Top Stories More Important than Quran-Burning Nut Job

The horrible era of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States yielded a one-day silly season on Thursday, covered wall-to-wall by the US cable news channels. The weird cultist Terry Jones, fired from his church in Cologne, Germany last year for abusing his congregants, preaching hate-filled sermons, and demanding absolute obedience, was favored by an unprecedented telephone call from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asking him not to burn the Quran, the Muslim scripture, on Saturday. Jones, who can’t seem to get even 50 people to follow him in Gainesville and is a nobody with a nasty stunt, is nevertheless getting millions of dollars worth of free advertising for his lunacy courtesy Time Warner, Newscorp, etc. If there were any responsible adults left in the producers offices of the major television news shows, they would have long since pulled the plug on this non-story. Then Imam Mohammad Musri of central Florida came out and announced that he and Jones would be flying to New York to see Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on Saturday. Jones seemed to be under the impression that he was in a position, by calling off the Quran-burning, to force Abdul Rauf to move his proposed inter-faith community center. Then Abdul Rauf came out and said he’d had no contact with Musri or Jones and though he was glad the book-burning had been called off, he wasn’t going to have the issue toyed with. Jones replied that he had been lied to and was only suspending the Quran burning and reserved the right to go ahead with it.

Abdul Rauf didn’t want to come out and say it, but I will. Terry Jones is deploying the tactics of terrorism without actually harming anyone, a sort of psy-ops terrorism. He is attempting to coerce people by threatening symbolic violence. And that is the answer to the mystery of why anyone is paying attention to him, including the Secretary of Defense. He has them over the barrel because he is prepared to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater. Everyone knows that his book-burning would have been filmed, and the video would have been played over and over again by Muslim radicals. Hate speech and incitement to violence on Jones’s web site led his internet service provided to yank his site on Thursday.

One nut case attracts another, so now a Topeka “pastor,” Fred Phelps, says he may take up Jones’s slack. Phelps’s group, which is lower than toilet sludge, has ruined military funerals for slain GIs by picketing them.

Then yet another egotistical exhibitionist, Donald Trump, announced he was willing to buy the Park 51 property where Abdul Rauf plans his community center, for the fair market price plus 25%. The developer was reported to have better offers, and Trump’s grandstanding appears to have changed nothing.

This hydra-headed story about, like 100 unbalanced people, was sliced and diced by the television gossip-pundits all afternoon and evening for millions of viewers. I mean, is this the last days of Rome and are these our bread and circuses?

Here are some stories of infinitely more consequence that cable news mostly did not cover much or even wholly ignored on Thursday:

1. “Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret “kill team” that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.” WTF? I think Afghans may be more upset about this than whatever happens in Gainesville, Fl.

2. A whistle-blower alleges that a significant proportion of civilian translators of languages like Pashtun provided to the US military by a private contractor don’t actually know the language very well and that their scores on exams were altered. In one instance, a local tribal elder wrote on a slip of paper that the Taliban were preparing an ambush near by, and passed it to the clueless “translator,” who didn’t understand it. US troops died in the ambush.

3. In keeping with their historical charge of ‘healing the world,’ many American Jewish communities commemorated the beginning of their high holy days (the ‘days of awe’) by condemning the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in the US. Read, for instance, the words of Rabbi Ira Flax of Alabama. Rabbi Michael Lerner is leading a Quran reading on Saturday in the Bay Area. These many heroes are countering the actions of a handful of hateful, well-heeled neocons who have joined with Christian supremacists in promoting Islamophobia in apparent ignorance of the simple fact that no Western country that came after the Muslims has ever not also come after the Jews. LeShana Tova, friends.

4. UN envoy Angelina Jolie, on a trip to Pakistan, underlined the country’s enormous aid needs in the wake of the unprecedented deluge that put a fifth of the country under water. Another 40 villages have been drowned in Sindh in recent days, and only 1.5 million of the 8 million people made homeless by the deluge have received shelter. This is a massive ongoing tragedy to which no in the outside world seems to be paying attention except Jolie. Why hasn’t Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gone there personally and toured the camps and brought aid? Does Washington not understand what that would mean to Pakistanis? Such visible acts of American solidarity with the flood victims would help bury the minor news stories generated in Pakistan by American Islamophobes. (See my piece on the Pakistani floods in Tomdispatch.com).

