General Petraeus Condemns Proposed Koran Burning

According to press reports, General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has said the proposed burning of Korans in Florida would endanger US troops:

“Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence,” Petraeus said. “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.”

While the General is speaking within his purview — the mission and the troops — it is fairly unusual for a military officer to so pointedly address the lawful exercise of an American citizen’s protected rights.  The White House also reportedly “condemned” the plans: 

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the proposed demonstration “un-American” and said it was “inconsistent with the values of religious tolerance and religious freedom.”

The reference to “tolerance” is somewhat ironic, given that it is allegations of Islamic intolerance (for negative perspectives on their faith) that are generating the controversy to begin with.  In fact, were religious freedom and free speech — protected values in the United States, defended by the US military — also valued in Afghanistan, this would not be an issue.

The reference to this being “inconsistent with…religious freedom” is also unusual.  It is unclear how a religious book burning by private citizens has any impact on the ability of others to exercise their own religious beliefs.  (It does not appear anyone previously said the private burning of Bibles, whether by religious groups or others, has impacted anyone else’s religious freedom.)  Interestingly, it does not appear the official critics have addressed the group’s own “right” to conduct the book burning.

It would seem this could be an educational opportunity for Afghanistan, for them to learn from the US example that disagreeing ideologies can be expressed, and coexist, in a free society.  Alternatively, it could be a lesson for America’s adversaries:  By allegedly using human freedoms for “recruiting and propaganda” they may have more influence on their enemy than with fighters or bullets.

No one wants to see American troops endangered; America values the lives of its troops like nothing else.  But what human freedom would American adversaries have to say was “enflaming” before US officials would laud its virtues and promote its defense — rather than decry its exercise?

Who decides what freedoms are worth defending, and which ones aren’t?