Playing with Fire

Dove World Outreach Center church pastor Terry Jones announces the burning of the korans will continue as planned

A southern U.S. preacher with a flock of 50 in Gainesville, Fla., decided to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11 by lighting a fire that quickly circled the globe — with a public burning of the Koran, much the way Hitler ordered public bonfires fueled with books written by Jews.

The Rev. Terry Jones dubbed it "International Burn a Koran Day." The sign outside his Dove World Outreach Center reads, "ISLAM IS OF THE DEVIL," next to which this instant celebrity posed for national and international media.

For Muslims, the Koran is the word of God as dictated to the Prophet Mohammed.

Within hours, angry crowds had gathered in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Jakarta, Indonesia, and other Muslim capitals threatening retaliation if Jones goes through with his plan. Christians in Muslim countries suddenly felt threatened and Afghan army recruits demanded explanations of their U.S. advisers.

Unless Jones canceled his Koran book burning, scheduled for Saturday, Christians throughout the world’s 1.2 billion-strong Muslim nations and Muslim communities would suddenly feel threatened. Those who converted from Islam to Christianity would be prime targets.

For many Muslims, 9/11 was a pretext former U.S. President George W. Bush used to launch a "crusade" against Islam. This, in turn, convinced countless Pakistanis, even Western-educated ones, to swallow the canard that the FBI and Mossad had plotted 9/11. The objective was a pretext to attack Afghanistan as a backdoor into Pakistan — and its nuclear arsenal.

For Muslims everywhere, the burning of the Koran could only mean that Christians hate Muslims. In 2005, a Danish cartoon satirizing the Prophet Muhammad triggered bloody riots from Indonesia to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Libya to Nigeria; in all, scores were killed.

One Nigerian group threw a tire around one man, poured gasoline on him and set him ablaze. Ambassadors were recalled and embassies attacked. And the Danish cartoonist pressed his attack by telling interviewers his drawings were inspired by "terrorism — which gets its spiritual ammunition from Islam."

Even if a superannuated preacher canceled the public burning of the Koran, the damage had already been done. Other men of the cloth in the South have leveled similar accusations against Islam.

The Rev. James Collins is described by his friends as "one of the most respected Christian ministers in the South." Muslims, says this verbal bomb-thrower, "continue the agenda of world conquest with lies, deception, terrorism, poverty, child molestation, enslavement of women, honor killings and ultimate death to all infidels who do not submit to Islam and the non-existent moon god they call Allah." His perorations are downhill from there.

These are the counterparts of what is taught in Koranic madrassas in Pakistan where young boys are brainwashed with horror stories about Christian and Jewish infidels out to destroy Islam. After 10 years in a madrassa, many youngsters embrace suicide missions.

U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the supreme commander in Afghanistan, warned that the irreverent reverend in Florida could derail the U.S./NATO campaign against Taliban’s Muslim extremist insurgents — and endanger Americans worldwide.

Jones conceded Petraeus had a point but not sufficiently persuasive to cancel his Koranic book burning.

Most threatened was the gigantic effort to stand up an Afghan army with a view to replacing more than 100,000 U.S. and 47,000 in NATO units. There are 148,000 trained Afghan troops. They are 86 percent illiterate. And it’s a safe bet there are Taliban agents in their ranks, just as there were Vietcong agents in South Vietnamese units whose mission was to spread disinformation about U.S. intentions. In Afghan ranks, they can see on their uncensored TV news programs what is happening among preachers in Florida.

Al-Jazeera’s global newscast in English showed a group of heavily armed Taliban insurgents on motorcycles warning local villagers not to vote in national elections Sept. 18. Voters have to dip a finger in indelible ink to make sure they only vote once. Taliban guerrillas warned them ink-stained fingers would be cut off.

NATO members pledged 2,796 trainers but only 500 showed up. The NATO bureaucracy in Brussels couldn’t make it happen, according to one U.S. officer involved in the program. Most NATO countries are steadily reducing their defense budgets.

The target is for 200,000 Afghan troops over the next 15 months at a cost of $21 billion. The Pentagon hopes to sustain and "regenerate" — to replace those who disappeared after the first paycheck or two — an additional 105,000, for a total of 305,000 by Fiscal Year 2015.

At the present rate of recruiting and training, the United States needs $8 billion a month. But this is scheduled to be drastically reduced with Fiscal Year 2012 at $6.7 billion a year; 2013 at $6.4 billion; then 2014 at $5.9 billion and 2015 at $5.8 billion.

Clearly, a number of U.S. contractors are milking — and jeopardizing — the entire Afghan army effort. A recent investigation showed these "entrepreneurs" charging copying paper at 20 U.S. cents a sheet and little altar bells for U.S. trainers attending Catholic mass at $500 per bell. This was the kind of ripoff that persuaded Congress in 1975 to cut off military assistance to the South Vietnamese army.

A few hours later, the South Vietnamese army, which had fought well without U.S. advisers for two years, decided the United States had betrayed them — and resistance quickly collapsed.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is a senior fellow at CSIS and Editor-at-Large at UPI. This article was syndicated by UPI. Photo credit: Reuters Pictures.

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