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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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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