|The planned burning of the Quran has sparked anger across the Muslim world [Reuters]
Like many Muslim-Americans, Feisal Haider is preparing to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the September 11 atrocities. Besides handing out food and clothes at local homeless shelters, his Florida mosque plans to distribute English copies of the Quran, the Islamic holy book.
“With our positive contribution to the community, our goal is to counter the anti-Islamic wave sweeping throughout this country, and to dispel misinformation about Islam,” says Haider. However others plan to memorialise victims of 9/11 in a radically different fashion.
A nondenominational church in Gainesville, Florida, plans to stage what it calls the “International Burn a Quran Day.” Led by the evangelical pastor Terry Jones, a 58-year-old firebrand, the Dove World Outreach Centre wants to burn copies of the Quran “ to raise awareness and to warn…about the teaching and ideology of Islam,” according to a statement on the church’s website.
Haider, a 43-year-old small business owner says Muslim-Americans are unfazed by Jones’ actions. “Despite the despicable acts of this church, our community is undaunted and we will not be deterred to continue with our activities.” But he admits that burning copies of the Quran not too far from where he hopes to distribute his holy book to ordinary Americans “is like forcing a blade down your throat.”
Famous or infamous?
Controversy has visited Paster Jones before. Over a year ago, he installed a sign on the church’s lawn that read: “Islam is of the Devil,” which is also the title of his book. Provocative actions that have led to his personal infamy. To date, he has more than 8,000 fans on Facebook. More troubling, says Haider, some Florida politicians have piggybacked on the pastor’s anti-Islamic vitriol.
Ron McNeil a Congressional candidate in the Republican Party primary (for the Florida 2nd District) recently told a group of students that Muslims want to “destroy our way of life.”
Since announcing the plan to burn the Quran, Pastor Jones has discovered that such an act has a host of negative externalities. For starters, his bank has demanded that he immediately repay the church’s mortgage balance, and his insurance company cancelled the church’s policy. Furthermore, the local authorities, citing strict fire codes, rejected twice his application to burn the holy book.
Pressure is mounting on Pastor Jones to cancel the planned ‘Quran burning protest.’ A top US commander in Afghanistan said the planned torching of the Qur'an could pose a serious threat to American soldiers in Muslim countries. Speaking to CNN, Lieutenant-General William Caldwell, commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan said: “We very much feel that this could jeopardise the safety of our men and women that are serving over here."
However, Jones sees himself on a global mission to reveal what he adamantly calls “the truth about Islam.” He proudly talks about his 30 years in Europe doing missionary work. Its also no coincidence that his church is called ‘Dove World Outreach Centre,’ or that he thinks of the planned Quran burning event as ‘international.' However, a small number of his 50-member church are expected to participate in the event.
Speaking in apocalyptic terms, Jones, in a Youtube video, rails against American politicians for failing to curb what he characterises as an imminent worldwide takeover by Muslims.
If Jones wished to garner global attention for his actions, he got exactly that, but maybe not the kind he bargained for. He admits that he has received fewer than $1,000 in support of his planned protest, and that he receives countless death threats daily.
He has also provoked the ire of millions of Muslims across the world. In a statement, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, said the actions to burn the holy Quran will spark “anger across the Muslim world and provoke unrest.” Egypt’s Al-Azhar University also blasted the event as “hateful and racist.” From Indonesia to Afghanistan, thousands of Muslims across the world protested Jones’ provocative move.
Christian organisations in the US have also decried Jones and his church. The National Association of Evangelicals, the largest evangelical umbrella group, called Jones to cancel the event: “The NAE calls on its members to cultivate relationships of trust and respect with our neighbours of other faiths. God created human beings in his image, and therefore all should be treated with dignity and respect," it said in a statement.
‘Summer of Islamophobia’
This controversy caps a summer of intense debate in the US over a planned Islamic centre close to the site of the fallen World Trade towers in New York. The so-called “Ground Zero mosque” has become a galvanising issue for right wing Republicans and crystallised as a microcosm of Islamophobia, says Ahmad Tharwat, a political commentator in the US.
“Xenophobia is a huge part of American culture,” he said. “It’s an adolescent consumer culture that fears the others and prefers to play only with its kind, except Muslims as consumers.”
Just in the last few months, at least half a dozen mosques across the US have been subject to arson and shooting attacks. Some of the attacks, like a pipe bomb hurled at a mosque in Jacksonville, Florida, have been classified by local authorities as an act of domestic terrorism. Muslim civil rights organisations say that more localities are stymieing mosque plans in places like Green Bay, Wisconsin or Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Tharwat calls the new phenomenon “the take away your mosque mentality.” He proposes “a Rosa Parks moment for Muslim-Americans.” In refusing to give up her seat on a bus, Park’s act of defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott a critical event in the US civil rights movement.
Meanwhile, under pressure from many corners, Pastor Jones has hinted to CNN that he may cancel the event if it would endanger American troops serving across the Muslim world.