American extremism doesn’t happen in a vacuum

AMERICAN EXTREMISM DOESN’T HAPPEN IN A VACUUM…. Chances are, you’ve heard about the radical Florida church that plans to “celebrate” the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by organizing a Quran-burning ceremony in Gainesville.

The problem is, you’re not the only one who’s caught wind of the story. International news outlets have reported on the Dove World Outreach Center’s plans, fueling anti-American outrage, especially in the Middle East.

It prompted Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to suggest that the radical Christian church is directly undermining American national security interests and putting U.S. troops’ lives in even greater danger.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen. Petraeus said in an interview. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.” […]

Other senior military leaders echoed Gen. Petraeus comments Monday. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who oversees the effort to train Afghan security forces said he was informed of the planned Florida protests several days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government.

Gen. Caldwell said many Afghans do not understand either the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment or the fact that President Barack Obama can’t simply issue a decree to stop Mr. Jones from his demonstration. Military officials said they were not trying to deny Mr. Jones his right to free speech, but feared he was not thinking about the consequences of his actions.

“There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue,” Gen. Caldwell said. “The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan.”

Just yesterday, hundreds of Afghans rallied in Kabul to protest the Florida church’s scheduled event, and military leads fear protests will spread as news of the book-burning spreads. There were also reports that thousands of Muslims protested in Jakarta, Indonesia, after learning of the plan.

As a matter of principle, I feel a twinge of discomfort about military leaders criticizing a protest held by a U.S. church, even if that church is hopelessly insane and run by crazed bigots. That said, military leaders have troops to look out for, and this disgusting church is making that job far more difficult. I don’t love the criticism, but I can appreciate why Petraeus and others feel compelled to speak out.

What I find especially interesting, though, is to see the rhetorical shift. Throughout much of the Bush/Cheney era, the right would incessantly accuse the left of undermining American national security by criticizing the administration. Terrorists have access to modern media, conservatives would remind us, and every time the left questioned the administration, it signaled weakness and American division to the world, necessarily undermining the war effort.

A few years later, it seems a crazed right-wing preacher is doing exactly what conservatives accused liberals of doing.