By Elizabeth Tenety
It’s easy to dismiss Florida Dove World Outreach Center pastor Terry Jones’ planned “International Burn a Koran Day” as the agitprop of an inconsequential pastor, one whose relevance to mainstream Christianity is akin to that of Westboro Baptist Church.
Americans largely may ignore Jones, who chose September 11th as the date to hold the burning, but on Monday Gen. Petraeus gave a glimpse of just how serious of a problem the planned event is for America’s image around the world.
“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan,” Gen. David Petraeus said in a statement issued Monday.
Petraus’ deputy, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, elaborated on CNN, saying “We very much feel that this [the burning] can jeopardize the safety of our men and women that are serving over here in the country,” said Caldwell, the head of NATO efforts to train Afghan security forces.
Do Americans share Petraeus’ concern about how America is perceived abroad?
Last August, another military leader expressed profound worry over America’s image in the Muslim world. Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs wrote critically in Joint Forces Quarterly about America’s “strategic communication” policy. The essay was published at a time when, as the N.Y. Times reported, “The United States [was] widely believed to be losing ground in the war of ideas against extremist Islamist ideology.”
“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate,” Mullen wrote.
“I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all,” he wrote. “They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don’t follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are.”
Terry Jones may have a right to burn Korans on September 11th. (Then again, he might not.) But what should Americans do to counter the deleterious impact of the lone pastor’s event? What do you think actions like this one convey to Muslims in the US and abroad? How do you want America to be perceived around the world?