The Media is Feeding the Flames of the Koran Burner

Preacher-wants-to-burn-quarans1 Memo to the American Media: SHUT THE FUCK UP.

The coverage of the wing nut in Florida who wants to burn the Koran is irresponsible. The American press has given too much attention to this guy and has created controversy — controversy that could result in acts of terrorism or deaths of American servicemen.

Terry Jones is a pastor of a congregation of 50 in a small town in Florida. He wouldn't be grabbing the world's attention without the help of CNN. So, pleas stop it, CNN. Here how you should be covering this story …

A small town pastor in Florida wants to burn a Koran. Yes, he is a jackass, but in a country with 307 million people, it is rather remarkable that we haven't seen more jackasses. Let's just ignore him. And now let's move onto a story on backyard grills and fall fashions.

23 thoughts on “The Media is Feeding the Flames of the Koran Burner

  1. I totally agree. This is driving me crazy. And you know of course that something will happen in response and then the minister will say, “Well, this just shows Muslims can’t be trusted.” I can’t stand it.
    On another note, I see in your twitter feed that you are avoiding bifocals. I got multifocals this year after much stress and adapted to them almost immediately; they’re great.

  2. Speaking of small congregations causing trouble, I still don’t see why that Phelps guy can’t be stopped. Wouldn’t a law against picketing a funeral be narrow and content neutral and therefore permissible?

  3. I was just reading the beginning of a thread here, which is a intra-Muslim discussion of under what circumstances it is appropriate to give a non-Muslim a Koran.
    http://www.sunniport.com/masabih/showthread.php?t=5207
    There’s quite a bit of back and forth, but to summarize, it sounds like under Islamic teaching, it is only permissible for a person to touch an Arabic Koran after purification, which means that the presumption is that a non-Muslim would not be in an appropriate state of purification and thus may not handle an Arabic Koran. The guidelines on translated Korans are significantly looser. Likewise, at Guantanamo, the rules seem to be that if a Koran needs to be handle by staff, they need to do so while wearing gloves.
    So, while Pastor Jones will probably manage to get somebody killed by burning a Koran, it’s not out of the question that he could also get people killed just by having himself filmed holding a Koran.
    Similarly, I believe there may be restrictions on non-Muslims being able to say either the name of the prophet or the Arabic name of God, although I wasn’t able to turn up anything in my first couple of searches.

  4. This might sound crazy, but maybe making authoritative statements about the doctrine of a religion with which you’re unfamiliar based on some off-hand googling is not a very sound practice. One wild and crazy alternative might be, when you’re curious about something, to ask a simple question. You know, something like, “Do most Muslims have a problem with non-Muslims handling the Qu’ran?”
    Not to mention that it’s an non-responsive threadjack (surprise surprise). Laura’s original point strikes me as a good one. I’d like to at least argue for equally intense coverage of all attention-seeking jackasses across this great nation.

  5. This might sound crazy, but maybe making authoritative statements about the doctrine of a religion with which you’re unfamiliar based on some off-hand googling is not a very sound practice.
    I’ve corrected the NYT for a mistake on Catholic doctrine that wouldn’t have been made if they’d have even used google.

  6. In the academic world, at least, most Muslims do not have a problem with non-Muslims holding a Quran. The head of the small Islamic center in my town gave me an Arabic-English version and has given one to one of my students as well (on request). A Christian friend who studies Islam was gently rebuked for setting his Arabic Quran on the floor – a sign of disrespect – in a mostly-Muslim class, but there was no problem with him handling it.

  7. “This might sound crazy, but maybe making authoritative statements about the doctrine of a religion with which you’re unfamiliar based on some off-hand googling is not a very sound practice. One wild and crazy alternative might be, when you’re curious about something, to ask a simple question. You know, something like, “Do most Muslims have a problem with non-Muslims handling the Qu’ran?””
    I don’t know, you tell me? I provided a cite, which was to what looked like a well-informed intra-Muslim discussion thread. Feel free to provide a cite proving that “most Muslims” don’t mind if non-Muslims handle Arabic Korans. And don’t forget to drop a line to the guys at Guantanamo–they’ll want to know that they can stop being so careful.

