What is the similarity between building a place of worship and burning religious scripture? Well, according to Sarah Palin, both are an "unnecessary provocation".
Her comparison is obviously ridiculous. Not least because a clumsily articulated plan to build a Muslim community centre near to Ground Zero cannot be compared to a calculated and provocative media stunt designed to cause offence to Muslims by burning the Qur’an.
However, there are a couple of undeniable similarlities between these two cases.
Firstly, whatever one’s views on the ethical rights or wrongs of those specific people choosing to build ‘Cordoba House’/’Park 51’ in that specific location, they have a legal right to do so. Similarly, Terry Jones has a legal right to burn the Qur’an if that’s what he really wants to do.
The only other similarity between the plans is that there has been a massively and violently disproportionate response to both.
With ‘Park 51’/’Cordoba House’, the plans remained uncontroversial until Glenn Beck of Fox News decided to stir things up, creating the frenzy we see today where a crowd turns on a passerby simply on the suspicion that he might be Muslim. In the case of the Qur’an burning, the plans were announced online. This sparked outraged reactions on Facebook which swiftly spiralled into a full-blown media maelstrom. Now, the angry reactions and heightened emotions around the world have the potential to do untold damage.
Without the present media kerfuffle, this plan by a small man at a small Church in a small town would not have had the impact it has. Rather than sparking anger around the world, the event would have passed relatively without notice. Instead, it may well turn into a rehash of the Danish cartoons fiasco which saw embassies being burned in Damascus and fatal protests in Afghanistan.
However, it is not just the journalists who are responsible for how things have developed. Well meaning politicians have fanned the fire of this controversy, ensuring that it will keep burning and able to cause more division and damage. Condemnations for the plans to burn the Qur’an have now come from Downing Street to Washington, both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have asked the Church not to go ahead. Even Angela Merkel and Tony Blair have now weighed in, with Tony releasing a statement that “Rather than burn the Koran, I would encourage people to read it.”
Well intentioned as these statements are, it would have been more useful for these figures to say “offensive as it is to burn the Qur’an, this is one man’s plan in another country – this is not a story”. With non-Muslim world leaders expressing their outrage, this feeds into a narrative that Muslims around the world should be outraged by the threatened actions of a small group of people in Florida and should react in some way.
Inevitably, Islamist rentagob Anjem Choudary has now announced an international ‘burn the American flag’ day on September 11th – the same day as Terry Jones’s ‘International burn a Qur’an day’. Choudary also claims that he and his followers will be burning the American flag outside the American embassy in London on that day. His symbiotic relationship with the American right was recently highlighted by Fox’s Glenn Beck’s usage of a Choudary interview to support his attack on the ‘Park 51’/’Cordoba House’ plans. Either way, he is now planning one provocative stunt to respond to another provocative stunt.
As discussed before on Left Foot Forward, the result is a feedback loop where the extremes on both sides shout louder and louder whilst the moderate mainstream are deafened from both sides.
In that sense, President Obama is right. The Qur’an burning will be a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda”, just as General David Petraeus has warned that it will endanger American lives in Afghanistan. However, the danger comes less from the actions of one small church in Florida than from the media frenzy which global leaders have conspired in creating.
Responsible journalists and politicians would, rather than emphasising their massive outrage and disgust at the actions of a small group of extremists, cut these individuals and groups down to size. Rather than turning them into threatening bogey monsters whose roar can shake the world, politicians and journalists should be dismissing them as offensive irrelevancies.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.