8 Sep 2010

Koran controversy: the burning question

So an obscure cleric in an obscure Florida church wants to set fire to 200 copies of another faith’s Holy Book.

Fifty years ago we would never have known. But thanks to the “communications revolution”, the world knows about Pastor Terry Jones and his animus against Islam. At one level the absurdity of such antipathetic “Christian behaviour” sounds positively Pythonesque. But alas it’s all far, far more serious than that.

Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and General David Petraeus have all pleaded with Pastor Jones not to light the match for fear of the consequences of his idiosyncratic memorial moment on this year’s anniversary of 9/11.

What the US administration knows only too well is that if Jones goes ahead the horrible spectacle will be beamed around the world instantaneously. Reverend Jones tells us he’s “praying” about the matter.

What we appear to have here is less a clash of cultures, more a collision of ignorance, power and instant communication. A collision that America’s leaders seem to feel has all the potential for damage that the assassination of Grand Archduke Frans Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo had upon the course of the First World War.

So what’s to do? Arrest the pastor? Seize his Korans? Who would wish to face down such a crisis?

When Sarah Smith, our Washington correspondent, floated the idea that she would file a report yesterday morning, I had heard nothing of Terry Jones’s threat. At first I could hardly believe it, then I quickly fell to thinking that it was something of an “accident waiting to happen”.

Fear and prejudice stalk the land in America. I have blogged before about the 18 per cent of Americans who believe their president to be a Muslim. What else are they capable of believing?

When I was a child, the great threat to world peace was believed to be Communism. Before that it had been Fascism. Today it is ignorance in an age when theoretically there is more information available at the tap of a button than at any time in history. Is Terry Jones a one off? Or is the world running wild?

Tweets by @jonsnowC4