Thursday, 9 September 2010

There's no smoke without ire

The phrase 'be careful what you wish for' has never been more apt. Quick-tempered right wingers have spent the last few years, both here and in the States, attempting to demonise Islam as a religion of terrorists and radicals. On both sides of the pond reactionary rhetoric has been cleverly composed to manipulate the populace into a position of fear and intolerance.

The most recent hot-button issue has been the announcement of plans to build a mosque at 'Ground Zero' - interpreted by certain news organisations and commentators as an opportunity to dance on the graves of the 3,000+ people who lost their lives on 9/11.

A wide variety of politicians and pundits have been quick to add their voices to the mix, usually taking the stance that the concept of 'freedom of religion' was never meant to include Muslims. There have been a number of protests - with one Muslim cab-driver even being stabbed in New York. Ironically, his attacker was later identified as a "volunteer with a nonprofit organization that works to promote cross-cultural understanding." I guess they need to work a bit harder at that.

But the anti-Muslim sentiment reached its nadir last week when the Pastor of a little-known church in Florida announced his plans to organise an international 'Quran Burning Day'. Despite arguing that he's not a bigot, Terry Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, intends to burn a pile of Islamic holy books on the anniversary of 9/11. He told the press, who were quick to pick up the story, "It's something that we feel we need to do. It's a message that we feel we need to send."

But there's a silver lining to the cloud of acrid smoke that will gather in the skies over Gainesville on Saturday. Key Republican mouthpieces, who have previously been keen to stoke the fires of anti-Islamic sentiment, have spoken out against the pastor's plans, seemingly horrified by the antagonism they've helped to create.

Fox New lunatic Glenn Beck and photogenic brain-donor Sarah Palin have both written eloquently (the latter, likely using a ghost-writer who understands basic sentence construction) about the fact that burning religious books is 'antithetical' to American ideals. Sure, freedom of speech might entitle people to demonstrate their displeasure, but that doesn't make it acceptable or appropriate.

Even more comforting, is the fact that Tennessee Pastor Steve Stone is doing his bit to open minds and hearts in his (red) neck of the woods. When he heard 18 months ago that a new Islamic Center (American news source, American spelling) was opening in Memphis, he was quick to post a sign that read "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood."

The local Muslim community were apparently overwhelmed by this welcoming gesture, and as a result a thriving interfaith network has been forged between the two constituencies. Stone and his counterpart Dr. Bashar Shala have even appeared on news shows together to talk about their mutually respectful relationship.

Stone recently blogged that "The majority of the response both locally, nationally and internationally has been positive and affirming. And honestly, that has been both surprising and heartening to me. My guess would be that 90+% have responded that way."

Whether it's God at work, or simply the natural order of things, it's comforting to see that the universe has a way of correcting itself. The appeal of extremism (on either side) tends to be fairly short-lived.

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