I could go on with stories more important than the minor kook Terry Jones, because all of them are.

30 Responses

  1. This is the type of sensational story U.S. journalists love, because it isn’t expensive to produce. Several weeks before 9/11, CNN decided to adopt the FOX news journalism model; instead of producing hard news they would produce sensational stories that only appeared to be informative. This would reduce operating costs without reducing their audience, at least in the short run.

    “Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret “kill team” that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.”

    Seymour Hersh has written that this is the most brutal U.S. army ever. He was planning to write an article about this but it never materialized. I think a big question here is: “Where are the officers?” Any army will have psychopaths but the officers are supposed to keep them in line.

    A war crime that has received zero attention is the allegation of “dead checking” that came up in a U.S. trial. This is the practice of executing wounded prisoners. An article in the LA TImes

    link to articles.latimes.com

    included the following description:

    Lopezromo said a procedure called “dead-checking” was routine. If Marines entered a house where a man was wounded, instead of checking to see whether he needed medical aid, they shot him to make sure he was dead, he testified.

    “If somebody is worth shooting once, they’re worth shooting twice,” he said.

    Marines are taught “dead-checking” in boot camp, the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, and the pre-deployment training at Twentynine Palms called Mojave Viper, he said.

    I suspect this practice is what was behind the execution of wounded Iraqis videoed by a journalist several years ago in a mosque in Fallujah.

    • Isn’t this just a natural outcome of the totally unquestioning support demanded for ‘our troops’ – where any questioning is immediately equated with a lack of patriotism or worse.? Along with Rules of Engagement which sentence civilians to death for making the troops nervous (they can shoot if they feel ‘threatened’???? they’re soldiers FFS!)
      In such a protected environment its a natural development that the boundaries will be pushed …a little at a time until you just can’t hide what they’ve become.
      Don’t be so surprised …do you recognise your government anymore – same deal.

  2. You say, “…Jones is deploying the tactics of terrorism without actually harming anyone, a sort of psy-ops terrorism.” Almost the same thought I had earlier after I had become seriously sick of hearing this idiot story. I consider this an act of treason against this country. I like your idea better but in either case he should be arrested and prosecuted accordingly.

      • Speech hasn’t been completely free at least since the 1919 SCOTUS decision in Schenck v. United States which refused to protect the right of a person to falsely yell “Fire!” in a theater. This was also prior to the WWII restrictions on what a person could say without the authorities intervening: “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and all that. The greater public good was deemed more important than the unrestricted oratory rights of the individual.

        Sure is a shame you slept through History class!

  3. What an ugly story about this dejected religious leader. Anything to avoid focusing on actual issues. It’s why Americans are perceived as major ignoramuses worldwide. The news corporations see that they stay at a sixth graders comprehension level and it illustrates how pathetic the media is.
    The blogging world has more integrity and passion that any major news network. Since news anchor Brian Williams has moved up into la-la land, his primary purpose is to keep a decent tan. (Do corporate network anchors question their purpose in life when this becomes a main headline story?)

    but, shouldn’t the question should be, who is whispering in Terry Jone’s ear?

    How does he get to ‘horse trade’ at this point when his entire congregation doesn’t total 60 members? Ah, but we soon find out all arrows point back to the NYC Mosque. First it was the mosque in Staten Island early this year, then it was the mosque in Brooklyn, then it was the ‘ground zero’ mosque in Manhattan. Now it’s some wanker in Florida who got booted from a congregation in Cologne Germany for creating a ‘climate of fear and terror’. It’s our new Jonestown leader, but substitute the charm for hatred. Perhaps it might be more useful, for world peace, to focus on the Israel-Palestine peace process. But that’s stories a week old, and we all know the ending of that story.

