Joint Chiefs chair's newest duty: Phoning Terry Jones and begging him not to antagonize Muslims

It’s not clear what role Jones had, if any, in producing the Mohammed film that’s got Islamists in a lather but he’s been promoting it, so it’s time for the U.S. government to spring into action. Do note, this isn’t the first time he’s received a call from a top defense official. Bob Gates picked up the phone too and beseeched him not to burn the Koran two years ago when the last “Islam insulted” insanity was raging. Think about that. Think about how many civilians, in a country of 300 million people, have ever received a personal call from the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asking them not to do something. Dempsey, in particular, likely spends most of his time these days gaming out an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities; he took precious time from doing that to phone some guy in Florida who’s somehow made it on the international media’s radar for his willingness to provoke. That’s how much of a geopolitical threat it’s become to the United States for even the most random Americans to affront Islamic sensibilities.

This madness must stop. Mario Loyola:

Nobody in the U.S. government, least of all the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acting in his official capacity, should be calling Terry Jones or any other American citizen about the Mohammed spoof. Not only does that elevate Jones to some sort of semi-official status, but spoofs of deities are entirely within our rights and absolutely no business of the government’s. The U.S. government should not be taking an official position on the Mohammed spoof. It is entirely outside the official competence of United States military to be calling private citizens asking them be quiet, especially when they are exercising a constitutional right. Offending people is not an incitement to violence. Otherwise I could get everyone who wears a Che Guevara t-shirt brought up on charges of incitement…

Meanwhile, members of Congress should formally protest General Dempsey’s phone call to Terry Jones. I know Petraeus did it when Terry Jones was going to burn some Korans, but he was wrong then and General Dempsey is wrong now. In their private capacity they can make whatever phone calls they want. In their official capacity they have no business making phone calls like this.

Why anyone in the government would want to raise Jones’s profile this way is inexplicable. They’re creating a perverse incentive for copycat attention-seekers and provocateurs to follow his lead; we’ll get more Koran-burnings from indulging him, not less. And Loyola’s right that military leaders phoning citizens to ask them to pipe down for the sake of the troops sets a bad precedent. If more copycats do emerge, will Dempsey phone all of them? Will the Pentagon set up a special phone bank for officers to phone critics of Islam and let them know that they’re hurting national security by giving fundie nuts a pretext to make trouble? If we’re going down this road, let’s just establish a PR bureau inside the Defense Department to issue official statements of patriotic disapproval anytime a U.S. citizen says something that’s unhelpful to the wider strategy in the Middle East

The punchline here, by the way, is that the movie that’s got everyone all worked up appears to be a scam of some sort. Read BuzzFeed’s post on how some of the dialogue, including mentions of “Mohammed,” was overdubbed. No one seems to be able to find the filmmaker, “Sam Bacile,” either; he claims to be an Israeli Jew but, according to an associate who spoke to Jeffrey Goldberg, that’s not true. The cast and crew issued a statement today insisting that they were “grossly misled” about the film’s purpose, which jibes with the idea of the dialogue having possibly been overdubbed by “Bacile” in post-production. (Or maybe the case is just disowning the film because they’re now in fear for their lives.) “Bacile” has given a few phone interviews already and been sharply critical of Islam so I don’t think this is a case of jihadis overdubbing the dialogue themselves to create a false-flag pretext for international Outrageous Outrage, but we’ll see. Stay tuned.