Pastor’s Qur’an bonfire goes out with a whimper

Over in the States Christian fruitcake Pastor Terry Jones has finally backed down over his plans to hold ‘International Burn a Qur’an Day’ on the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Quite how a rabble of rednecks and a couple of dogs having a bonfire in a field somewhere in the backwaters of Gainesville ever came to be described as an ‘International’ event remains to be answered, but the point is that Mr Jones has finally deduced what took the rest of us all of 5 seconds and has realised that this was a bad idea.

There will of course be the usual groans of ‘us backing down to militant Islam’, but that’s to be expected I suppose. Most intelligent people will have no problem understanding that this pointless act was never about The West standing up to Islam, but was rather a shameless ploy by an insignificant fundamentalist to get a bit of publicity for his miniscule church and associated business interests.

Mr Jones has never had a problem with courting controversy. His Dove World Outreach Centre represents pretty much everything people dislike about religion. Homophobia? Check. Exploitation? Check. Intolerance of other religions? Check. If we were playing Bigot’s Bingo, Jones’ nasty little church would score a full house, and so it’s no surprise that Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe this year described them as “an embarrassment to the community”. Jones’ miserable exploits include selling t-shirts and mugs emblazoned with his subtle slogan ‘Islam is of the devil’ and describing evangelism as more important than education.

You may also have noticed that he’s got a book out. Or to put it another way, it’s been pretty much impossible to follow this story without seeing him glaring sternly at the camera whilst holding up a copy of his imaginatively titled Islam is of the Devil (just in case you didn’t get the message the first time around). The Qur’an may be at the centre of this story, but I’ll wager there’s only one book that Terry Jones has ever been interested in raising publicity for. And that’s exactly what he’s been getting by the lorry-load.

On the face of it, this may seem like a pretty big story: American act of religious incitement threatens to blow apart US-Islamic relations and endanger the lives of thousands. But strip away all the hyperbole and rhetoric and what have you actually got? A crackpot fundamentalist with barely enough followers to fill a broom cupboard and a book to sell. How the hell was Terry Jones’ profile this ever allowed to snowball to the extent that you can’t turn on a TV anywhere in the world at the moment without seeing his pitiful face? How did this narrow-minded pariah, who had apparently been expelled from his previous church, end up in a situation where everybody knows his name and where, as of a few minutes ago, it was the 35th most searched for term on Google worldwide? Step forward the global press.

It can be all to easy to simply blame the press sometimes, and there can be an element of ‘shooting the messenger’ about it. But was this story really important enough to warrant the extraordinary amount of coverage it has received? Are the opinions of 50-odd bible-thumpers really of such critical importance that the whole world has to be able to keep up with their idiotic schemes across 24-hour news channels and the printed press? Even the local Gainesville Sun was only giving minor coverage to the story a whole month after ‘International Burn a Qur’an Day’ was announced, warning then that over-reporting would “[give] church officials the attention they’re after”.

Reaction to Pastor Jones' plans

This seems a classic case of the media creating news and then gleefully reporting on it. As the amount of coverage proliferated, it was only a matter of time before images hit the extremist hotbeds of Afghanistan and Indonesia. Once the predictable images of burning American flags were broadcast this suddenly morphed into a story about America vs the Muslim World; Christianity vs Islam; Freedom of Speech vs Censorship. Against the backdrop of the tensions over the planned Islamic Cultural Centre near Ground Zero, this minor story of one man’s religious intolerance became a global tale of warring powers and ideologies, with the press clamouring to capture it all unfolding.

And so, with Pastor Jones’ bonfire becoming a damp squib, this tiresome little man can retire from the limelight having successfully instigated the publicity drive of his dreams whilst the media can spend the next few days living off the remains of the feast they helped create. As for the rest of us, we’re left picking up the mess of religious and racial tension that the above two’s little party has generated.

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