The Quran burning that wasn’t.

Some reflections on Pastor Terry Jones.

The swivel-eyed, moustachioed US pastor Terry Jones, of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida, says his bonkers plan to set fire to copies of the Quran on the front lawn of his church is "on hold". Get it? Not off, not cancelled, but "suspended", he says.

Jones is waiting for God (yes, the Lord Almighty Himself) to whisper words of divine guidance into his demented head, as he now claims to have been tricked by a Florida imam, Muhammad Musri, into calling off the bonfire of the books. Jones says he thought he had a "deal" over the location of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque -- which isn't a mosque, and isn't at Ground Zero.

Jones has not read the Quran. Nor is he aware that Islamic scholars often suggest disposing of old copies of the Quran by burning the pages. So, in a way, he is implementing sharia law!

But (bad) jokes aside, this man is an obnoxious, bigoted and hate-filled individual. Judging by last year's stunt, in which congregants from his church sent kids to school wearing T-shirts proclaiming "Islam is of the devil", he also craves publicity -- which the 24-hour-news media in the United States, and across the world, have been eager to grant him, to the dismay of the White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs, among others. In this sense, we are witnessing the reverse of the Anjem Choudary effect. Depressing, eh? (For more, check out Patrick Osgood's excellent blog post.)

Let me, however, say some words to my fellow Muslims, some of whom have (surprise, surprise!) taken to the streets of Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, et cetera, to burn effigies of Jones and denounce the "Satanic" United States.

Calm. The. Hell. Down.

Is this really how you want to celebrate Eid? With orgies of flag-burning and violent demos? And where was your anger, where were the passionate public protests, when dozens of Muslims from the Shia minority in Pakistan were murdered in suicide attacks in Quetta a week ago?

Allow me to quote to you some wise words from a thought-provoking and measured piece by Dr Muqtedar Khan, the American Muslim intellectual and academic, in the Washington Post:

When images of Quran-burning will be flashed around the globe, it will excite Muslim anger. I want Muslim leaders everywhere to counsel their communities. Recognise this provocation for what it is and ignore it. And remember, do not let this become a source for anger and hatred towards Christians. Remind your congregations what the Quran tells Muslims about Christians:

". . . Forgive them and overlook their misdeeds, for Allah loves those who are kind" (Quran 5:13).

If Muslims react with anger and indiscriminate violence, then one of Terry Jones's goals will be fulfilled. He would have shown the world that some Muslims are more barbaric than even he is. Be patient, encourage everyone to be patient; let Terry Jones enjoy the monopoly on barbarity for a while.

"True believers are those who show patience, firmness and self-control" (Quran 3:17) and "indeed God is with those who are patient" (Quran 2:153).

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.