Pastor Jones’ Climbdown Is Little Cause For Celebration

FRANCESCA HILL: ‘Pastor Jones sees himself as a noble figure, acting to save the American people from yet another injustice’.

9/11 Francesca Francesca Hill Ground Zero Hill islam Islamophobia Israel obama Palestine Pastor Terry Jones the West

At first glance, the announcement that Floridean pastor Terry Jones is no longer going to be burning two hundred copies of the Qu’ran to commemorate September 11th is the long-awaited sign that the Christian far-right in the USA is capable of bowing to liberal public pressure, or even (brace yourselves now…) capable of recognising that Islam is not synonymous with terrorism.

No such luck. Perhaps the strongest clue is in Jones’ warning to other Islamophobes: “We would, right now, ask no-one to burn Qu’rans… It is not the time to do it.” Well, quite. If we were going to be really demanding, we might suggest that expressions of extreme religious prejudice and ignorance are always a bad idea; the decision to postpone such a display for tactical reasons, whilst a huge relief to the US administration and the liberal masses, can hardly be considered a great concession.

Public condemnation of his intentions by President Obama and General Petraeus (we can assume the latter carried more weight with Jones) revolved around the danger in which burning the Qu’ran would place US troops. Suspending the book-burning could be taken as an implicit recognition from Jones of the impact his actions might have upon other people (read, Americans); and perhaps represents a positive sign from a man who, until this point, has shown precious few signs of empathy. Yet this is a long way from demonstrating the understanding of the need for cultural and religious tolerance which we might hope for in a religious leader.

More importantly, Jones claims that he was promised that plans to build a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero would be scrapped if he abandoned his book-burning; he sees himself as a noble figure, acting to save the American people from yet another injustice, and worryingly, a vocal section of the US population shares his view on this particular issue at least.

The outrage which these plans has provoked reveals the extent to which many Americans’ traditional patriotism has become tinged with Islamophobia. To say that building a mosque even near Ground Zero is disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 is to say that an entire religion must be suppressed due to an extreme few, to say that the supposedly “American” ideal of religious freedom does not stretch half as far as we thought.

Worryingly, the last month or so has shown that many Americans are far less in touch with liberal values than the majority of people in the Middle East whose women and children we sacrifice in the name of defeating extremism. How can we spread tolerance if we can’t show it ourselves?