by M. Junaid Levesque-Alam
At this point, it’s not even clear whether Jones will go ahead with his pyrotechnics, but the lesson still stands.
Animosity toward Islam has reached such extremes in America that officialdom only rallies against anti-Muslim invective if it interferes with its warring on Muslim countries.
Perhaps it’s just the skeptic and former journalist in me, but that’s my impression as I review the recent blow-up about the planned September 11th Qur’an bonfire.
Terry Jones, the pastor of the tiny Florida church that may conduct the book-burning, has garnered endless—and doubtless desired—attention from media outlets as military commanders and administration officials fret over the fallout of his obscene reimagination of Farenheit 451.
General Petreaus, who is rightly concerned for the welfare of the women and men under his command, warned that Jones’s actions “would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan—and around the world—to inflame public opinion and incite violence.”
Petreaus’s pronouncements were followed by an equally onerous message from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who averred that any behavior “that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.”
The presumed blowback from the proposed Qur’an burning also seems to have spurred what the New York Times called an “extraordinary ‘emergency summit’ meeting in the capital” on Tuesday, with prominent religious leaders denouncing the rising hatred of Muslims.
The leaders could not seem to agree to support the Park 51 Muslim center—opposition to which anchors the anti-Muslim mob—but some clergy did try to dissuade Jones, albeit without any success.
I do not doubt that these religious leaders are genuinely perturbed by the toxicity of national discourse about Islam, but I think it is unfortunate that, like Petreaus and the White House, they have spoken out only when they perceived an immediate danger to U.S. troops.
Where were these solemn pronouncements weeks ago, when a wide range of conservative figures were vilifying and demonizing Islam in terms no less strident than Jones? Back then, many clear-eyed observers had already predicted that the behavior of conservatives and Israeli loyalists would play into the hands of Islamic extremists.
Indeed, that is the desired goal of the rabid specimens who quite literally manufactured the outrage. Some are white supremacists, others are Israeli zealots (anyone else see the irony here?), and still others advocate genocide; all are professional Islamophobes by vocation.
Jones is thus not an “extremist” but rather a logical and inevitable extension of existing conservative thought, which has mainstreamed hate to an impressive degree lately. Let’s not forget that the official icon of the anti-Islam movement, Newt Gingrich, compared Muslims to Nazis—and if Muslims are Nazis, why not burn books that must therefore be as contemptible as Mein Kempf?
But instead of addressing this vitriol forcefully, much of the media first regurgitated conservative propaganda. Not to be outdone, many liberal leaders stuck their heads in the sand; some are still pretending that prejudice is not behind the opposition to Park 51’s location, regardless of the facts.
The establishment’s chafing and chagrin over Jones’s planned provocation seems like a classic example of too little, too late.
Jones’s plan to burn religious texts is absurd. But what is even more absurd is that the bonfire may be called off only because powerful interests want to focus on wars that have done far more than Pastor Jones to inflame Islamic extremism.
– M. Junaid Levesque-Alam is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies. His pieces have previously been published in Antiwar.com, AltMuslim.com, Colorlines, and The Nation.com. His own website is Crossing the Crescent.