The intolerant Pastor Terry Jones, in his bid for infamy, has sparked an international outcry like no other. Vowing to mark the occasion of 9/11 by burning copies of the Holy Quran, Mr Jones was all set to unleash havoc on a world already overrun by fanaticism and violence. By inciting more anger and hatred, this ‘holy’ man was purportedly commemorating the lives of those lost to the very same evil. However, after a loud and defiant cry of protest from all over the world with the US administration intervening, the pastor has called off the sacrilegious act. Not only that, city officials in Florida have banned the book burning. Even though the first amendment grants Americans the right of freedom of expression, everything possible seems to have been done to prevent the pastor’s wicked plans. Even before the burning could take place, protests in Afghanistan have led to one fatality.
Like the extremists that the US is battling at home and abroad, Mr Jones is a Taliban of another faith; he is fuelling anger and rage in a world that could do without it. However, it must be remembered that Terry Jones belongs to a minuscule fringe that in no way represents the public at large. It is imperative that the Muslims he is trying to incite take pause and concentrate on another clear truth that has emerged from this heated episode: the world, irrespective of religion and borders, has joined hands to loudly condemn this deplorable act. This incident has ironically demonstrated that the world at large is against fundamentalism in any form and will not tolerate blows against the religious sentiments of others. Even though the world now knows his name, Pastor Jones has defeated his own purpose. President Obama cited Mr Jones’ act as “completely contrary” to American values. General Petraeus — who knows better than anybody what Muslims can become bloodily capable of when provoked — said that the book burning would “endanger” American troops. The OIC termed it an “outrageous path of hatred” and Hillary Clinton urged the media not to cover the event organised by Jones. It is important that, instead of the entire Muslim ummah becoming outraged, efforts be made to bring to light the global damning of the ideas of the Florida pastor. This should be a message to Muslims that the world is on their side.
In the name of freedom of expression, ideas that stoke hate are fast spiralling out of control. Maybe if at the time of the printing of the Danish cartoons in 2005, stern action had been taken against such hate acts that disguise themselves as exercises in freedom of expression, today an unknown, fame-hungry backwoods pastor might not have had the ability to hold the world’s sentiments hostage. It is a dangerous precedent to set that whenever a nutcase decides to instigate a religious conflict, he can do so easily and then expect a call from the White House to persuade him to back down. The president’s office deserves more respect than that. Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from responsibility. It does not allow men and women to desecrate the emotions of others, no matter which faith they belong to.
Last but not least, let us look within ourselves. Muslims the world over, including Pakistan, have been denying and abusing the rights of people from other faiths. Whether it was the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban or the murderous rampage against minorities in Pakistan where churches, temples and houses of worship have been targeted, we have all acted like the pastor at some time in our history. Point to ponder. *