I’m watching BBC World News. Currently being broadcast is a debate about Islam, how it’s perceived in the west (particularly America), the “Ground Zero Mosque”, Pastor Terry Jones of Florida threatening to hold a Koran-burning party and other inflammatory issues raised on the eve of the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
The most depressing thing about the debate is how incredibly predictable it all is. Representing, I suppose, “the average American” is a construction worker whose every utterance seems carefully crafted to further the “insular Yank” stereotype. Knowing, as I do, plenty of intelligent and well-informed Americans, I find myself cringing at the caricature being beamed around the world. And I wonder whether or not this man is genuinely representative of America (more so than those intelligent, well-informed folks of my acquaintance) or whether he has been chosen for his fulfillment of a stereotype prevalent in the media.
Unfortunately, I suspect it’s the former. Partly based on my inherent cynicism and partly based upon my observations of US media and political policy — a very small minority of which appears to come from a place of informed intelligence.
So the construction worker complains that, while he personally doesn’t want to burn any Korans, the pastor should be permitted to do so because America values freedom of expression. In his next breath he condemns the building of an Islamic cultural centre near the location of the World Trade Centre and wishes to see it halted. Rarely has, what George Orwell called, “doublethink” been so perfectly illustrated.
He then wonders why there’s such widespread condemnation of this Koran-burning stunt while nobody is condemning “the Taliban threats” of reprisals. It seems like a near-decade-long bombing campaign and a ground war waged by the combined militaries of the west against the Taliban does not constitute enough condemnation for this guy.
He also wanted to know why it was only ever America who “stood up to extremism”. Why it was only in America that people were condemning the death-sentence by stoning of the Iranian woman accused of adultery? One wonders how he could possibly have known that it was only in America, as he clearly has no contact with international media (for those not following the story, the loudest and most sustained objections to this Iranian travesty have come from the cheese-eating surrender-monkeys of France, but it’s unlikely that Fox News would ever report such a thing).
Now he’s suggesting that the Koran-burning should go ahead because if it’s only a minority of Moslems who are extremists, then burning the Koran will ensure “the radicals will come out of the woodwork” so that “we can identify them”. His inability to understand that such gratuitous acts of provocation might serve to radicalise further those who are already angry at western policy in Afghanistan is yet another perfect illustration… this time of US foreign policy in general.
On the other hand, it’s heartening to note that a moderate Moslem is arguing against the building of the Islamic Centre, and vaguely amusing that the barbed nature of his reasoning failed to even register on the blue-collared caricature. The Centre, he suggested, could be seen as a celebration of American tolerance and a place where the tensions between cultures could perhaps be overcome. But “Americans aren’t yet ready for that” he suggests, and Moslems should accept this and await a better time to enter into a useful dialogue. He didn’t use the words “you lot just don’t have the emotional maturity to see beyond your ignorance and accept the issue is more complex than Moslems = terrorists and Americans = Number One”. But I could see in his eyes that he wanted to.
Ultimately, Pastor Terry Jones has the right to burn his Korans if that’s the message he wants to send to the world. He’d be a complete idiot and an arsehole to do so, but that would hardly make him unique among southern preachers. In response, no doubt, some idiots and arseholes in the Moslem World would escalate the matter. There’d be (yet more) burnings of American flags and bibles. And a mob would form in some moderate Islamic nation like Egypt and they’d attack a christian church. People would get hurt, perhaps even killed. Then a group of stupid young rednecks in Alabama would beat some random dark-skinned kid to death because he looked Moslem.
Pastor Terry Jones would have blood on his hands. Only a drop, certainly, in the ocean of red that’s been steadily growing these past nine years, since a group of murderers highjacked some planes in North America. But a drop more than any of us need.
* I can’t be the only one who, every time Pastor Terry Jones gets a mention in the media, hears “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy” in a high-pitched voice.
* The chap on the BBC debate called to mind “local man, Scott Gentries” of The Onion.
* I was recently reading about Bill Hicks and his response to a “Scott Gentries”-type after a gig one night. The irate audience member angrily confronted him regarding his criticism of America. “Love it or leave it buddy!” he snarled, “if you don’t think this country is the greatest in the world, then why don’t you go live somewhere else!?” Bill’s response was glorious… he looked incredulously at the man and responded, “What? And risk becoming a victim of our foreign policy?”