Today, 1.5 billion Muslims across the globe celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan. However, one renegade pastor of a church with fewer than 50 members, Rev. Terry Jones, has cast a shadow on their festivities. For the past several weeks, the media has treated us to live theater of the absurd by amplifying a statement made by an unknown preacher from Gainesville, Florida proposing to burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.
Jones has garnered worldwide news media attention these past few days and become an overnight influence
on American foreign policy and public image abroad, even receiving a call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and many pleas from world leaders and celebrities asking him not to go ahead with his plans. The President of the United States urged him to listen to "those better angels," and military leaders warned that his actions would endanger U.S. troops and give Islamic terrorists a recruiting tool.
The media frenzy over Jones' actions reached a peak this Thursday when he announced he was canceling, and later, that he had only "suspended" what he had dubbed International Burn a Quran Day.
The New York Times sent this "breaking news alert" to my Blackberry: "The pastor planning a burning of the Koran (Quran) on Saturday said he will cancel the event, adding he plans to meet with the Imam planning to build an Islamic center near ground zero."
Minutes later wire services competed to report that Rev. Jones had backed off and then threatened to reconsider burning the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks saying that he was lied to with a promise to relocate the "Ground Zero Mosque" from its current location.
This story has also become headline news all over the Middle East, in an almost coordinated fashion to what is being reported on US networks. This means that viewers in the region were treated to viewing this story not only on CNN International and Fox News, but also on Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and hundreds of regional and international television networks carried on satellite systems in the region. Television viewers in the Arab world had to endure endless coverage of the pastor from Florida, coupled with the controversy over the proposed building of a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan near Ground Zero. Making the matter worse, this happened during the month of Ramadan, the biggest time for watching television in the Arab world, akin to the sweeps season in the United States. This could not have happened at a worse time!
Will Jones set Islam's holy book on fire? Will there be copy-cats? It does not matter.
To millions of Muslims across the globe, the mere thought of such a thing happening is repulsive. If the satanic ritual (as an Egyptian Sheikh has described it) does not occur, then that's because the pastor from Florida has been under intense pressure to give it up. Furthermore, the controversy over the Islamic center in lower Manhattan is not going to disappear anytime soon. Ramadan has been tainted by Islamophobia over the building of a mosque, and Eid has been hijacked by one bigot. The media has created a monster.