Barack Obama, the US president, has warned that threats to burn the
Quran are a sure and effective way to swell the ranks of al-Qaeda. This
may be true, but largely because such symbolic acts of 'Islamophobia'
are widely viewed as verifying the perception that the US wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq, along with its backing of Israel, are motivated by
its hostility towards Muslims.
The previously unheard of pastor
of a small Florida church may have scrapped his plan to publicly burn
hundreds of Qurans on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but the
threat alone has done untold damage to the already troubled
relationship between the Muslim world and the West.
government's reaction to the plan will not have gone unnoticed. But no
matter how strong the words of condemnation, those on the receiving end
of US occupation or air raids will be struck by the apparent
General David Petraeus, the US commander in
Afghanistan, warned that burning the Quran could endanger the lives of
US troops who might become the target of retribution. But why do Obama
and Petraeus think that burning the Quran is any less civilized or more
dangerous than their use of unmanned drones to target suspected Taliban
or al-Qaeda fighters and the subsequent civilian casualties these
attacks often entail?
Terry Jones, the pastor behind the planned
Quran bonfire, may be insane, as some, including his own daughter, have
suggested. But what excuse do sane and sophisticated people like Obama,
Petraeus, and Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, have?
In his Cairo speech, Obama attributed the blame for some of the
misunderstanding between the West and the Muslim world to the acts of
terrorism carried out by a minority of Muslims. "The attacks of
September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to
engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view
Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries,
but also to human rights," he said. But he totally glossed over the fact
that before - just as after - 9/11, the US engaged in unjust wars
against mainly Muslim countries - a threat that is more potent than any
plan to burn Qurans.
If it were not for these wars and a history
of US support for the Israeli occupation and dictators in the region,
the threat to burn Qurans - as ugly and offensive as it clearly is -
would not have been anything more than the act of a small-time minister
searching for attention and obsessed with his own prejudices.
in an atmosphere of 'Islamophobia' - fed by a mistrust and ignorance of
Islam - and US wars against Muslim countries, the suggestion of a
Quran-burning day becomes something much more significant.
also reflects the general dehumanization of Muslims and Arabs -
particularly those who have been the victims of American and Israeli
bombings - that has taken root, allowing some of the US public to become
immune to the crimes committed by their own government or with their
Today, as Americans grieve the victims of
the 9/11 attacks, it is important to recognize that sorrow is a shared
universal sentiment that does not exclude religions or races.
the weeks following 9/11, the American press devoted pages and air time
to giving a human face to the victims of the attacks. It is not
realistic or even right to expect the American media to give the exact
same treatment to the victims of US wars. But, until very recently, the
US media rarely even questioned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and
when it did, the questions asked rarely centered on the civilian deaths,
which were at best seen as inevitable incidents of war and, at worst, as
necessary collateral damage.
Such a mentality is more damaging
in the long run than any individual threatening to burn the Quran,
because it plants the seeds of dehumanization.
In the words of Kathy Kelly,
an American peace activist who is currently facing trial for
'trespassing' in a drone-manufacturing plant during an anti-war protest,
the mainstream media "does little to help ordinary [Americans] ...
understand that the drones which hover over potential targets in
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen create small "ground zeroes" in multiple
locales on an everyday basis".
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.