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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Want to send a positive Brexit message to Europe? Back Arsene Wenger for England manager

Boris Johnson could make a gesture of goodwill. 

It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Sam Allardyce, who coveted the England job for so many years, before losing it after playing just a single match. Yet Allardyce has only himself to blame and the Football Association were right to move quickly to end his tenure.

There are many candidates for the job. The experience of Alan Pardew and the potential of Eddie Howe make them strong contenders. The FA's reported interest in Ralf Rangner sent most of us scurrying to Google to find out who the little known Leipzig manager is. But the standout contender is Arsenal's French boss Arsene Wenger, 

Would England fans accept a foreign manager? The experience of Sven Goran-Eriksson suggests so, especially when the results are good. Nobody complained about having a Swede in charge the night that England won 5-1 in Munich, though Sven's sides never won the glittering prizes, the Swede proving perhaps too rigidly English in his commitment to the 4-4-2 formation.

Fabio Capello's brief stint was less successful. He never seemed happy in the English game, preferring to give interviews in Italian. That perhaps contributed to his abrupt departure, falling out with his FA bosses after he seemed unable to understand why allegations of racial abuse by the England captain had to be taken seriously by the governing body.

Arsene Wenger could not be more different. Almost unknown when he arrived to "Arsene Who?" headlines two decades ago, he became as much part of North London folklore as all-time great Arsenal and Spurs bosses, Herbert Chapman or Bill Nicholson, his own Invicibles once dominating the premier league without losing a game all season. There has been more frustration since the move from Highbury to the Emirates, but Wenger's track record means he ranks among the greatest managers of the last hundred years - and he could surely do a job for England.

Arsene is a European Anglophile. While the media debate whether or not the FA Cup has lost its place in our hearts, Wenger has no doubt that its magic still matters, which may be why his Arsenal sides have kept on winning it so often. Wenger manages a multinational team but England's football traditions have certainly got under his skin. The Arsenal boss has changed his mind about emulating the continental innovation of a winter break. "I would cry if you changed that", he has said, citing his love of Boxing Day football as part of the popular tradition of English football.

Obviously, the FA must make this decision on football grounds. It is an important one to get right. Fifty years of hurt still haven't stopped us dreaming, but losing to Iceland this summer while watching Wales march to the semi-finals certainly tested any lingering optimism. Wenger was as gutted as anybody. "This is my second country. I was absolutely on my knees when we lost to Iceland. I couldn't believe it" he said.

The man to turn things around must clearly be chosen on merit. But I wonder if our new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - albeit more of a rugger man himself - might be tempted to quietly  suggest in the corridors of footballing power that the appointment could play an unlikely role in helping to get the mood music in place which would help to secure the best Brexit deal for Britain, and for Europe too.

Johnson does have one serious bit of unfinished business from the referendum campaign: to persuade his new boss Theresa May that the commitments made to European nationals in Britain must be honoured in full.  The government should speed up its response and put that guarantee in place. 

Nor should that commitment to 3m of our neighbours and friends be made grudgingly.

So Boris should also come out and back Arsene for the England job, as a very good symbolic way to show that we will continue to celebrate the Europeans here who contribute so much to our society.

British negotiators will be watching the twists and turns of the battle for the Elysee Palace, to see whether Alain Juppe, Nicolas Sarkozy end up as President. It is a reminder that other countries face domestic pressures over the negotiations to come too. So the political negotiations will be tough - but we should make sure our social and cultural relations with Europe remain warm.

More than half of Britons voted to leave the political structures of the European Union in June. Most voters on both sides of the referendum had little love of the Brussels institutions, or indeed any understanding of what they do.

But how can we ensure that our European neighbours and friends understand and hear that this was no rejection of them - and that so many of the ways that we engage with our fellow Europeans rom family ties to foreign holidays, the European contributions to making our society that bit better - the baguettes and cappuccinos, cultural links and sporting heroes remain as much loved as ever.

We will see that this weekend when nobody in the golf clubs will be asking who voted Remain and who voted Leave as we cheer on our European team - seven Brits playing in the twelve-strong side, alongside their Spanish, Belgian, German, Irish and Swedish team-mates.

And now another important opportunity to get that message across suddenly presents itself.

Wenger for England. What better post-Brexit commitment to a new Entente Cordiale could we possibly make?

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.