Soon after the 9/11 attacks, President George Bush made a strategic decision that the United States would embrace an interpretation of Islam as a peaceful religion. And that the US would also work with moderate Muslims to counter jihadists who distort their faith’s teachings.
Those who support a burning of the Koran – as the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., has planned to do on this 9/11 anniversary – obviously didn’t get the memo. Nor did those who still paint Islam as a threat to the world or to their own religion.
A debate over Islam’s true theology is one thing. But for nine years, the US has made a very pragmatic choice not to be afraid of Islam as a way to undermine those plotting another 9/11 attack.
It has worked. Fear, after all, is a tool of the terrorist. And the majority of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims reject jihadist justification of violence. In fact, the majority of Muslims who want Islamic rule in their country support a democratic means to achieve it.
The tide of history is toward peaceful Islam, despite parts of the Koran (like the Bible) that can be read as inciting violence against those outside the faith.
President Obama has gone even further than Mr. Bush. He (a Christian) joined the mayor of New York City (a Jew) in supporting the right for a Muslim center and mosque to be built a few blocks from ground zero.
And Mr. Obama has also directly and eloquently spoken to the world’s Muslims. In his 2009 speech in Cairo, he talked of a new beginning, “one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.” He also cited shared principles of justice, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.
Branding Islam as something to be burned off the face of the earth is to warp the religion as much as the jihadist has in using violence in the name of Islam. The US has instead chosen to play to Islam’s peaceful side. It has asked Muslims to speak out loudly against violent radicals and to report those inclined toward violence.
And American military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere are targeted not at Islam or Muslims but at people who directly threaten US interests. The US even tries to engage radical Muslims in those countries that eschew violence but advocate Islamic rule.
Al Qaeda has largely been on the defensive and on the run since 9/11, forced to rethink its use of violence. It has failed in its goal of rallying Muslims to overthrow their secular governments. And it faces rising Muslim anger over its tactics (which include killing Muslims).
US success in tagging Al Qaeda as an organization known mainly for its actions – that of violence against civilians – has been complemented by a US strategy of tolerance toward Islam and not a rejection of the faith.
Those in the US who now want to undercut that strategy by burning the Koran or denying the right to build a mosque anywhere in lower Manhattan are going against nine years of American success. Why ruin it with a publicity stunt like the burning of Islam’s holy book?