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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.