Friday, 10 September 2010
Burn baby burn
What a strange world this has become. The behaviour of an eccentric pastor has prompted intervention from the President of the USA, the US Secretaries of State and Defence Secretary and the Commander of USA and allied forces in Afghanistan. Yes Terry Jones (presumably not a Python) whose Florida flock numbers around 50, has provoked a storm around the world with his promise to burn copies of the Koran tomorrow, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in protest at plans to build an Islamic cultural centre near Ground Zero. I am far from clear whether Pastor Jones will carry out his stunt tomorrow – there appears to be a great deal of confusion. Earlier reports that he was cancelling because the plans to build the centre had apparently been shelved. However, it later emerged that the centre is still on, so he had put his protest on hold. It may well be that he has abandoned them again. Regardless of whether Korans are burnt or not, that fact that Obama, Clinton, Gates, and Petraeus have all become embroiled in Jones's nonsense illustrates perfectly the power of the 24-hour media in which we now live. Terry Jones’s medieval gesture has been given air-time and these leaders felt compelled to respond. Their audience was less citizens of the USA rather than the rest of the world, particularly the Muslim world; their message that the enemy is not Islam but bombers and terrorists. In the world before rolling news, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, communications advisers would have counselled against getting involved – “don’t give the crazies the oxygen of publicity,” they would say. And in those days they were right. But it would just take one of Terry’s zealots to upload footage of the conflagration from their video-phone to the internet, even responsible broadcasters feel obliged to cover it and suddenly people around the world are being persuaded to believe that the whole of the US was ablaze with burning Korans. So Obama, who has far better and more important things to be doing, is forced to get stuck in. Not a happy position to be in.