    Juan, the Trump headline is to plug his new season of Apprentice. I saw a commercial for the new season last night. The Don never misses an opportunity, to miss an opportunity. Just ask his no. 1 cheerleader, Regis Phiben.

  4. NTERPOL released an escalated global terrorism risk if the Quran burning went through. I’m not sure there are many stories that are more important

  5. But … but … but … is John Travolta really gay or not?

    Seriously, the Rude Pundit got it exactly right when he said:

    By the way, as far as General Petraeus saying that Pastor Yosemite Sam shouldn’t exercise his right to free speech because it might endanger our troops in Afghanistan, oh, sweet General, what endangers our troops in Afghanistan is having troops in Afghanistan.

    I hadn’t heard about the Gates phone call, which is ridiculous enough, but I did hear that the President weighed in on it. Of course he had to as a political, CYA move, but it is appalling that the media and politicians have elevated this obscure loon into an international figure.

    And there’s something else funny about the “mosque” story. There have been reports in recent days that, as a real-estate development project, the whole thing was kind of half-baked from the beginning, that is, purely from a practical, logistical standpoint. The group has raised barely any money for it, not even enough to buy the portion of the site they don’t own. Apparently in local development circles, there are a lot of informal steps in doing something like this, talking to the “right people,” etc., if you are going to put up a major project like this, whether it’s a mosque, a mall or an office building. And they haven’t done much of this and really don’t have their ducks in a row, despite the official approvals.

    So has this been about nothing from the beginning. Some commentators have mentioned the “irony” of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal being a financial backer of Fox News and they are being all critical of Muslims and the Prince is a Muslim, isn’t that weird. But what if this has all been just a big publicity stunt, something to give the neocons a wedge issue to flog on Fox? I know, I know, conspiracy theories you’re thinking, and we all know that there have never been any conspiracies in real life.

  6. I don’t know why, but my RSS hasn’t been picking you up but today I got 14! So good!

    Having read Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics, Terry Jones is just yet another nut-job to be avoided. What’s been disturbing me is how much front-page press he’s been getting so I’m happy to see there are some people of importance presenting alternative views.

    This is not the time to stand up and do battle with the nut jobs — which is useless and has no positive outcome — it’s time to stand up and present another possible future.

  7. Prof. Cole, you yourself observe correctly that, had the barbeque gone ahead and footage of it entered the heated world of digital radicalism, then there would have been dire consequences. The publicity may have seemed disproportionate, but it certainly facilitated the very outrage and pressures that finally forced Jones’ backdown.

    Had we all committed Jones to the lunatic asylum of the unmentioned, his horrible ritual would have gone ahead, immortalised in video, and would in no time have spread all over the web, convincing many more waverers that Western Christendom is indeed the archenemy of their precious faith.

    I am glad there was such a resounding denunciation of this grotesque plan.

  8. I think it’s almost impossible for Americans to ignore the fact that religion is being used against us throughout the Muslim world. There is no doubt that American soldiers have killed innocent Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they don’t shout “In the name of Christ” or “Christ is great!” while they do it. Imagine if, in the leaked video of Apache helicopters gunning down Iraqis, the gunners had been chanting about the grapes of wrath and God’s swift sword. And, at the state level, it’s hard to separate the nationalism of a theocracy like Iran from the Shiite version of Islam, not because we conflate the two, but because they constantly do. The insistence of Muslims on conflating nationalism with religion makes all of us vulnerable to the insanity of misfits like Jones.

    • Christian nationalism is also commonly deployed in the West, of course. What else is Huckabee or Palin? Once you say ‘nationalism,’ it isn’t about Islam or religion, since Islam was born more than a millennium before nationalism even existed.

      Moreover, Muslims also deploy Islam to praise the United States. Imam Feisal says the US system of the rule of law is compatible with Muslim law. 6 of our designated non-NATO allies are Muslim states and they are proud of the alliance. Turkey, our NATO ally, is a Muslim-majority state with a believer as prime minister and president. You should hear how Kosovar Muslims talk about the United States with stars in their eyes.

