In the media firestorm over a Florida pastor’s plan to burn Korans on Sept. 11, politicians of all stripes have been stumbling over each other in their race to denounce the spectacle. Even Sarah Palin jumped in.
But one candidate in particular has personal perspective on the matter: retired Lt. Col. Allen West, now seeking to represent Florida’s 22nd district in Congress. He served in both Gulf Wars over his 20-year military career. West hasn’t released a statement on the book bonfire, but Battle ‘10 asked his opinion on the matter.
The event, West said, should have been a non-starter.
“For whatever reason we have taken a very insidious local thing that really should not have gotten any attention, and now we’ve turned it into a huge international event. And so now people are going to stoke the fires, and they are going to use it for whatever game they can.”
West mentioned the 2005 controversy over Danish newspaper cartoons depicting Muhammad, and suggested any action can be twisted to stir up extremists. In that way, West said he doesn’t think U.S. soldiers abroad are in more danger due to the planned bonfire than they are from anything else.
“I think that what we have to realize is that the Taliban and everyone hates us regardless — you saw with the cartoons that were done — any simple little thing can be misconstrued, and the imams, the clerics, and mullahs over there will stir up whatever angst they can,” West said. “What we have to understand is that we just still need to be focused on the enemy regardless. This is not going to cause any other uptick than anything else would, I think.”
West likened the Koran-burning pastor Terry Jones to the infamous founder of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps.
“I was stationed out in Kansas back some time a go, and everyone knew that Fred Phelps was an absolute lunatic,” West said. “The best thing to do is ignore them and don’t give them that platform by which they can preach their vile hatred.”
His suggestion is that Jones should instead read the Koran and help his congregation understand its charge to the Muslim world.
“I am not for burning books. I think that books are important to educate people and give us the opportunity to expand our horizons and understanding of others. And I think that’s one of the most important things we need to have right now, so that when people start talking about Cordoba, you understand what happened at Cordoba back in the eighth century,” West said. “Not just that pastor, but across the United States of America — we need to read the Koran, we need to read the hadith of Muhammad, we need to read the sura, we need to study the history of Islam from its inception in 610 to where it is now, and understand its expansion and its attempts of conquest against Western civilization so that we can have these open discussions and not be seen as brutish people who really don’t know the principles and precepts Islam is founded upon.”
West, who has been critical of multiculturalism, also said that the American tolerance of other religions should be mirrored in religions’ tolerance of the First Amendment.
“It is always very disturbing to me that people can say and do whatever they want as far as Christianity is concerned, but anything else seems to have a get out of jail free pass,” West said. “When tolerance becomes a one-way street, it leads to cultural suicide, so this is an opportunity for the Islamic world to show their tolerance and their understanding of the fact that here in America a person does have certain freedoms — it does not mean that they are prudent actions — but they do have that freedom and this is not indicative of who we are as a people.”
UPDATE: West might have been on to something with the comparison to Westboro Baptist Church. The Gainesville Sun reports that members of Jones’s congregation have picketed with Westboro, and that the Kansas church is now pledging to burn its own Korans this Sept. 11 if Jones backs down and cancels his event: “‘WBC burned the Koran once – and if you sissy brats of Doomed america bully Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center until they change their plans to burn that blasphemous tripe called the Koran, then WBC will burn it (again), to clearly show you some things,’ the church announced in a news release this week.”