Tomorrow marks the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York. It is an event that until now, has been held sacred as a day of memorial for American citizens. Even politicians have managed to remain strictly bi-partisan as they attend the many memorial services.
However, one American pastor in the southern state of Florida has turned the event on its head with his proposed “Burn a Koran Day”, which was a response to plans to build a mosque close to Ground Zero. America is divided over the plans for the mosque and the plans to burn the Koran. Today, Crikey takes a look at media coverage over the controversial event.
The New York Times’ opinion columnist Gail Collins was unimpressed with the proposed stunt as she questioned the legitimacy in using extremism to combat extremism:
“A minister in Gainesville, Fla, has created an international uproar by vowing to burn the Koran on Sept. 11. This is under the theory that the best way to honor Americans who died at the hands of religious extremists is to do something that is both religious and extreme.”
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Collins also launched an attack on those who she saw as not doing enough to denounce the intolerance, including Republican Haley Barbour by writing, “Barbour followed up his bow to tolerance by suggesting that the public’s confusion over Barack Obama’s religion is because of the fact that ‘this is a president that we know less about than any other president in history’.”
Collins’ fellow columnist in the New York Times Nicholas Kristoff focused on how such actions would detract from the healing and peace process that so many others are attempting to pursue.
“So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects — in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverised their lives.”
Meanwhile, on CNN Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri discussed the international ramifications that burning a Koran would have had, saying:
“Such an act is deeply offensive and would have increased divisions and hatred. It could only have been helpful for the cause of extremists, to provide them grounds to exploit the situation to validate their philosophy of hatred. It would have enabled them to recruit vulnerable youth and fuel the growing wave of home-grown radicalisation in the U.S. and abroad.”
Eugene Cho, from the the Huffington Post, asks the age-old question, “what would Jesus do?” in order to determine whether burning a Koran is acceptable. Based on Christian religious views, he writes, “It’s not what following Christ is about. This not the way of the Lord,” following which he goes on to discuss the event in the modern context;
“We also live in a world today of gossip and sensationalism, and this is often elevated as the expression of Christianity. Hopefully by now, most folks can come to their senses and see that the September 11 attacks are not the expression of Muslims and that Jones is not the full expression of Christians or Christianity.”
Despite this, some writers, including the National Review’s Andy McCarthy disagree with the international condemnation as he considers media outlets to have been over the top in their response “that doesn’t begin to cover how vapid the commentary continues to be”. He also thinks the idea that a Koran burning will galvanise Islamic extremists into taking a further concerted effort against America to be ridiculous. McCarthy writes:
“According to Obama, Jones’s ‘stunt’ (a fair description) is already ‘a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda.’ That’s absurd. No sensible person joins a terrorist organisation dedicated to mass murder simply because somebody torches a Koran … The cause is Islamist ideology, which is dehumanising of non-Muslims (or, in the case of the Ahmadi, even of Muslims who reject parts of mainstream Islamic doctrine). It is the ideology that puts the world’s Muslims on a hair trigger.”
Blogger IraqPundit went so far as to argue that Obama, in his condemning of the Koran burning and approval of the Ground Zero mosque, was doing Islamic extremists a favour. He also pointed out that burning the Koran was the only respectful way to destroy the book.
“Burning the Koran is only respectful way of disposing of the Holy book. For example, if a studnet (sic) is learning calligraphy and copies pages from the Koran, he is not allwoed (sic) to throw away the paprs. (sic)”
Lee Smith writing in Slate does not condone ill treatment of the Koran, but does argue that burning one is not a “sin” against Islamic law. He reiterated the legitimacy of such an approach, using his personal experiences in Cairo as an example.
“Once, Muhammad discovered in my garbage an exam I had taken that tested knowledge of certain ayat (or verses) from the Quran, and he reproached me for putting the holy book in the trash. I said that it was not the Quran itself, but only words taken from it. His response was astonishing: “You can either burn your exam,” he explained, “or do this …” At which point, he tore off a verse, rolled it up, put it into his mouth, and swallowed it.”
Beyond all the political anger and outcry over the issue, some outlets have even questioned the ethics of the media reporting on the issue. Mike Thomas, of the Orlando Sentinal queried, “If a sad little man burns some Qurans in the woods, and the media aren’t there to film it, is it news?”
The Associated Press announced they would not distribute images of a burning Koran as they have a pre-existing policy against it. The NY Times editor also said he would avoid publishing photos. Fox News supported that view, with the station’s senior vice-president Michael Clemente stating:
“He’s one guy in the middle of the woods with 50 people in his congregation who’s decided to try, I gather, to bring some attention to himself by saying he’s going to burn a Quran if he gets the permit. Well, you know what, there are many more important things going on in the world than that. I don’t know what they will be this weekend, but I am sure they will be more important than that.”
Opposing this Mediaite’s Glynnis MacNicol argued that what newsworthy should be reported — and according to MacNicol this incident is definitely newsworthy.
“On the other hand, balance and context where this story is concerned went out the window a while ago — in the interim Gen. Petraeus, Hillary Clinton, President Obama and the State Department have all weighed in, meaning for better or worse this story has attained international importance.”
However Kenneth Vogel and Maggie Haberman’s article on Politico stepped back and took a wider view on the politicisation of events such as the Koran burning, the Ground Zero mosque and September 11 memorials. They lament that what was once a deeply sacred event for America and victims of the World Trade Centre attacks has become a political pinball.
“The group 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims expressed support for the anti-mosque rally. But its chairman, Jim Riches, a former New York Fire Department deputy chief whose son was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center and who plans to attend Geller’s rally, similarly expressed misgivings about the anniversary’s increasing politicisation.“