Dear Mr. President,
After I posted yesterday's letter I received several disheartening responses. "Is this meant to be serious? " one reader asked, "That President Obama could influence these people to reconsider their actions? You must understand that a direct statement from him on this gives these people the profile they so desperately crave to do what they do in front of the largest possible audience." This morning you gave an interview in which you clearly expressed your disapproval for the planned event, without elvating your opponent. Thank you for this. Such a balance is a difficult one to strike and, given the volatility of the situation, I thought your words were well chosen. I don't know if you changed the man's mind or if his better nature is stronger than I give it credit for. I don't think I was off base yesterday in implying that you had the ability to appeal to this man's humanity, or that, at the very least, it was worth a try.
Since he has announced the suspension of the event, much discussion by the media has focused on the accusations that this story was blown out of proportion by the media. I considered the well-made point of my cynical reader's comment about the risk of granting this man's clear desire for attention, but I stand by what I wrote and what I asked of you. For one thing, yesterday was several weeks past the point of hushing this story up and hoping no one would notice. The outraged protests set off by the Danish cartoons several years back came months after the cartoons had been published- when apologies were basically useless. Had this "Koran Burning Day" come to light months later, it would have caused considerably more uproar. If 50 people had burned Qur'ans and no one had noticed, I concede that no actual harm would have resulted in the symbolic action. But, by the time I heard about the event it was on CNN; the damage was pretty much done. I'm glad that things seemed to have calmed down (and also that Imam Rauf is refusing to negotiate the location of Park 51,) and I believe much of that credit goes to your leadership.
I don't know the best way to handle these stories in general. On one hand, it does elevate crazy people to give them national news coverage. On the other hand, the media didn't say anything untruthful, and it was part of a larger trend of anti-Islam incidents in the last few weeks. I can see why it was relevant to the news. It also gave Americans a chance to publicly demonstrate our opposition to this behavior, and for people of all faiths to intervene on behalf of Muslims- a symbolism far more powerful than the most heartfelt apology might have sounded should the story have been told after the fact. Consider, also, that while this man's church may have only had 50 members, the "International Koran Burning Day" facebook page now has 15,000 fans. That may be nothing compared to the group opposing it, which has 10 times as many, but it shows that these 50 people were not acting alone. (Especially considering the number of people who feel this way and can't work facebook, which can't be inconsiderable.) This small man and his small band of followers had the support many more Americans who agreed with them. Taking this chance to show the world that they don't speak for all Americans, especially not our government, was absolutely the right thing to do. Thank you.