What is the president of the United States, the Attorney General, our top military commander, and an icon of the right doing giving their opinion on the threat to burn a Koran by a storefront preacher with 50 followers that no one had ever heard of and who will likely be forgotten once the brouhaha has passed?
As far as straight news value, this story ranks somewhere between an item on the pimply-faced high school kid who raised the 4-H winning bull and the announcement of the “Rotary Man of the Year.” The massive unimportance of this preacher and his followers is being ignored as the media flogs this story with the enthusiasm of a White House sex scandal. By doing so, they have created an international incident that threatens the safety of our troops, and possibly the political stability of some countries.
Some brainless, bigoted nut from the fringe of American politics is getting worldwide attention because he wants to burn a Koran in order to send a message to somebody — it’s not entirely clear who — that “we’re not afraid.” At least, that’s what Terry Jones, “Pastor” of the tiny Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida is saying now. No one knows if he is going to go through with his book burning, but even if he doesn’t, questions remain.
He was singing a different tune about his reasons for burning the Koran in this August 26 story by CNN:
“We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it’s causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times,” Pastor Terry Jones told CNN’s Rick Sanchez earlier this week.
“I mean ask yourself, have you ever really seen a really happy Muslim? As they’re on the way to Mecca? As they gather together in the mosque on the floor? Does it look like a real religion of joy?” Jones asks in one of his YouTube posts.
“No, to me it looks like a religion of the devil.”
This is beyond fringe, entering the sublime milieu of surreal hate. America is full of these lunatics, preaching on street corners, burning crosses, marching against perceived slights or simply to show off their own rank bigotry and hate. To elevate this non-entity to international villain (or, to his equally bigoted supporters, international hero) demonstrates a disconnect that is unusual even for the American media.
Is it that he used the internet to spread his poison? One need only go to the Stormfront website (not linked here) and read equally idiotic rantings against Muslims. Is it that he has more than his fair share of supporters? At last count, the Dove Facebook page had around 2,000 “friends.” (not linked here). Neo-Nazi sites have 2 and 3 times that number of followers on Facebook and their feelings against Muslims are well known.
A pitifully small, insignificant group of Americans were planning on burning Korans on September 11 and they become front page news on newspapers across the world, and headlined stories on the cable news nets. The press yawns when an American flag is burned, or when the figure of a crucified Jesus is photographed being immersed in a beaker of urine. But when the world’s most fashionably chic religion is the target, it is, apparently, big news.
Those Muslims itching to take to the streets and riot in the name of Allah and The Prophet shouldn’t worry if Jones cancels his little bonfire. Word has come that another wacko, Fred Phelps and his gay bashing, military funeral crashing Westboro Baptist Church will oblige their outrage by burning the Koran – again. They tried it in 2008 and no one in the media paid any attention – which would have been an excellent response to Jones’ idea to light up the Islamic holy book but, as I explain below, was not to be.
A couple of reasons for this fantastic overkill by the press comes to mind. The media sees some kind of rough symmetry between Koran burning and opponents of Park 51. They don’t even have to be obvious about it, allowing their readers and viewers to draw their own parallels. Also, Jones and his supporters make perfect foils for those who wish to attack evangelical conservatives, and, by extension, conservative Republicans. Despite the fact that Dove Outreach bears as much resemblance to a mainline evangelical church as a pig resembles a prom queen, those predisposed to hate conservative Christians have lumped Jones and his book burners in with the social cons.
Then there are those media outlets who know full well that publicizing these insignificant kooks will rile Muslims the world over, and are also fully aware of the probable reaction from the fundamentalist Imams who preach hatred of the west and the US. Instigating riots may not enter their conscious thoughts, but news is news and blood sells. Surely the foreign press who are whipping Muslims into a frenzy over this issue sees this, at least partly, as a way to stick it to America.
The story had already bubbled over into an international cause celebre by the time General Petreaus offered his thoughts on how burning Korans may endanger our troops in Afghanistan. I suppose he felt it his responsibility to say something to discourage it. Of course, the very nature of his comments only raised the temperature around the world and drew criticism even from some on the right .
But why would the Attorney General Eric Holder offer his opinion (“idiotic and dangerous”)? Or President Obama (“a destructive act”)? Sure, the press asked the question but instead of taking the opportunity to demonstrate their “tolerance” for other religions and hatred of extremism, why not try and lower the temperature a bit by dismissing such idiocy out of hand?
They could have said something like, “Well, America is full of these fringe political players and it is so obviously wrong to burn any book at any time for any reason that it isn’t even worth commenting further.” Instead, we get posturing, chest thumping orations about how dedicated our leaders are to the Constitution, and syrupy calls for “tolerance.”
Meanwhile, the Religion of the Perpetually Aggrieved is already in the streets demonstrating their ignorance by protesting against something that hasn’t even happened yet. Perhaps they should set up permanent residence in the streets in order to save themselves time when the next imagined insult emanating from Christians is publicized by the media. I guarantee it won’t be too long.
There is usually a rough equivalence between how big a news story becomes and the impact on a community, a country, or the world that the subject is making. The story about a micro-pastor and his less than meager congregation burning the Muslim holy book doesn’t even come close. It appears that other motivations were at work to drive this story to the heights of worldwide notoriety and they do not reflect well on the reporters and pundits or the agenda-driven media outlets they work for.