From The Ottawa Citizen
Pastor bashing didn’t buy peace
What do Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, Gen. David Petraeus, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have in common?
They each need to get a grip on themselves the next time they want to whack a wacky pastor. Each sacrificed valuable resources to condemn and plead with once-aspiring Koran-griller, Florida Pastor Terry Jones, a bizarre fourth-string in the evangelical band. Congregation size: 50, on an inflationary day.
Yes, by now all agree: a nutty fringe leader was compromising social cohesion, foreign relations and military security with grotesquely silly, gratuitous and hurtful plans for a Koranic cook-off.
But this portrayal missed key considerations. In the extent and scope of their criticism of Jones’ aims, senior U.S. officials, including Clinton and Gen. Petraeus, exceeded their constitutional remit in ways that could undermine future security and liberal-democratic ways. The same can be said of Harper and his defence minister.
Their warnings and beseechings raised immeasurably the stakes in this matter. Politicians risked the possibility that a government failure to apparently force Jones to stop — a constitutional impossibility, in any event — would produce more blowback than ever. Now that this pressure has forced Jones to climb down on his own, liberal-democracy’s enemies at home and abroad will be emboldened. The outcome doubtless confirms their doctrinal belief in a soft West that is vulnerable to ever-increasing levels of terrorism and stealth-jihadic demands for endlessly-Islamizing “accommodation.”
There is more to the political overreach problem. The package of freedoms for which the U.S. and Canada sacrifice in South Asia presumably includes the “first freedom” — freedom of expression — in Canada’s Charter and the even more expansive U.S. First Amendment provision. As U.S. Supreme Court decisions remind us, this freedom even protects those wishing to burn the U.S. flag. It is unlikely any ostensibly sacred text could have outranked the flag for such constitutional purposes.
Brief government statements-of-position would have sufficed in the Jones case. Unfortunately, the extremes to which politicians went might encourage future officials to pressure for expanded crisis-driven, religion-based censorship, out of fear of “offending Islam.” Worse, the recent hysteria requires that we ask whether posturing politicians and media are internalizing the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s international objective at the UN of imposing Sharia blasphemy norms on Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide.
In all this, freedom’s adversaries sense weakness. Look at the first declarations of Imam Feisal Rauf, the $100 million Ground Zero mosqueteer, upon returning from the Middle East. Presumably seeing how threats of Islamist violence get politicians to bend, Rauf invoked the logic of protection racketeers when referring to his critics: “if you don’t do this (the mosque) right, anger will explode in the Muslim world. If this is not handled correctly, this crisis could become much bigger than the Danish cartoon crisis.”
And apart from free expression per se, there was also the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This clause is the cited authority for separation of religion and state, such as it is. One must ask whether, in their anxiety, officials ventured so far into the religious arena as to have breached relevant rights of Jones and his church-goers (the FBI even visited him). Is it acceptable for leaders and other agents-of-state to play the de facto role of judges of religious acceptability — let alone enforcers of Sharia Koran-handling standards?
In continuing to give the pesky pastor profile, Canadian and U.S. officials contributed to the public’s underestimating of Islamism’s unwavering determination. Rightly or wrongly, Islamic extremists justify their plans to destroy us by citing Koranic and other texts that long predate 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq. But when politicians obsessed about a pulpit bit-player, they implied that our enemies were amenable to temporizing and concessions. We had only to “do the right thing” — or the fault was ours. So politicians’ pleas for Jones’ co-operation have reinforced the false but perversely attractive illusion that peace is within our power to achieve if only we would accommodate the delicate feelings of the Taliban and their cousins abroad and among us.
The terrible implications of this escapist illusion — the increasing abdication of our domestic and foreign policy and ultimate fate to a hostile will — skulked unseen behind this week’s theatrics.
But whatever history’s verdict on Pastor Jones and his Korans, we must recognize that there is no peace in illusions and weakness.
A lawyer with 30 years in intelligence affairs, David Harris is director of the intelligence program INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc. He has consulted with intelligence organizations in Canada and abroad and served with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 1988-90.