Quran-Burning Flap Stokes Concern In Muslim World
Although the pastor of small Florida church may be standing back from his plan to burn copies of the Quran, the threat is still stoking outrage in the Islamic world and concern in the U.S.
In cities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Gaza Strip, protesters denounced the proposed burning of Qurans and shouted anti-U.S. slogans.
At his White House news conference Friday, President Obama repeated his warning that violent protests against the proposed burning could endanger American lives. He noted that Terry Jones, the leader of the church, was only "one individual" but said the threat was "something that can cause us profound damage around the world, and so we've got to take it seriously."
Reaction from news media in the Islamic world was mixed; most outlets that covered the issue focused on U.S. and international denunciations of the plan to burn the Islamic holy book, and they stressed that Christian leaders in their own countries also condemned it.
Many newspapers and their websites devoted far more space to preparations for the Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, than they did to the Quran controversy.
The storm over Jones and his original stated plan to burn Qurans on Saturday, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, comes amid the ongoing public debate over plans to build an Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center attacks. Latest reports said the pastor would not go ahead with plans for the burning on Saturday.
Some newspapers, like the Turkish daily Hurriyet and Indonesia's Jakarta Post, posted wire service stories and reader comments.
The Daily Star, an English-language paper in Lebanon, proclaimed in an editorial that if the burning took place it was "likely to ignite a fire of rage that could consume swaths of the globe."
The paper also carried a story about Lebanon's Maronite Christian leader, Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, condemning the plan to burn Qurans.
Some analysts say the relatively calm media coverage in the Islamic world doesn't reflect a potentially deep and long-term Muslim reaction against Americans, Christians and the West.
A typical comment from a Hurriyet reader faulted the media for "blowing this story out of all proportion. We have a religious nutter wanting to burn the holy Quran and the world media have catapulted this story to the front pages and headline TV news. No wonder this sad guy is confused."
In Pakistan, where thousands of people protested the plan, the English language paper The Nation ran a denunciation from Pakistani Christian groups, who called for the arrest of Jones, "the man who is trying to start a conflict between the Muslims and Christians."
Akbar Ahmed, who teaches Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., says Americans shouldn't be deceived by the relatively low-key response as the Ramadan-ending festivities get under way.
"A lot of Muslims are distracted, so they're not going to be breaking windows and protesting against this right now," Ahmed says. But, he adds, "the fact of the matter is that a deep resentment is spreading in the Muslim world that America is on the warpath against Islam."
Ahmed says Americans should be aware that for Muslim believers the Quran is the word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, so any damage or insult to the book is perceived as an attack on "the foundation of faith."
Ahmed, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., says that if the burnings take place, the backlash will have international ramifications. "This is a critical point in relations between America and the Muslim world," he says, "and everyone of good faith must act as a bridge builder."
Ahmed says many Muslims fear a corresponding backlash in the U.S. with the Florida threat provoking copycat acts and a rising spiral of violence.
He quotes a Pakistani-American driver who recently took him to a television interview. "He said, 'Today it is this nut case from Florida. Tomorrow it will be a nut case in my neighborhood. Who is going to stop him? What is the future for me in this country?' "
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