There is one common denominator between Pastor Terry Jones and the “Sheikh” of al-Qaeda organization, Osama Bin Laden. It is extremism, intellectual decay and the hatred of others. Following the September 11, 2001 incidents, the press wrote that bin Laden was one man facing the entire world. However, prior to the September 11 commemoration in 2010, the appropriate headline could be that an American pastor is defying the world and mobilizing the media behind him. This is the reality, i.e. that the world will never be without haters, spiteful, mad people and loathers of others. Nonetheless, the ability of the new media to promptly convey, cover and analyze the flow of news at the same moment, facilitated their gestation to the point where the entire world seemed to be living in one room and reading and watching the same information while influenced by it and affecting it, eventually giving value to Ben Laden and fame to Pastor Jones.
This article will not focus on bin Laden who has become known for his extremism, terrorism and for hiding in caves. It will focus on the new patient, American Pastor Terry Jones, who managed to generate concerns around the world out of fear from a new clash of religions and cultures.
The journalistic reports say that Terry Jones was a failure all his life, but he was finally able to get media attention after he called on his followers to burn the Holy Quran on the anniversary of September 11, in protest against the building of a mosque near the World Trade Center site. Jones is 58 years old and has worked for 30 years in failed preaching. Even his book “Islam is of the Devil” which he issued two months ago was bought by only a few people. However, after he called for the burning of the Koran, he found international fame and sold around 200,000 copies of his book. In the meantime, his church is considered to be most unsuccessful, seeing how he was only able to gather 51 followers, thus confirming that his failure forced him to make this “hideous” call in order to get media attention while using his hatred for Islam.
Terry’s futile personality does not conceal any ideas or knowledge, as it was revealed by the American CBS television network that an American judge summoned him last month when he announced his plan, and learned that Jones and his wife knew little about Islam and the Quran. The network stated that the judge asked Jones how many Muslims he knew personally, to which he responded by saying he knew none.
Still, let us look into the size of the attention and reactions with which this “nobody” was met inside the United States. President Barack Obama considered that his call was a “gift to al-Qaeda which will lead to the recruitment of larger numbers of people in the ranks of the terrorist organization.” As for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she described the plans to burn the Koran as being “outrageous and aberrational,” while Attorney General Eric Holder said that Jones’ act was unfortunate, describing his call as being “stupid and dangerous.” For his part, one of the most prominent Evangelical leaders Richard Cizik stated: “Shame on all those who exercise bigotry and open rejection of our fellow Americans of a different faith.” On the other side, international reactions emerged and not one country around the world failed to issue condemnations and denunciations. For their part, international organizations did the same, while the Interpol announced it addressed a warning to its 188 member states against the escalation of violence and the possible staging of attacks targeting innocent people if copies of the Koran are indeed burned. In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel described Jones’ act as being “disrespectful, shameful and wrong,” at a time when Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono addressed a letter to Obama warning that this “could lead to a conflict between religions.” As for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he considered that the burning of the Korans “could be used as a pretext by the extremists to conduct more killing and counter-killing operations.” Pakistani President Asif Zardari for his part condemned Jones’ plan, saying it was going to “set ablaze the feelings of Muslims around the world, and will cause irreparable damage to inter-religious harmony and peace.” In the meantime, the World Council of Churches which represents 349 fellowships, the Islamic Conference Organization and al-Azhar, all warned against “a disaster which will affect human relations and peaceful coexistence.” The step was also condemned by the European Union, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, the Vatican and others.
However, how would Jones have reacted had his call been disregarded and ignored instead of it being discussed and pursued and instead of him and his followers being begged? Certainly, such an “empty” call would have dissipated without ever extending beyond the limits of his small town (Gainesville), just like he remained a failure throughout thirty years of preaching without anyone ever hearing about him.
But this was not seen in the presence of the new media, which is capable of carrying a report and spreading it at a “high” speed, sometimes even turning the sick and insane into stars. All that Jones wanted was to get some attention, to the point where his last demand before recanting his plan was for the American authorities to talk to him. He definitely wanted to say to the Americans: “I am influential, therefore I am.”
There is no doubt that Jones’ call was provocative, horrendous and hideous, but the Muslims on the other hand should not overreact so that the world does not become a cluster of incinerators and blood due to the calls of the racists, the extremists, the insane and the mentally ill.
*Published in the London-based AL-HAYAT on Sept. 13, 2010.