Democrats and Republicans, or environmentalists and businessmen, but the generalization usually applies.

The controversy over the ground zero mosque highlighted Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim cleric who seems insensitive to the feelings of Americans regarding the Sept. 11 attacks. What the story needed was some Christian or Jewish cleric who could demonstrate indifference to the feelings of Muslims. It's a measure of the integrity of mainstream religious figures in America that none could be found. They had to turn over rocks in rural Florida to find the handlebar moustache-sporting Quran burner.


But attempting to present "both sides" as having their extremists, their provocateurs, is quite simply absurd in this case. Though the easily inflamed members of the Umma believe that America and the West generally are crawling with Muslim haters, that Islam is "under attack" -- to use the favored phrase of al-Qaida -- the reality is quite otherwise. Americans actually do live out the meaning of their creed. Americans do honor religious expression of all kinds. And the overwhelming majority of Americans have shown no religious bigotry toward Muslims. When some bozo decides to express contempt for Islam by burning the Quran (book burning being the mark of barbarians), Americans as if with one voice denounce him.

The press has done the world, but particularly our men and women in the military, a severe disservice by making a household name of the Rev. Jones. Let's face it, if the feelings of American Christians and Jews are hurt (by, say, a mosque at ground zero), they will peacefully demonstrate in the streets, write letters to the editor, call their members of Congress, and possibly apply bumper stickers to their cars.

If Muslims worldwide have their feelings hurt, there will be blood. The offense to Muslim sensibilities need not be real (remember the riots over the rumors of Quran flushing at Guantanamo) and they need not rise to the level of geopolitics (recall the riots in Nigeria over the Miss World contest).


A significant minority of Muslims is on a hair-trigger for violence and murder. Everyone knows this, which is why Secretary of State Clinton referred so respectfully to the "holy Quran." Responsible non-Muslims are attempting, oh so conscientiously, to convey the message that the West does not despise Islam. The press, for the sake of "both sidesism," has undermined that message profoundly.

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