WASHINGTON // The Reverend Terry Jones kept the world waiting yesterday over plans to burn copies of the Quran at his small Florida church.
The Islamophobic pastor told reporters that he would not burn the holy books if he could meet today Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the controversial Park51 Islamic cultural centre near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York.
The minister’s latest vacillation followed calls from high-profile military and religious leaders, celebrities and international politicians that he cancel the controversial event.
But the announcement that Mr Terry wanted to meet Mr Rauf has abruptly caused the once-separate news narratives – the Quran-burning and the Park51 controversy – to coalesce, raising the entire ordeal to dizzying levels of farce.
As the absurdities mount, the level of outrage surrounding Mr Jones’s intentions is matched only by bewilderment at how this moustachioed reverend and his tiny flock of fewer than 50 parishioners managed to dominate the world’s news agenda and the attention of world leaders.
After episodes such as this one, the American collective consciousness tends to make an initial scapegoat out of “the media” – that amorphous collection of newspapers, bloggers, and cable news stations.
“The media has latched on to this event. It’s a staged event and it’s grown and grown and grown like some kind of cancer,” said Mindy McAdams, a professor of journalism at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where Mr Jones’s church is located. “Nobody wants to work hard. These are lazy journalists hopping on an easy story.”
Even if that is true, the story’s “can’t miss” stature had made a media circus hard to avoid. That did not stop Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, from modestly proposing in an interview on Wednesday that members of the press allow Mr Jones to return to the obscurity from whence he came.
“We are hoping that the pastor decides not to do this. We’re hoping against hope that if he does, it won’t be covered, as an act of patriotism,” Ms Clinton said.
As if in response to Ms Clinton, the Associated Press released a memorandum on Thursday announcing that they would not distribute images or text descriptions of actual Qurans being burned.
“AP policy is not to provide coverage of events that are gratuitously manufactured to provoke and offend,” wrote Tom Kent, the AP’s deputy managing editor and standards editor.
The question now remains one of taste: can the news coverage be constructive, or will it serve only to anger and provoke?
Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said
Mr Jones and his unsavoury views have received far more attention than they deserve. The Quran-burning affair, he said has offered a kind of cultural catharsis by holding up a mirror to America’s long-latent Islamophobia.
“There’s a problem with Islamophobia in this country and that’s a bad thing. But the good news is that it’s bubbling to the surface and we’re going to deal with it,” he said. “There needs to be a conversation that’s not being had. To be quite specific, where do we stand on American Muslims and their role in this country? Do they belong?.”
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