      Enemies of the US in the Muslims world deploy all kinds of arguments against the US, including old Leninist ones, human rights ones, and, yes, including ‘Muslim’ ones. But it is just one discourse among many and almost none of them are interested in the US per se. They are upset about specific US policies, including helping keep the Palestinians without rights and stateless, invading and occupying Muslim countries, supporting corrupt and dictatorial regimes with big grants of arms and aid, etc., etc.

      • All good points, especially about the real grievances our opponents in the Middle East have. And you’re right, of course, to mention Palin and Huckabee. Although they denounced Jones, they’re just as blatantly provocative in their own ways — as is Glenn Beck. Yet, I can’t escape the thought that Western countries like the United States have managed to evolve beyond the limits of the religions on which they were “founded.”

        I think you have a better frame of reference than most Americans, whose exposure to the Middle East and Islam is mainly in the context of the occupation of Iraq, will ever have.

    • The situation is much more complicated then this. First of all, there are plenty of examples of western religious bigotry. Israel is a state founded and based on religious discrimination. The French carved Lebanon out of Trans-Syria to set up a Middle East State with a Christian majority. An associate of Blackwater chief Eric Prince says Prince regards himself as a crusader fighting Islam. The U.S. military is so rife with Christian fundamentalists that there is an organization trying to separate religion from the military. How many Gen. Boykins are there in the military?

      Secondly, in a classic imperial strategy, the West has supported extremely reactionary Islamic movements. The British set up the Gulf monarchies, the U.S. supported the Mujaheddin, and the Israelis initially supported Hamas.

      I read an article a few days ago by an Iraqi cataloging U.S. attacks on Islam but I can’t find it.

    • Seriously Billy? I suggest you read up on the various blogs that log the numerous religiously based attacks carried out by US soldiers. Mosques being blown up, Qurans burned, soldiers taking shits on rugs and drawing penises on the walls, raping young girls and women, yelling “Muhammad is dead” and if anyone dared to look at who was saying that, blowin g them up with a tank… etc etc… I can go on and on.

      But the thing is, that if any Muslim did anything the US soldiers do, suddenly Islam is blamed for it with all the Muslims being asked to denounce it, whether or not the person shouts or says anything. Do you think if a country halfway around the world invaded us and destroyed half the country, there wouldnt be people fighting back and praying to Jesus and God and whatnot while doing so? Even the US soldiers pray while they are on their missions. We just dont hear it.

      Another thing to keep in mind is how language works. Whenever you hear a Muslim say “God is Great!” on any of the tapes anti-Islamics love to fap over, they love to point out that he is doing it for Islam. Leaving aside the obvious flaws in that theory, it is important to keep in mind that one can say Jesus or God without being motivated by them or doing stuff for them. Even my atheist friends sometimes yell “Jesus” or God when they see something unbelievable. Does that mean they are Christian? No. In the same way, a lot of religious talk has, over the centuries, permeated a lot of other languages. No difference between the US soldier shouting God and Jesus when uder heavy fire and the insurgent doing the same.

      • Seriously. The US has a secular government. Do demagogues like Palin and Beck use religion? Of course they do, but Johnnie doesn’t go marching off to war under the banner of Christ anymore, and any American president or Congress that tried to launch a religious war would have a net thrown over them fast. Bush’s idea that he had been “called” to lead America at the time of 9/11, a meme echoed by Jones, never got much traction here. And I can’t think of a single influential American who has not condemned Jones. No, I haven’t read the blogs you read. I don’t read the ones that enumerate so-called Muslim atrocities either. Frankly, one of the drawbacks to blogs of all kinds and to citjour in general is knowing whom to believe about what. But I’m not talking about what I believe or what you believe, I’m talking about how most Americans perceive the way the Taliban, Iran, and “extremist” Islamic groups or terrorist organizations use religion.

