During the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989, famed French humorist Jean-Jacques Sempé drew a cartoon summing up the absurdity of an international crisis about a magical realist novel, The Satanic Verses. He showed Rushdie working away on his typewriter, over a dozen policemen hovering nearby to guard him from Islamist assassins, and one bobby yelling into his walkie-talkie, “Close the airports!! He wants to write volume two!!!”
Rushdie walked into his role innocently (he never did write a volume two), but the Reverend Terry Jones has willfully manipulated U.S. relations with Muslim countries. Once a microscopically insignificant preacher, Jones now shakes governments. Two years ago, David Petraeus, Robert Gates, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama all pressured him to cancel plans to burn copies of the Koran at his church in Gainesville, Fla., worried it would lead to Muslim violence against Americans, especially in Afghanistan.
Under such weight, Jones canceled the Koran burning, but, even so, five Afghans and 14 Kashmiris died in protests against him. The 2010 incident prompted David Goldman, then of First Things magazine, to note that “a madman carrying a match and a copy of the Koran can do more damage to the Muslim world than a busload of suicide bombers. . . . What’s the dollar value of the damage from a used paperback edition of the Koran?” Goldman speculated how intelligence services could learn from Jones and sow anarchy for a few dollars.
So far, the assaults on U.S. missions in Cairo and Benghazi yesterday have led to four deaths but, if patterns hold, more will follow. Not only can Jones (or whoever came up with the anti-Islamic video that inspired this violence) cause Muslim deaths at will with his “International Judge Muhammad Day,” but he can put a wrench in U.S.-Egypt relations and even become a factor in presidential elections.
On the latter point: To please the Egyptian government, the Obama administration cringingly apologized: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims. . . . We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton then confirmed this appeasement (“The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others”). Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rightly retorted that “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Terry Jones and his imitators have figured out how to goad Muslims to violence, embarrass Western governments, and move history. The only way to stop this freelance foreign policy is for governments to stand firmly on principle: Citizens have freedom of speech, which specifically means the right to insult and annoy. The authorities will protect this right. Muslims do not enjoy special privileges. Leave us alone.
As Jimmy Carter can attest, not to stand strong turns U.S. missions abroad into sitting ducks.