  8. Just like data is not the plural of anecdote, expertise is not the plural of “I found a ‘cite’ somewhere out there in the Internetz”. Which is why I’m not supplying an authoritative answer to the question you didn’t ask: because I’m not an expert on contemporary interpretations of shari’a or hadith by various Islamic intellectuals and qadi on this point of doctrine. I only know that Islam now and in the past tends to be fairly heterogenous in both practice and doctrine on issues like this, and that any attempt to generalize for “Muslims” is very likely a misfire from the outset.
    Rather like generalizing for “Catholics” on the subject of birth control: there’s what the Vatican says formally (which has a complex history as well as a complex doctrinal and theological architecture), there’s a range of things that Catholics in different countries and of different demographic groups say they believe when they’re surveyed, and there’s what Catholics in various countries actually *do* regarding birth control, which isn’t always the same as what they say they believe. So somebody with no previous knowledge of Catholicism who said, “I found a thread on the Internet where some Catholics are disagreeing about birth control” might miss the mark if they tried to quickly jump to an authoritative statement about Catholicism and birth control.
    As for the guys in Gitmo, I’d think they have reasons for being theatrically careful about everything at this point, given what they’ve been justifiably and unjustifiably accused of–but their procedures mostly tell you about that institution. They’re not a guide to “what Muslims actually believe and do” any more than what a British colonial administrator in 1935 was a reliable guide to what Africans in his district thought about complex social, cultural or philosophical matters.

  9. Rather like generalizing for “Catholics” on the subject of birth control: there’s what the Vatican says formally
    The NYT didn’t get the Immaculate Conception right, which isn’t especially complex, though I image if you surveyed Catholics, you’d get a great many confused answers. But, when a reporter takes Pandagon as a source on religion, I think it is fair to say they aren’t trying.

  10. MH,
    That sounds very fun. Don’t tell me, the NYT thought Jesus was conceived immaculately?
    TB,
    I think Pastor Jones is making a mistake, which unfortunately he will probably not be the one to pay for with his life. However, I have to note that the list of “things that offend (some) Muslims” is very, very long: Piglet, piggy banks, seeing eye dogs, dogs period, the Danish Muhammad cartoons (which had to be doctored to be offensive enough), the Miss World beauty contest, representative art, music, non-Muslims’ saying “Allah”, soccer balls with flags on them, etc.
    More seriously, I was just looking at the Wikipedia entry on blasphemy law in Pakistan, and it’s a very interesting addition to this discussion.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Pakistan
    If you scroll down to the “selected cases,” you get story after story of often false accusations of blasphemy or Koran-desecration, many of them apparently concocted to dispossess or terrorize Pakistan’s non-Muslim minority. Koran-burning seems to be quite a common accusation.

  11. I dunno, the list of “things that offend (some) Americans” is also rather long, if you are sufficiently motivated to cherrypick from the widest span of possible cases and examples. Sometimes American people even kill or hurt other people because they’re offended! I’ve heard that some American people are offended enough by gay people to kill them, offended enough by abortion-granting doctors to kill them, offended enough by animal experimentation to burn down labs, offended enough by cutting old-growth forests to spike trees. Some Americans are so offended by flag-burning that they want a Constitutional amendment to outlaw it! People have been fired from their jobs because someone was offended by something they said, I think, though I’d have to do more research about that. If we’re open to older examples, I hear that some late-1960s Americans were offended enough by the Establishment and the Man to try and blow some stuff up, though they mostly blew themselves up. Man, those Americans, they’re pretty easily offended. I think I saw on Wikipedia once that Americans used to be so offended by black people that they lynched some of them, but I’d have to look for cites on that.
    Oh, I’m sorry, did I change the subject with non-sequiteurs and context-less cherrypicking? How careless of me.

  12. Sometimes American people even kill or hurt other people because they’re offended….
    And yet you rarely see a concerted cross-elite effort to stop doing any of those things. Which is why, assuming that pastor is smart enough to be doing this deliberately, the pastor’s Koran burning thing will “work” regardless of whether or not anybody kills anybody or anybody actual burns anything. Muslim participation isn’t necessary as this is intended to create a “everybody worries about how they feel and not how you feel” sense.

