Wednesday, September 8, 2010

“Burn a Koran Day” Pastor’s Effort is Self-Defeating

Just about everyone with any place in American public life has condemned the plans of the pastor in Florida who wishes to hold “International Burn a Koran Day” on Saturday, September 11. This includes the Obama White House, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Army and NATO commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus, Angelina Jolie, Pope Benedict XVI, Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham), Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. It’s hard for me to imagine these people agreeing to have lunch together, let alone agreeing on anything of consequence. Yet they all agree on this.

Apparently, this effort has all come to nothing. As reported in this story on the website of The New York Times, the pastor in Florida, Terry Jones, says that his plans have not changed.

I have read a lot of arguments leveled against this pastor’s plans, on the grounds of American values and Christian values; I’ve taken that approach myself. Several writers have made appeals to cancel the event for the sake of the safety of American military personnel, Christians living in the Muslim world, and so forth. However, I have not read anything written from this pastor’s own point of view, which is unfortunate. As it happens, even from the perspective of this pastor’s own agenda, the planned “Burn a Koran Day” is not only guaranteed to be ineffective, but it is almost guaranteed to be counter-productive. (This is why I placed the logical sign for “contradiction” above. Please notice how it is the perfect abstraction of a truck hitting a brick wall.)

This is the Wrong Activity to Target Islamic Extremists

On CBS’s The Early Show, Rev. Jones stated that said that the Koran burning was a “warning” that was “geared toward radical Islam.” However, burning the Koran is precisely the wrong way to reach this group.

The fact of the matter is that radical Islamists, the folks who see America as the “Great Satan,” who hate America and American values, who want to impose Islamic law on the population of the world against its will—are only a minority among Muslims. The Koran, however, is revered by all Muslims. The burning of the Koran will be perceived as an attack on the entire Muslim community: the radicals, sure, but also the many millions of moderate and liberal Muslims.

By burning the Koran, Rev. Jones will alienate a large number of the world’s billion-plus Muslims. Ten seconds of video showing the Koran burning, broadcast on al-Jezeera, and large numbers of Muslims around the world will make the mistake of thinking that this is an act of attack on Islam as a whole, and that it is supported by Americans generally, and by Christians worldwide. These people will trip over themselves to enlarge the ranks of the radical Islamists, increasing the size of the radicals immensely.

Burning the Koran is not a statement against or a “warning” to radical Islamists. Rather, this act would greatly increase the number of radical Islamists, and encourage them to cause trouble for Christians everywhere.

Burning the Koran Will “Warn” No One

Another point involves the idea of burning the Koran as some kind of act of “warning.” On The Early Show, Rev. Jones said that “This particular act is actually an act of warning radical Islam.” As he explained, “We want them to know if they’re in America, they need to obey our law and constitution and not slowly push their agenda upon is.”

However, burning the Koran does not further this agenda at all. What is Pastor Jones saying by this act? Is he saying ‘We’ll burn you if you pursue an Islamist agenda here’? Of course, if this is the message, the pastor is encouraging an illegal activity: murder, which is a capital offense in Florida even for acts motivated by religion or patriotism.

There is nothing in the burning of the Koran that communicates the message that Rev. Jones wants to share. If he wants to put radical Islamists on notice that they must obey American law and the American Constitution, then he would be better off sponsoring a conference—“The American Constitution: Accept It or Leave” would be a catchy title—accepting contributions to hold it, and inviting speakers from around the U.S. on this important issue. He’d get a big week or more in the media, some financial contributions, a ton of material to propagate either on the Internet or through the sale of conference proceedings, and he could make a real impact, both on many American citizens, and on the global Islamic community in particular.

Burning the Koran Does Not Further the Christian Cause

The larger agenda that any sincere Christian pastor would have is to further the cause of Christianity. However, burning the Koran does not further this agenda in any way.

Burning the Koran will not lead one single Muslim to Christ. If anything, it would frighten away people who might otherwise be curious about Christianity.

Burning the Koran will not keep one single person from converting to Islam, either. Americans are aware that law enforcement will not tolerate actual interference with the conversion of a legal adult.

If anything, a book burning would raise the profile of the Koran within American society. Consider what happens in the case of an analogous situation: book bannings. The history of book bannings in the United States demonstrates that the publicity accompanying such an act results in a much greater public awareness, and often heightened sales nationwide, for this very book. Some readers of this blog may remember that, in an earlier day, book publicists looked forward to the day when the book they were promoting was “banned in Boston”; this often meant that the book would soon be flying off the shelves in New York, Chicago, and L.A.

As it is, Pastor Jones has done more to put the Koran in the news in the United States than anything else occuring at least over the last three years. None of this furthers the cause of Christianity.


The planned public burning of the Koran will not further Rev. Jones’s agenda in any way. Instead, it will accomplish exactly the opposite of what he wishes. Now would be a good time for this activity to be changed into something more productive.

Thinking things through to their likely consequences is truly On The Mark.

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)


  1. How quickly and so easily we forget the scenes taken in Pakistan mere minutes after the 9-11 attack. They had no problem burning our flag in the streets celebrating the murder of innocents. The is no such beast as radical Islam. Iff you read the Quran and follow it's teachings you will understand that what we call Radical Islam is Islam. Mohammed is in no way close the peace loving figure of Jesus. Read with Caution

  2. Anonymous: I saw those scenes, too. Knowing how media work, I would hesitate to generalize from those scenes to all Muslims.

    I suppose that I'll find out for myself about the Qur'an and its teachings. That would be a good thing for all of us to do.


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