BEFORE he suddenly called off his Quran-burning yesterday, pastor Terry Jones had really annoyed an awful lot of people, from the mighty to the merely mouthy.

Pope Benedict called his planned Quran-burning "an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community." Gen. David Petraeus predicted it could "endanger troops and the overall effort" in Afghanistan. President Obama went on "Good Morning America" to demand that Jones cancel his "stunt."

Seems like a lot of attention for an obscure Bible-thumper, which really riled the folks who thought we should just ignore this latter-day Elmer Gantry.

Like the columnist at the Orlando Sentinel who wrote: "If a sad little man burns some Qurans in the woods, and the media aren't there to film it, is it news? Of course not."

Methinks the lad doth protest too much. Because, in paying such close attention to Jones' every move, the media did a lot more than simply fill several news cycles with sound and fury.

Paradoxically, they provided a platform for the very real anger and frustration of approximately 70 percent of Americans who, when asked their opinion of the so-called Ground Zero mosque, believed it should be moved.

Not prohibited. Just moved.

Jones isn't the most articulate person. And his handlebar mustache reminds you of some Saturday-morning cartoon character. But for all that, he's turned out to be an idiot savant, a person accomplished at only one thing.

By sticking his obnoxious plan in the face of the American people, he has shown up Imam Faisal Rauf for the self-centered charlatan he really is, not the moderate bridge-builder too many defenders have tried to make him out to be.

And the liberal media made it all possible, much to the chagrin of the liberal elites.

To be clear, I abhor the tactics and beliefs of pastor Jones, who doesn't resemble any man of God I know. Showing such disrespect for the sacred text of another religion isn't the way to make friends and influence people.

But I find it interesting that he, of all people, was able to convince at least some imans (if not Rauf himself) that the feelings of the 9/11 families and their supporters mattered. Rauf is apparently still confined to the sound chamber populated by nose-in-the-air elites like Michael (James Madison) Bloomberg, the noted constitutional scholar, and the media types who love to trash Christianity but tiptoe oh-so-lightly when it comes to Islam.

Rauf has an entirely wrong impression about support for his project, as does his whiny wife, Daisy, who has tried to compare opposition to the mosque to anti-Semitism and Jim Crow.

It took Jones with his tawdry band of followers (all 12 of them) to tell Emperor Rauf he had no clothes, and that all of those claims of Islamophobia and First Amendment rights were simply cover for the thoughtless wishes of a man far too short of empathy for a religious leader.

Many in the Islamic community in the U.S. actually believe that the Islamic center should be moved. They were upset at the damage being done to interfaith relations, and more than a few have been quoted as saying that while Muslims had a right to worship freely, they had an equal obligation to worship wisely and with respect for the feelings of other groups. Our new Miss USA, the first Arab-American to hold the title, was of that view, as well as others like noted Muslim author Irshad Manji.

Were they interviewed by Katie Couric? Did they write essays for Time and Newsweek? Were their voices heard in the mainstream press?

Of course not. Because it wouldn't advance the agenda of those who love to attack alleged bigotry of the Christian variety, or confirm the Bloombergian belief that the only people who opposed the mosque were hypocrites who'd otherwise be following Sarah Palin on Twitter.

They've made it easy for Imam Rauf to continue ignoring the

real and legitimate concerns of people from all classes and races that the only way to bridge religious differences is to move the bridge elsewhere. I suppose you can't blame him for not realizing that public opinion was most definitely against him on this issue.

So, in a twisted yet highly ironic way, Rauf owes pastor Jones a debt of gratitude. As despicable as the Florida preacher's views are, and as disgusting as his disregard for Muslims might be, it seems he was the only one who was able to move us forward to a place where Muslim, Christian and Jew might finally have something to say to each other. Even if Rauf has to be pulled there kicking and screaming.

The ball is now in his court.

Inshallah.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.

E-mail cflowers1961@yahoo.com.