This Commentary first appeared as an op-ed in the New York Daily News on September 10, 2010
Every Sept. 11, I walk to my flagpole, lower the banner to half-staff and spend the morning quietly reflecting. I remember vividly the intense hours of the day we were attacked, the people who stayed with me in the White House, the friends who died. Every year my mind wanders to what might have been, how the attacks might have been prevented, how our response as a nation could have been less counterproductive. I try to use the anniversary as a time of recommitment to those we lost that day, to energize myself to do more against the scourge that is Al Qaeda and those who help it.
This year that pledge to the dead must focus on a new source of support for Al Qaeda. It is not in Jordan, where many Muslims turned against Al Qaeda after it bombed a wedding in Amman in 2005. It is not in Iraq's Anbar Province, where Muslims saw what an Al Qaeda government could be like and, as a result, took up arms to oppose it in the Sunni Awakening of 2007. Nor is Al Qaeda's new source of support in Afghanistan, where a recent ABC News survey asked Afghans whom they blame most for the country's strife. Last year almost half (49%) said they blamed the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This year two-thirds gave that response.
In 2010 Al Qaeda's new source of support is in the United States, but not from American Muslims. Indeed the Islamic leaders of the Fiqh Council of North America recently announced a three-part fatwa against terrorism: 1) All acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haram (forbidden) in Islam. 2) It is haram for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence. 3) It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians. They added, "We pray for the defeat of extremism and terrorism. We pray for the safety and security of our country, the United States, and its people."
Al Qaeda's new source of support can be found among fanatical Americans who are or pretend to be Christians. One such misguided individual set fire last week to construction equipment at the site of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., a mosque opposed by many locals who say they are Christians. "We have a duty to investigate anyone under the banner of Islam," Allen Jackson, the pastor of World Outreach Church, said at a meeting on the mosque held before the arson, according to ABC News.
But no one has been as helpful to al Qaeda as Terry Jones (above), the head of the Dove World Outreach Center, a fundamentalist Christian church in Gainesville, Florida. The gun-toting preacher, author of a book titled "Islam is of the Devil," famously called on Christians to burn the Islamic holy book, the Koran, on 9/11.
Yesterday, Jones said he was calling off the burning. But terrible damage has already been done.
Gen. David Petraeus put it this way: "Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan - and around the world - to inflame public opinion and incite violence."
The same could be said of this American radical's mere threat to set the Muslim holy book on fire.
In short, more people will become terrorists and kill American troops in Afghanistan, and perhaps even civilians in this country, because American right-wing extremists are playing their role in Al Qaeda's narrative, saying to Muslims that America is in fact at war with Islam.
When Americans threaten to burn a Koran, or a mosque, or oppose the creation of an Islamic house of worship, they are giving Al Qaeda's radicalization effort more assistance than all of that group's terrorist recruiters could muster. So when you think this year of those who died on 9/11, pledge yourself anew to stand against religious bigots and perpetrators of violence, be they Al Qaeda or the bigots who oppose the right of any American to freedom of religion.
Assertions and opinions in this Policy Insight are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.