Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Why Did We Give Jones a Platform? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It was bizarrely easy to turn an obscure man, from an obscure church in a nondescript American town, into the talk of the entire world. He has been mentioned by the United States President, the Vatican Pope, and the UN Secretary General, in addition to Arab and Muslim leaders such as Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa.

Terry Jones, who had called for a ‘world day’ to burn copies of the Quran, is an “obscure” pastor, according to his media description. He lives in Gainesville, a small city with a population of about 200,000. This controversial pastor was no different to the many other crazy individuals, in both the East and West, who have been afflicted by a lust for fame, and a passion for sensationalism. In this instance however, the mania took on a new international dimension, due to the sensitivity of both the circumstances and the timing, with regards to the relationship between the Muslims and the rest of the world. If Jones was indeed aware of it, his timing was extremely smart and malicious. This was not only because of the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, but also because it coincided with the Eid al-Fitr celebration and the end of the month of Ramadan, when religious sentiments among Muslims are most strong.

The first people that to warn against this reckless American’s exhibitionist and provocative behavior, were the field commanders of the US army in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. General Petraeus warned against the dangers of such an act, saying that it would provide ammunition for the Taliban. Barack Obama criticized and denounced the act, as did Hillary Clinton, who expressed her satisfaction with the global condemnation of this attention-seeking pastor.

Western and global condemnation of the behavior of this insignificant man, who merely belonged to a marginal church in the United States, was both preventive and pre-emptive. There was a need to ensure that Osama Bin Laden, his ally Al-Zawahiri, or any other Al-Qaeda preachers, or indeed preachers and intellectuals of mainstream Islam, would not use [the pastor’s] conduct as evidence that a relationship with the West was not possible, and that hostility, or at least strong caution, should be exercised against Westerners. Terry Jones’s behavior could have been used as evidence of the magnitude of Western hostility towards Muslims.

What is most worrying about this affair is the ease in which the virus of extremism and fundamentalism has spread, through the ongoing ‘sneezing’ of media outlets. Had it not been for the media, we would have known nothing about this pastor, who expected to ‘end radical Islam’ merely by burning a few copies of the Quran, and in doing so, he would take his revenge on a religion to which one fifth of the global population belongs. Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that Jones was seeking fame, and because he headed a bankrupt church, he was aiming to attract attention in order to raise funds. The odd thing was that Awad himself unintentionally helped them draw attention to the issue, by deciding to perform the Eid al-Fitr prayer close to the pastor’s hometown, in order to spite him! Meanwhile, a ‘rational’ woman living in the same neighborhood as the church of the reckless Terry Jones said: “The media is adding fuel to the fire; he [the pastor] is mad”.

This is indeed a fragile world, susceptible to minor irritations, and capable of breaking at the first test. How could an unknown pastor provoke the entire world, with an ignorant act that would not change anything, and would not harm Islam or Muslims at all? Are we all so emotionally unstable, and so volatile? This is what is most important in the whole affair, and this is where we should look for answers. Who is to blame for our rapid tendency to combust? Is it the media, or our inability to find a common language, amongst the different cultures of the world? Where lies the fault?