For a brief moment it seemed that a disaster would turn to gold. After warnings from President Barack Obama and Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, Terry Jones announced the cancelation of his protest to burn Qurans on 9/11. Though the pastor’s actions may be unforgivable and unforgettable, sanity appeared to have been restored with the possibility of a breakthrough.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., praised White House officials: "This is definitely a positive moment in showing America's tolerance and pluralism and should not go unappreciated in the Muslim world.”
Not that a compromise would be easy, but the negativity hurled at Jones could have been reflected in a positive light by cordial, rational, and public negotiations in New York City. The US media would assist in reducing tensions. At least that was the theory. With both sides dug in and unwavering in their faith (and viral fund-raising), reality is proving more difficult to manage.
Standing next to Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Jones announced earlier today that they would travel to New York City to meet with the 9/11 mosque’s architect, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Jones claimed that Musri promised the mosque would be relocated from its currently-planned site. Once Musri realized how Jones interpreted his offer to visit New York and corrected him, Jones issued a second response claiming Musri “clearly, clearly lied to us.”
Now Jones’s protest is suspended, not canceled, until further notice.
"I think there was no confusion to begin with,” Musri said afterward. “When we stepped out of the church, we had an agreement to meet in New York... I personally believe the mosque should not be there, and I will do everything in my power to make sure it is moved. But there is not any offer from there (New York) that it will be moved. All we have agreed to is a meeting, and I think we would all like to see a peaceful resolution."
Musri added that Jones’s initial decision to cancel the bonfire was based on protecting US troops in the Middle East, which Feisal yesterday declared a national security issue. But at this point the debate itself has become the national security issue, and it hasn’t been pretty. Though most Americans wouldn’t burn a Quran, between 60 and 70% of Americans oppose the 9/11 mosque at its proposed site. Those seeking a rational debate have been drowned out by emotions, nationalism, and religious beliefs.
And the world has wasted the debate of 9/11 on a controversial Christian church with 50 members that many, including Obama, suspect is staging a publicity stunt.
The stakes have raised to a level that a peaceful resolution is imperative to America’s image and thus its foreign policy. At first Jones was singled out for his radical behavior, but the longer this charade continues the more it reflects apathetically on the American people. The Muslim world will wonder why, after all the talk, no one acted to stop him. Fiesal has unintentionally divided America, but Jones is intentionally provoking the Muslim world. Does Obama even want to take that risk with America's foreign policy on the line in Israel and Afghanistan?
The chance to quickly sweep this minefield and decisively prove America’s diversity and tolerance has passed; the moment now calls for damage control. One day is not a lot of time, but this problem requires the total attention of Washington and the answer should be made very simple. Jones should be given the clear option of doing this the easy way or the hard way. Every opportunity must be afforded to Jones to save face and peacefully diffuse the situation. He should also be shut down by the authorities, and held under house arrest if necessary, if he ultimately refuses to cooperate and attempts his bonfire.
Jones speaks for himself now, but his protest would speak for all Americans. His free speech cannot imprison others’.