First, the obvious: The planned burning of some 200 Korans by Pastor Terry Jones, of the Gainesville FL Dove World Outreach Center is a stupid idea. I'm no fan of the absurd prostrations of multiculturalists before the barbarous and bigoted threats of retaliation for any perceived slights against Islam, but this is simply unnecessary, unwise, and threatens mayhem far out of proportion to any "message" the congregants of this church may believe they are sending. It is, to any reasoning being, an insensitive provocation.
It is also a Constitutionally protected form of political expression which, some niggling fire codes notwithstanding, there is no legal grounds to suppress.
But just because Pastor Jones has a right to do this, does not make it the right thing to do. And, if that phrase sounds familiar, it should. It is the phrase which is so frequently uttered with respect to the planned mosque and Islamic cultural center within steps of Ground Zero. There is broad agreement that Imam Rauf has every right to go forth with the construction of that center. Religious freedom and private property rights are crystal clear on the matter. But this inarguable fact does not in any way diminish the staggering insensitivity of constructing an Islamic center --however many nods to interconfessional amity may be incorporated into its plan-- well within the debris field of an horrific attack on the West by those who were motivated by the most virulent strains of Islamist ideology. No, it was not "Islam" which attacked us, and therefore it is unwarranted to generalize that Jihadist atrocity to the whole of Islam. Duh.
But if Rauf is really interested in promoting peaceable coexistence between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds, then the very best thing he could do would be to recognize the overwhelming opposition to the Cordoba House, and exercise his rights to find an alternate location for the structure. I suppose it would be well within bounds for him to publicly lament that the rift between his stated ideals and the reality of the current zeitgeist is such that such a step would be necessary. I'm not even altogether sure that I would disagree.
Now, I have no idea if Pastor Jones would be interested in the following suggestion, but he has a real opportunity to perform a mitzvah here. Long about September 10th, say, he could grab one of the many microphones which are doubtless being shoved in his face on a daily basis, and say something along the lines of: "It is no secret that I consider Islam to be opposed to the most cherished tenets of my faith, and I had planned to make a statement about the dangers of this heathen religion to the very soul of Christendom. But, upon reflection and prayer, and mindful of the far-reaching consequences should I exercise my Constitutional right of free expression, I have chosen --and am directing my flock to follow me in this-- to forgo that right, and to cancel the planned burning of the Moslem Book. I am dismayed that my ability to express my faith and my protest has raised such opposition, but the ideals of charity and tolerance which are the very soul of Christianity must win out over my concern at the corrosive effects of the Moslem heresy."
OK, so I suspect we're not talking about someone with such an evolved capacity for verbal expression, but you get the general idea.
Now, were he to leave it to the punditry or make the statement himself, explicitly, the connection between Jones' possible actions and what one might hope Imam Rauf would choose could not be lost on those who struggle with their own feelings and ideals with respect to the Cordoba House. Justly or unjustly, book burnings evoke ugly images of orgiastic fascist exercises in thought control. Similarly, images of Victory Mosques simply cannot help but intrude on even the most sober discussion of what to do with the site of the former Burlington Coat Factory, which was struck by the landing gear of one of the hijacked planes.
Both of these men have a unique opportunity to teach a lesson on rights and Rights. I do hope they both choose to do the right thing.