        Even the Terry Jones outrage is instructive. Salon, for example, makes the point that General Petraeus’ comments, which set off the media feeding frenzy in the US, were only made because the Jones story was sweeping through the Muslim media and blogosphere already. I completely agree with your point that religion and the use of religion has to be seen in context. I’m just suggesting that Muslim leaders accept their fair share of responsibilty for the fact that religion and politics are too conflated in the Muslim world. The impact on American public opinion of state-imposed floggings and stonings, justified by religious law, for example, should be obvious, as should the fact that anti-American statements coming out of the Muslim world are constantly cast in religious terms. Dr. Cole often points out, persuasively, that the real reasons for the 9/11 terrorist attacks had nothing to do with religion. I wish most Americans read Dr. Cole and other writers who try to keep the Muslim world in perspective for the rest of us. But they don’t.

    • “There is no doubt that American soldiers have killed innocent Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they don’t shout “In the name of Christ” or “Christ is great!” while they do it.” – No , thank goodness they are acting purely out of – what exactly? Greed ( they all get paid) Revenge ( many have been quoted as saying they signed up after 9/11) or perhaps with no motivation at all exept than to follow orders – thats just soooooo much better?!
      “Imagine if, in the leaked video of Apache helicopters gunning down Iraqis, the gunners had been chanting about the grapes of wrath and God’s swift sword.” …No instead we heard them laughing and chattering away like a bunch of adolescent schoolboy bullies – nice.

  9. How come the link for the ‘kill team’ story is to the Guardian? Is this not being reported in the US? If true, is this not even more barbaric than Abu Ghraib?

    How can the US hope to win hearts and minds now ( not that there was much chance before)?

  10. there is no way to divorce Christianity from Palin, Bush and the rest of the American agenda. the way these people scream exudes the lunacy of America’s religious heritage. not our spirituality, but the loony right’s version of Religion.
    These people know how to use Christ for their “goals.” after all the “Christian” bs how these people parse their words. see Frank Luntz (sp).

    our Christian “indoctrination” is just like underwear. just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. some Americans don’t shove their Christianity down others throats, unlike the Right. One of the greatest unspoken rants from the Right is the “correct” version of Christianity/thought control. Mormonism, for example, isn’t accepted as Christian, nor are those outside of the the mainstream Religious thought.

    American society is a Christian one from the get-go. local laws rely on Christian thought. Christianity pervades and permeates American Society. American closes down on Christmas Day! the Right even tried to make the Founding Fathers Christians, instead of being the Deists they were.

    We don’t take off for Jewish or Islamic Holy days. so i understand how the Jews/others feel being a spiritual minority in the land of the Christ followers.

    like most everything in America, the Christian “way” is the American way. those that believe differently are “un-American”. Hence the focus by McCain, Palin and the Right to claim they are “Real Americans.” just refer to the unspoken American “way.”

    This propaganda is so old and so thoroughly interwoven into the American psyche, and has been for many many decades. Mainly because repetition works. the truth is another matter, but when have Americans ever heard much “truth?” Truthiness! all the time! Truth, well, truth is not Republican friendly, so we get the “approved” version: Truthiness.

  11. RE: “This hydra-headed story…was sliced and diced by the television gossip-pundits all afternoon and evening…I mean, is this the last days of Rome and are these our bread and circuses? – Juan Cole
    SEE: “The Most Terrifying of All Battles: When the Enemy Lies Within Ourselves” ~ By Arthur Silber, 08/16/10
    (excerpt)…Those who repeatedly and furiously denounce the “Ground Zero mosque,” as they speak in horrified tones of the coming conquest of America by Islam, tremble before one possibility far more than any enemy they have chosen to identify. Their capacity for more accurate perception and even minimal self-awareness is altogether obliterated by their greatest of all fears: that they might have to hold up a mirror to their own souls and see the diseased, twisted nature of what they have allowed to permanently reside there.
    Such people cannot be reasoned with, and it is futile to try. But we should always remember what it is that actually drives them to such destructive rage, and that it has nothing at all to do with the source they are willing to identify. This pattern is, of course, as old as humankind. What we loathe in ourselves, we place in others. Then we destroy those others, believing we thus destroy what we loathe.
    But the enemy still lives, inside us. Until that is understood, the battle will never end, nor will the destruction, the suffering and the death…
    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – link to powerofnarrative.blogspot.com
    P.S. How dare Mr. Cole refer to Donald Trump as an “egotistical exhibitionist”! No wonder he never received one of those highly sought-after invitations to spend a weekend with “The Donald” at Maison de L’Amitie (known as Mar-A-Lago by its earlier, more tasteful owner). I wonder if the new Russian owner will finally shorten Trump’s 80′ flagpole to comply with Palm Beach’s height limitation of 42 feet. “Enquiring minds want to know.”

