President Obama this morning joined the growing number of national politicos who have denounced a Florida pastor who plans to hold a Quran burning to memorialize 9/11. Kudos to Obama for putting his objection plainly. In an appearance on Good Morning America, the president called the pastor’s act a “stunt” that’s “completely contrary to our values” and that may well incite violence against Americans around the globe. But it’s hard to imagine how far off the rails our politics have gone when the president is forced to respond to this madness.
Pastor Terry Jones’s stunt has drawn condemnation from folks ranging from Sarah Palin to Gen. David Petraeus, who also noted that images of burning Qurans in the U.S. will no doubt be used to stir up violence. It’s tempting to ignore Jones, who’s tiny congregation hardly feels representative of the country. But at this point, it seems we can sadly not dismiss the anti-Muslim sentiments that have reemerged so forcefully this election season. An exchange between Obama and host George Stephanopoulos was telling:
STEPHANOPOULOS: I wonder what this must feel like from behind your desk. You’re President of the United States. You have to deal with the fallout. And he’s a pastor who’s got 30 followers in his church. Does it make you feel helpless or angry?
OBAMA: It, well it is frustrating. Now, on the other hand, we are a government of laws. And so, we have to abide by those laws. And my understanding is that he can be cited for public burning. But that’s the extent of the laws that we have available to us. You know, part of this country’s history is people doing destructive or offensive or harmful things. And yet, we still have to make sure that we’re following the laws. And that’s part of what I love about this country.
Destructive and harmful things as part of this country’s history. He said a mouthful. Their also part of this country’s present, and certainly part of this election season’s tenor. Palin’s objection to the Quran burning said it all. She warned the pastor about the ramifications of his act, explaining, “It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don’t feed that fire.” But then she compared Jones’ act to the Park51 project in lower Manhattan. She’s right that they are related, at least. By using the project to stir up anti-Muslim fears upon which she can profiteer and Republicans can campaign, Palin and her ilk showed Pastor Jones the way. He should thank her for his newfound fame.