ENERGIZING MORE THAN JUST THE GOP BASE, CONT’D…. NPR reported last week that experts in counter-terrorism believe the controversy surrounding the Park51 proposal may play “right into the hands of radical extremists.” Today, Newsweek finds the same phenomenon.

“By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor,” Taliban operative Zabihullah tells NEWSWEEK. (Like many Afghans, he uses a single name.) “It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.”

America’s enemies in Afghanistan are delighted by the vehement public opposition to the proposed “Ground Zero mosque.” The backlash against the project has drawn the heaviest e-mail response ever on jihadi Web sites, Zabihullah claims — far bigger even than France’s ban on burqas earlier this year. (That was big, he recalls: “We received many e-mails asking for advice on how Muslims should react to the hijab ban, and how they can punish France.”) This time the target is America itself. “We are getting even more messages of support and solidarity on the mosque issue and questions about how to fight back against this outrage.”

Zabihullah also claims that the issue is such a propaganda windfall — so tailor-made to show how “anti-Islamic” America is — that it now heads the list of talking points in Taliban meetings with fighters, villagers, and potential recruits. “We talk about how America tortures with waterboarding, about the cruel confinement of Muslims in wire cages in Guantanamo, about the killing of innocent women and children in air attacks — and now America gives us another gift with its street protests to prevent a mosque from being built in New York,” Zabihullah says. “Showing reality always makes the best propaganda.”

“The more mosques you stop,” Zabihullah predicted, “the more jihadis we will get.”

I saw Jon Stewart had a segment last week, arguing that we just shouldn’t care what guys like this have to say. Americans should do what we think is best, and not obsess over how terrorists may or may not react. I’m tempted to agree.

But the tenor and context of these debates really does affect our national security interests. The Taliban, al Qaeda, and assorted terrorist networks are going to try to recruit followers anyway, and they’re going to keep targeting us anyway, but there’s nothing wrong with the United States making things harder for them. We can’t base our judgments on how some monster might exploit a decision, but if we can honor our principles, stay true to American ideals, and deny the Taliban a victory at the same time, then maybe it’s an approach with merit.

Our actions reverberate. When we deny Americans their rights, because some decide they don’t like those Americans’ religious beliefs, we’re not just breaking faith with who we are, we’re broadcasting a mistake to the world.

Adam Serwer explained, “The kinetic aspects of the fight against terrorism aren’t going to hinge on whether or not the Park51 project gets built, but the larger war of ideas is one where the U.S. can’t afford to lose any more ground than it already has.”

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.