September 11, Terry Jones and the Koran

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After having repeatedly changed his mind, the American pastor Terry Jones has finally laid his plans, to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of September 11, to rest. The Muslim world, which is at the same time celebrating Eid el-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, is not only worried about the violence this act could provoke but also its consequences on the image of Islam. Meanwhile, Christians in the Arab world have also expressed their fear.

A stifling suspense. American Pastor Terry Jones announced Friday that he had finally given up burning copies of the Koran on Saturday which marks the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in which nearly 3000 people, mostly Americans, were killed. It was the second time he had changed his mind in one day. “Right now, we have plans not to do it,” he told the American news channel ABC.

Terry Jones, leader of a fundamentalist evangelical Christian church, Dove World Outreach, in Gainesville, Florida, with no more than fifty followers, had first announced on Thursday, his decision not to go ahead with the burning, saying he had been assured that the controversial project to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York would be moved.

But, a few hours later, he changed his mind again threatening to reduce the holy Islamic book to ashes after officials of the Islamic center project denied having settled on any agreement whatsoever with him.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government held its breath whilst the heat built up around the world as the pastor procrastinated. The fear of a backlash in the Muslim world was given substance by the fact that the September 11 anniversary coincided with Eid el-Fitr, festivities marking of the end of Ramadan.

In a joint condemnation of Terry Jone’s act, leaders from Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths oiced voiced their “solidarity” to “denounce categorically derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community”, especially because of plans to build an Islamic center in close proximity to ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 attacks.

And whilst U.S. President Barack Obama warned against “a destructive act” that would lead to a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “If a fundamentalist, envangelical pastor in America wants to burn the Quran on September 11, then I find this simply disrespectful, even abhorrent and simply wrong”.

“Combating terrorism or encouraging it? ”

In a large number of Muslim countries, there is an ardent fear over the violent repercussions that could follow such an act. And according to
Sheikh Abdel Muti al-Bayyumi, a member of the Islamic Research Academy, Al-Azhar, “This will give an opportunity to terrorism. Are they trying to fight terrorism or encourage it?” The academy believes that should Terry Jones go ahead with the burning, a feeling of anger will be unleashed in the Muslim world.

But the Arab world’s Muslims are not the only one’s who have expressed fears over Terry Jone’s threats. In fact, The Christian churches league in Kuwait, led by pastor Emmanuel Benjamen al-Ghareeb, called on the Arab world to ignore Terry Jones’ irrational behavior and argued that the pastor’s plan was not representative of the teachings of Christ. He warned, in a communiqué, that Jones’ act will lead to more extremism, division, and violence.

Speaking to Akhbar Al Yaom, an Arabic daily, in a bid to calm tensions, the representative of the Ulema (theologians) of Morocco pointed out that it is an “isolated case that is alien to the values of the Christian religion” and that it “will neither affect Islam nor Muslims.”

“This madness, not to say this idiocy, will only be a field day for arsonists,” added a columnist from Aufaitmaroc, a Moroccan newspaper.

Assabah, a Tunisian daily argues that Terry Jones’ plan “denotes a narrow and shallow consideration for the consequences it could provoke in relation to security and stability in many parts of the world.”

The celebration of forgiveness

Apart from demonstrations that saw the gathering of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there were no major scenes of flag burnings in front of U.S. embassies in Arab capitals remniscent of the anger generated after the publication of Mohammed caricatures in a Danish newspaper in September 2005. Nonetheless, some groups have threatened to burn American flags in from of U.S. embassies should Terry Jones go ahead with his plan.

In France, which has a substantial Muslim community, Muslims have been asked to exercise restraint. “It is a trap… The agents provocateurs would be too happy to see Muslims hit the roof,” warned Dalil Boubaker, rector of the Mosque of Paris, in an interview Bondyblog. The fact that this action coincides with Eid el-Fitr, contrary to our fears, is good news,” he assures. “It is a celebration of forgiveness, reconciliation, forgetting the trespasses.”

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