Sunday, 12 September 2010

Go Ahead Burn the Quran

On July 12, 2010, Pastor Terry Jones - leader of the Dove World Outreach Center, a small Gainesville-based Church - announced on Twitter: "9/11/2010 Int Burn a Koran Day." For Jones, "Islam is a danger [and] the world is in bondage to the massive grip of the lies of Islam." He emphasized, "We will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats." He quickly created a Facebook group and the media took the cue, transforming Jones from an obscure preacher with a limited following into an international sensation that somehow was threatening all of humanity. In fact, the media has seen the Quran-burning story as a perfect fit into a narrative of a proverbial clash of civilizations that is brewing in the lead-up to the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks today. Whose vision would be ascendent? Was this a pitched battle between Pastor Terry Jones and Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf?

Whatever the genesis of the phenomenon, news of the supposed provocation against Muslims has spread throughout the world. On September 4, thousands of Indonesians marched towards the US Embassy protesting the affair. Then, thousands of Afghans later participated in a protest the last several days, burning the US flag for good ironic measure. While Mayor Bloomberg came out in defense of the Pastor  in the same spirit of constitutional freedoms that caused him to defend the builders of the mosque, most American voices were in unison condemning Terry Jones. General David Patraeus, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan,  stated that the Quran burning "would jeopardize the safety of our soldiers and civilians, even of our Afghan partners." President Barack Obama himself stated unequivocally, "The idea that we would burn sacred texts of someone else's religion is contrary to what this country stands for." The inflammatory event even drew censure from unexpected circles such as Sarah Palin who said that the burning would be "antithetical to American ideals." Even everyday residents of Gainesville vocally distanced themselves from their neighbor.

Under all the pressure, Pastor Terry Jones cancelled the event, much to the surprise of observers, and to the chagrin of the media: "We will definitely not burn the Koran, no. Not today, not ever." There were some claims that he received a stern phone call from US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, while he himself contended that he was going for a negotiation with the Imam of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. There was some pundits who tried to put an equivalency to the actions and ideology of the Pastor and the Imam, but quite frankly the Imam's message of reconciliation is in stark contrast to the divisive rhetoric of Jones. Likely the Pastor will fade now into wikipedia oblivion, to be remembered only in nostalgic reflection of idiosyncratic Americana.

If he had gone through with the event, would it have been a provocation? Of course. There was an averse reaction to the event and a number of Muslims took egregious offense. For good reason, burning someone's holy book is an offensive act. Yet, I still say - go ahead, burn the Quran. You know why? It doesn't matter, and the world's Muslims, both in America and globally, need to realize that. The only reason that Pastor Terry Jones caused injury and had any influence is because the media and aggrieved parties let him. Millions of Muslims expressed concern but quite frankly no one man can cause any impact on the Noble Quran. Pastor Jones could burn pages but that's it. He would simply burn a copy of a text that is replicated millions of times over in the world. Let him do so in an obscure church in Gainesville, Florida. How can the confidence of a 1400-year-old faith with 1.5 billion followers be shaken by such an insignificant attack?

And herein lies an important point. Today it's Quran burning, yesterday it was cartoons, and tomorrow it will be something else. Why? Why are these such pressing issues for Muslims? Why are these allowed to rise to the top of the list of concerns? Why are there thousands in Afghanistan and Indonesia whooped up into a frenzy over trivialities that have a marginal effect on the daily lives of Muslims around the world? There are a number of more pressing problems, including some perpetrated by the US. Near daily drone attacks in Pakistan are killing people from thousands of feet above in the air with little regard to the damage inflicted below. Perhaps that is worth protesting? Or how about the incompetent corruption and nepotism that continues to plague nearly every country in the Middle East? Perhaps that is worth protesting? Or how about the continuous attacks by extremists in the name of Islam that kill countless civilians each year?  Perhaps that besmirches the integrity of Islam more than any amount of Qurans burned in a year.

It is a positive step that Pastor Terry Jones has decided against an insulting provocation. It was also comforting to see a wide spectrum of American figures condemn the proposed event. Yet, for all the hoopla, the International Day Burn a Koran Day was always an insignificant side-note that should not have the weight it was given. Next time, feel free - go ahead burn the Quran. There are more important issues to deal with, particularly in the 'Muslim world.'