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Profile: William Caldwell
William Caldwell was a participant or observer in the following events:
General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warns that a plan to burn a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010) will endanger the lives and safety of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Petraeus says in a CNN interview that burning a Koran “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems—not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.” In a statement issued by his office, Petraeus adds: “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.… Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday,” referring to a protest by Afghan citizens against the news of the planned Koran-burning. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that “any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen lambasts the plans, telling reporters that the planned Koran-burning violates NATO’s “values,” and adding, “There is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on security for our troops.” Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who oversees the training of Afghan security forces, says he was informed of Jones’s plans to burn a Koran a few days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government. Caldwell says many Afghans do not understand Jones’s First Amendment rights to burn a Koran, or why President Obama cannot legally stop Jones from his demonstration. “There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue,” Caldwell says. “The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan.” Jones has said he would go through with the burning no matter what kind of pressure he encounters: “We think the message is that important. We can not back down just because of fear, because if we back down, it won’t make Islam any more moderate,” said Jones, who has said he has the right to burn the Koran because “it’s full of lies.” Protests in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and other nations have followed news reports of Jones’s plans. An armed Christian militia called “Right Wing Extreme” has disassociated itself from the event, according to the blog Christianity Today. CNN had reported that the group was to provide security for the event, according to Christianity Today, and forum posters on the group’s Web site are engaged in harsh debate over the topic; one poster writes, “This could be the stupidest idea ever in the history of stupid ideas.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/6/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 9/7/2010; BBC, 9/7/2010] A senior defense official who asks to remain anonymous says Petraeus deliberately cast the issue first and foremost as a threat to US troops. “Then it no longer is simply a political issue,” he says. “That way you can get [Fox News talk show host] Glenn Beck and [Fox News commentator and former vice-presidential candidate] Sarah Palin and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton to agree.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2010] Right-wing blogger Robert Spencer, who runs JihadWatch (.org), writes that although he opposes the Koran-burning—he would rather people read the Koran and learn “the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence”—he disagrees with Petraeus’s statement against Jones’s demonstration. “The idea that in wartime one should be careful not to do anything that the enemy is likely to respond to with irrational and even murderous anger may seem tactically wise at first glance, but ultimately it is a recipe for surrender,” he writes. “One is already accepting the enemy’s worldview and perspective, and working to accommodate it, instead of working on various fronts, not just the military one, to show why it is wrong and should be opposed.” Instead, Spencer writes, Petraeus should defend Jones’s right to free speech, and use his defense “as a teaching moment in Afghanistan to say, ‘We are going to defend our vision of society, no matter what you bring against us.’” [Robert Spencer, 9/7/2010]
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