During the Q&A portion of his press conference today, President Obama addressed the swirling controversy surrounding the burning of the Quran and the proposed construction of an Islamic Center near Ground Zero, which – at heart – are really about whether Muslims are respected and accepted or demonized and marginalized in American society. I found the following two excerpts particularly poignant because they evoke the core values underlying this turbulent public debate – unity, freedom and tolerance:
Terry Jones’s hateful plan to burn Qurans at his very small church in Gainesville, Florida, on September 11th has drawn international attention and condemnation by everyone from Pope Benedict to President Obama to Gen. Petraeus.
Now the media is noticing the local faith community’s response. Gainesville clergy have held numerous interfaith vigils; circulated a petition urging Jones to call off his plan to burn Qurans, which they will deliver to Jones tomorrow; and organized an evening of public service led by the Muslim community in Gainesville on September 11th.
Today CNN’s American Morning featured an interview with Pastor Larry Reimer of United Church of Gainesville, who has taken a leading role in lifting up the religious call for unity, peace and interfaith cooperation in response to Jones’s bigoted actions. Watch the interview:
Over the past few days I’ve spoken with Pastor Reimer numerous times about his efforts, and connected him with CNN producers in order to ensure that his important perspective gets the attention it deserves. He and his colleagues in Gainesville who are working to prevent an isolated extremist’s the publicity stunt from becoming an international incident represent an authentic face of faith in the public square.
This Venn diagram by Mark Schmidt made the rounds last week as a great illustration of how many people we’re talking about when we discuss Muslims, Muslim-Americans and al-Qaida.
With the Qur’an burning Florida church in the news lately, I thought it would be useful to update it:
Credit to Technipol for the to-scale diagram.
Update: We updated the graph to include a more accurate estimate of the Muslim-American population. See the Pew Forum report, “Mapping the Global Muslim Population” for more information.
Update II: Added credit for the original image.
When Gen. Petraeus told reporters yesterday that the “International Burn a Koran Day” planned by the Dove World Outreach Center (the most tragically ironic congregation name ever) for this weekend will endanger the lives of U.S. personnel and strengthen the Taliban, he focused attention not only on the propaganda function of this hateful display, but also highlighted its potentially deadly consequences. Further fleshing out the danger posed by the burning, Rev. Tim Ahrens (an FPL board member) filed a blog post from Egypt, where he’s currently staying with American missionaries:
This action will not only endanger our troops, it will endanger the fragile relationships between Muslims and American missionaries, Peace Corp Workers, Medical workers, diplomats, teachers, students, tourists and Holy Land pilgrims.
Anglicans, Copts, Evangelical Christians and so many others all say the same thing. They KNOW the radical elements of Islam will respond to this action. The reaction will be swift, violent and I believe will bring harm to innocent men, women, and children. One Dutch Christian said, “When our papers had a caricature of Mohammed, the reaction was violent. To burn the Qur’an will bring a much greater reaction against Americans, especially Christians.”
The potential for violence also threatens Muslims around the world. The majority of the fatalities in the demonstrations and riots following the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in a Danish newspaper several years ago were caused by police firing into crowds in Muslim countries. All of these threats underscore the importance of putting news coverage in accurate contact, as the Council on American Islamic Relations urged the media to do last week, when they sent out a press release stating in part
“Just as all Muslims should not be blamed for the actions of a few extremists, neither should all Christians or all Americans be blamed for the intentionally offensive actions of the Dove World Outreach Center. Pastor Terry Jones represents nothing but an extremist fringe.”
“Media professionals have a responsibility to put this publicity stunt in its proper context in their reports and commentaries.”
Following the tragic news of the recent suspected arson at the mosque construction site in Murfreesboro, TN, (which Nick commented on earlier this week), the local community mounted an inspiring response:
…about 150 people…attended Monday’s night’s vigil, organized in response to the recent fire at the construction site for the new mosque. Many in the crowd held candles or signs proclaiming such messages as “We’re all in this together” and “My God is not a bigot.” They also joined in singing “We Shall Overcome.”
The gathering came two days after a fire of suspicious origin damaged construction equipment at the site of the planned mosque. Federal investigators are still looking into the cause.
Organizers said the vigil was intended to encourage mosque supporters and opponents to demonstrate for a community free of violence, arson and other such activities.
However, Bob Smietana’s outstanding Tennessean article on the event ended on a more sobering note:
Still stunned from the fire that claimed excavation equipment on the site of their planned mosque, Murfreesboro Muslims avoided Monday night’s protest. They say their project has already attracted too much attention.
“All we want to do is build a place where we can worship in peace and quiet,” said Saleh Sbenaty, a volunteer who is helping organize the mosque project.