  12. It’s absurd that the Secretary of State, Defense, the President and General Petraeus have seen fit to legitimize a complete non-entity. As hard as it may be, our national leaders need to stop empowering any small minded idiot who can push the buttons of the world press corp. We live in a free country and everybody’s got the constitutional right to idiocy. This shouldn’t be international news and we need to STOP feeding this fire.

  13. It does not surprise me that the media would pick up and run with this silly Quran burning by the Florida hillbilly pastor, the same media that runs with Lindsey Lohan “news” for days and days. I always figure they are hiding other important news. Next, as an American Muslim I don’t get excited when the hicks get stirred up. It bothers me who is stirring them up (like the ADL, like ex-mayor Julianni, senate majority leader Harry Reed etc) because these folks are in responsible positions and are extremely juvenile and irresponsible. I blame them for Muslims harmed in this country because of it. As for the actual Quran burning, it so happens that there is a proper way to dispose of a Quran and that is by burning. It can also be buried or put in water, or even shredded. The idiot pastor is doing it right! Secondly, the Qurans here in the USA generally come with translation and/or commentary and are not Qurans in the sense that they are sacred and need to be handled in any special way. The sacred Qurans are in Arabic only. Do those hicks know that? I doubt it! The intention is nasty but BFD, consider the source. I actually think this worked out rather well because enough decent folks stepped up to the plate and shamed the bigots who thought they were the majority! They sure look stupid!

  14. BLOG” “Terry Jones is deploying the tactics of terrorism without actually harming anyone, a sort of psy-ops terrorism. He is attempting to coerce people by threatening symbolic violence.”

    Psy-ops? Like crying “FIRE” in a crowded theater? With millions of (rightly) touchy Muslims ready to react to apparent anti-Islamic acts in USA (e.g., in Afghanistan) and millions more of cranky Americans ready to jump on the apparently jingoistic bandwagon (and most USA politicians afraid to support the building of the community center). Remember the publication in Europe of unpleasant cartoons of Muhammad and the after effects?

    Psy-Ops? If you will, but VERY dangerous and USA politicians should have been unanimous to oppose this cranky culty “cleric” — but weren’t.

  15. link to democracynow.org

    September 10, 2010

    U.S. Carries Out Four More Drone Strikes in Pakistan
    By Amy Goodman

    In Pakistan, the U.S. has carried out at least four drone strikes in the past two days in what has been one of the most intense barrage of drone attacks since President Obama took office. All of the strikes targeted sites in the North Waziristan region.

  16. Alas, you mention the islam-ophobic nature of certain persons. You mention what a superb opportunity we lose when our policy makers choose not to ‘show up’ and lend a very obvious helping hand.

    That sad set of truths lead me to believe that we have an islamophobia problem in the highest reaches of our government. Subtle in the ways we neglect people in dire straights (see: Katrina, New Orleans), and direct in the assaults via drone (that most impersonal of terrorist devices) easily released willy-nilly in an almost collective-punishment mindset.

    What are we to infer from these realities? How can we rationally believe that the milk of human kindness flows from our halls of power to the people of a country to which we bestow multi-billions of $$? What does this say about our persistent neglect of this relationship?

    So we have some military bosses and some politicos in our pocket in Pakistan? How Cold War of us to leave it at that. Are we certain that Condoleeza Rice and other minions of the NeoConicHeads are not still administering the policy here?

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