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If Terry Jones burns the Koran, he'll also set fire to America's identity

The planned burning of Korans this weekend would not just be a national disgrace or dangerous for our troops abroad. It could set fire to the very fabric that makes America strong and righteous.

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America's 300 million citizens represent just about every walk of life on our planet. We lead the world in technology, business, and innovation. We lead the world in creating and preserving every type of freedom possible, and we live our daily lives under the most stable form of government ever devised by man.

We are – simply put – free. Free to criticize our political leaders when they go astray. Free to criticize our fellow citizens when we don't like what they do. Free to vote for change in governance when the system doesn't work anymore – even free to tell our Muslim neighbors they can't build a mosque in our backyard when it offends our sensitivities.

A land of bigots and fools?

But what does it say about our freedoms when a small town preacher with 50 people in his congregation stands ready to burn Korans so he can symbolize America's anger of the moment as Muslims campaign across our great land for their right to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero? Is this the first look at America's dawning reality – that Muslims are no longer welcome here? Is America really that bludgeoned by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that we allow one man in a rural church to hijack the entire nation's image around the world and recast our great society as a land of bigots and fools?

On streets from Islamabad to Jakarta, America is being branded as intolerant and racist, fearful and cowardly – a country of false ideals no longer with a reliable moral compass. Burning Korans does nothing to heal our national anger at the Islamofascism that murdered nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens 9 years ago.

If a book burning, even of Korans, could be encapsulated as an isolated incident in one moment of time – one whose consequences would not overflow beyond the township borders of Gainesville, Fla. – perhaps we could write it off as the necessary evil in a free society responding to the type of horror inflicted upon us on that day in infamy.

Don't give Zawahiri what he wants

But the fundamental nature of religion and its place in the national psyche of any country makes it impossible to control the cascading effects – Christians will burn Muslim Korans today, Muslims will burn their churches down tomorrow – then, before we know it, America's terrorism problem will become a mostly homegrown affair, exactly as Al Qaeda leaders planned it nearly two decades ago. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's No. 2, often schemed of destroying America from within, first financially, then politically, and finally religiously. Events in Florida planned for this weekend show just how prescient this terror master was.

As Muslims must police their own fanatics from within – however miserably we have failed to do so thus far – so must America's Christians purge their own ranks of a type of fanaticism that has every possibility of turning into a death spiral for America's pluralist identity. Stop burning books and start building bridges.

We write from two starkly differing points of view to agree on the fundamental conclusion – that nothing short of America's identity is at risk in the increasing hostility being shown toward Muslims.


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