Small town Florida pastor Terry Jones went from a nobody to being globally recognized after declaring that he would publicly burn the Quran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.
Religious conflict is perhaps the most everlasting and passion-inducing topic of discussion in the history of mankind. This year’s 9/11 anniversary coincided with the Islamic celebration of Id al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Thus, Jones’ temporarily suspended plan struck the most sensitive nerves in people both of the West and of the global Muslim community.
Indeed, burning religious texts may seem like a ridiculous idea in the eyes of modern people and could be said to be linked to the personality of the individual, hence this could be viewed as a chance incident. Many times, such incidents, even in Western society, would cause immediate backlash. However, this incident with Jones is unique in having caused such intense and significant debates between supporters and dissenters. In other words, even though the majority of Westerners view Jones’ act as extremist, there is also a significant portion of sympathizers. One just has to spend a little time reading Western newspapers to feel that.
Jones’ exaggerated and ridiculous behavior came after plans for building an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City were revealed. In the past months, the plan has been the most hotly debated news item in all of America. Even though both the federal government and the New York State government support this “improvement project,” opinion polls show that Americans and New Yorkers overwhelmingly oppose the plan. They believe that building a mosque at the site of a past terrorist attack is equivalent to pouring salt into the open wounds of the victims.
Objectively speaking, such emotions can be understood. Most Americans do not oppose the ideas of religious tolerance and freedom of speech and thought that American politicians and intellectuals have always promoted. It is also not that Americans are unable to see the simple fact that Islam does not equate terrorism. Rather, many Americans still associate Bin Laden and the terrorist attack initiated by al-Qaida with Islam. This parallels how most Chinese do not like to have the Japanese flag openly appearing on public occasions and in mass media, much less support the construction of Japanese cultural museums (and flying the Japanese flag) at sensitive locations like Lugou Bridge [the Marco Polo Bridge], the northeast, and Nanjing. It is not that the Chinese today still harbor deep grudges against Japan, but rather that they want simply to avoid revisiting the emotional and psychological scars of the past. Thus, the reason behind the opposition to building the mosque is not ‘religious discrimination’ as the supporters of the project critique — these are two separate issues.
Jones understands the human mind. He grabbed hold of the hottest issue and propelled himself to fame. If we widen our perspectives, we will realize that the disputes enacted over this summer in America reflects the delicately changing public opinion in the West. For a long time, the mainstream view of both intellectuals and the masses is to put an end to religious conflict and achieve cultural and ethnic cohesion through democratic and tolerant policies. Yet, the unpleasant experiences of recent decades are like slaps to the face, repeatedly telling them that this form of reconciliation has limited success. This has caused an increasing majority to doubt and be disappointed with policies that aim to promote cohesion through tolerance. Amongst those whose minds have changed, a small group has turned to the tradition of the Crusades, attempting to use force in conflict resolution.
Jones is the face of Western extremism. Perhaps he does not know it himself — the fire he wants to light is the “fire of hell.” The past 2000 years of human history provides irrefutable evidence — once the Pandora’s box of religious war is opened, the consequence can only be a terrifying calamity. Thus, in my opinion, Jones, in spirit, is in actuality the twin of Bin Laden.
(The writer works in Shanghai media.)