In a discussion earlier today on Islam in America, my friend said to me, “I’m happy about the number of senior officials and figures who have condemned ‘Burn the Quran Day,’ but the drawback is that we end up giving the fringe group exactly what they want – our undivided attention.”
It’s true isn’t it? Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida has been calling for an “International Burn the Quran Day” to take place on September 11 since last month. For many, the event was audacious and despicable but it remained just as the movement did – on the periphery. But fast forward to this past week, days before the aforementioned burning, and there have been countless headlines, interviews, reactions, and condemnations. And just like that, an event by a fringe movement dying for air time has grabbed the world’s attention.
General Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, commented on the event, telling NBC News,
We’re concerned that the images from the burning of a Quran would be used in the same way that extremists used images from Abu Ghraib — that they would in a sense be indelible. They would be used by those who wish us ill, to incite violence and to inflame public opinion against us and against our mission here in Afghanistan, as well as our missions undoubtedly around the world.
Following the statement, CNN interviewed the Florida pastor, who said, “We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely praying about it.”
I’m sorry, Pastor. But what exactly are you praying for? For some iota of sanity? For tolerance, which is preached in both the Bible and the Quran? For a razor to shave off your ridiculous mustache?
The answer: none of the above. Even a press conference with leaders of different faith backgrounds calling for an end to this “atmosphere of fear and intolerance” toward Islam would fall on deaf ears. Because Pastor Jones thinks he’s sending a message to “radical Islam.” And he thinks the only way to do that is to burn a book that would ostracize and offend all Muslims. What he fails to comprehend is that the ramifications won’t just be negative for U.S. interests abroad, but also for Muslims living in America, who are just as much American as they are Muslim, and who feel increasingly marginalized within this xenophobic debate.
Much like the Park 51 “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, the Florida church paints the “Muslim world” – a farcical and imagined term – with a monolithic brush. And the consequences of such actions are dire and severe. But, at the same time, the more unequivocal media attention we give to Pastor Jones and his Church, the more their stocks rise, and the more likely this debate about Islamophobia in America will rage on. It is a seemingly unending and disastrous cycle.