  13. I disagree with Laura’s premise that CNN is feeding the frenzy about Pastor Jones koran burning plans. Jones has publicly announced his plans, and they will be widely publicized in the media regardless of what CNN does. In fact, Jones’s actions are exactly the kind of story that gets picked up by the Arabic media and spreads like wildfire. It gives intolerant regimes comfort to argue that we are just as intolerant as they are, and they search out incidents like this to fuel anti-American sentiment.
    If anything, CNN’s over-attention at least makes it aboslutely clear that many Americans (General Petraeus, our president, CNN . . . .) are offended by Pastor Jones’ plans.

  14. MH, I don’t think TB had an issue with you correcting the NY times on issues of practicing catholicism, since, presumably you have some degree of expertise on the issue. His objection was to my (conceivably) commenting on catholic practices about birth control based on a link to some site I (with my utter lack of expertise) evaluate as representing internal catholic opinion. Since practically everything I know is based on the “every sperm is sacred” song, I probably wouldn’t be a very good at knowing the appropriate answer, nor evaluating whether I’m reading the correct answers.

  15. Oh, and the shorter point that I was trying to make is that non-US media is huge, and assuming that a story like this wouldn’t get attention if the US wasn’t paying attention to it is foolish. I’ve been out of the country last week, and the number of Arabic channels on the TV were > than the number of American channels (mind you, London, so part of the reason might have been that they think we Americans can speak English, and thus don’t need our own channels).

  16. BJ: the thing is, not every jackass and nutter who was the head of a small organization would get this kind of media attention if they announced plans to do something offensive or spectacularly stupid. Now, the media isn’t monolithic or a completely conspiratorial operation, either–to some extent, what gets picked up has to do with the cultural subconscious of the moment, with whether there’s some clever visual hook, etc.–but if you want to see that process in a more pure fashion, look to see what videos go viral on YouTube, etc.–the only thing the MSM has going for still is some notion that they make better, more careful kinds of discretionary choices about what’s news and what isn’t. When they seem to give way to a viral logic about what’s newsworthy, watch out–both because that can pour a lot of new energy into an already dangerous social situation and because it really is a somewhat conscious decision on their part.
    If the MSM didn’t pay attention to this moron, he’d still be getting his share of attention from the political fringe and I’m sure any videos of his antics would show up in al-Qaeda propaganda some day, but I don’t think he’d be anywhere like the zeitgeist-defining figure that he’s become. I don’t think a video of him buring the Qu’ran would be a top hundred viral video on YouTube, minus the MSM attention. And I honestly think they have the choice not to pay attention to him. Ten, fifteen, twenty years ago there were people like Terry Jones doing things *exactly* like this, it’s just that they didn’t get on the nightly news. Hell, they didn’t even get on the Wally George or Morton Downey shows. So what’s changed?

  17. I didn’t mean to criticize CNN alone. I singled them out just for literary reasons. I’m annoyed at the entire press corp.
    The media has made this wing nut Topic Number One for the past couple of days. This story would have blown over, if the press had made it a page 17 story. They’ve been gleefully fanning the flames of controversy in the name of ratings. And experts who should know better keep going on these programs just to enlarge their egos. Ridiculous.

  18. It sounds like Jones is wavering and the Westboro Baptists want in.
    http://www.ocala.com/article/20100909/ARTICLES/100909743/1412?Title=Westboro-Baptish-Church-to-burn-Qurans-if-Dove-doesn-t
    A quote from the Westboro Baptists/the Phelpses:
    “WBC burned the Koran once – and if you sissy brats of Doomed america bully Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center until they change their plans to burn that blasphemous tripe called the Koran, then WBC will burn it (again)…”

  19. I think it’s boob bait. The Koran burning threats, and the New York mosque controversy, are kept alive by the media. It sells newspapers. It gets people really riled up.
    I suspect the media’s interest is also fed by restricted budgets. It’s much easier to send a reporter to New York, or Florida, than to send a reporter to Iraq, Iran or Pakistan.

  20. “I suspect the media’s interest is also fed by restricted budgets. It’s much easier to send a reporter to New York, or Florida, than to send a reporter to Iraq, Iran or Pakistan.”
    That’s an interesting point–haven’t a lot of media outlets shut down their foreign bureaus? Likewise, budget issues might explain why the cable people keep flogging the same stories hour after hour, when they’ve got absolutely nothing new to report.
    I’m so glad I did not follow my teenage dream of being a globe-trotting girl reporter.

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