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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This election has sparked a weird debate – one in which no one seems to want to talk

 The noise level hasn’t risen above a low gurgle in the background.

If this is a general election in which the tectonic plates are shifting, they’re the quietest tectonic plates I’ve ever heard. All the parties are standing on pretty radical platforms, yet the noise level hasn’t risen above a low gurgle in the background, like a leaking tap we can’t be bothered to get fixed.

Big issues are being decided here. How do we pay for care, or health, or education? How do we square closed borders with open trade, and why isn’t anyone talking about it? Democracy is on the line, old people are being treated like electoral fodder, our infrastructure is mangled, the NHS is collapsing around us so fast that soon all that’s left will be one tin of chicken soup and a handful of cyanide capsules, and we face the prospect of a one-party Tory state for decades to come. All this and yet . . . silence. There seem to be no shouts of anger in this election. It’s a woozy, sleepy affair.

I knew something was afoot the moment it was called. Theresa May came out of No 10 and said she was having an election because she was fed up with other parties voting against her. No one seemed to want to stand up and tell her that’s a pretty good definition of how functioning democracy works. Basically, she scolded parliament for not going along with her.

Why were we not stunned by the sheer autocratic cheek of the moment? With news outlets, true and fake, growing in number by the day, why was this creeping despotism not reported? Am I the only one in a state of constant flabbergast?

But the Prime Minister’s move paid off. “Of course,” everyone said, “the real argument will now take place across the country, and we welcome,” they assured us, “the chance to have a national debate.”

Well, it’s a pretty weird debate – one in which no one wants to talk. So far, the only person May has debated live on air has been her husband, as Jeremy Corbyn still wanders the country like an Ancient Mariner, signalling to everyone he meets that he will not speak to anyone unless that person is Theresa May. Campaign events have been exercises in shutting down argument, filtering out awkward questions, and speaking only to those who agree with every word their leader says.

Then came the loud campaign chants – “Strong and stable” versus “The system’s rigged against us” – but these got repeated so often that, like any phrase yelled a thousand times, the sense soon fell out of them. Party leaders might as well have mooned at each other from either side of a river.

Granted, some others did debate, but they carried no volume. The Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, achieved what no one thought possible, by showing the country that Nigel Farage had stature. And there’s a special, silent hell where Tim Farron languishes, his argument stifled at every turn by a media bent on quizzing him on what sort of hell he believes in.

Meanwhile, the party manifestos came out, with titles not so much void of meaning as so bored of it that they sounded like embarrassed whispers. Forward, Together; The Many Not the Few; Change Britain’s Future: these all have the shape and rhythm of political language, but nothing startles them into life. They are not so much ­clarion calls as dusty stains on old vellum. Any loosely connected words will do: Building My Tomorrow or Squaring the Hypotenuse would be equally valid. I still pray for the day when, just for once, a party launches its campaign with something like Because We’re Not Animals! but I realise that’s always going to stay a fantasy.

Maybe because this is the third national vote in as many years, our brains are starting to cancel out the noise. We really need something to wake us up from this torpor – for what’s happening now is a huge transformation of the political scene, and one that we could be stuck with for the next several decades if we don’t shake ourselves out of bed and do something about it.

This revolution came so quietly that no one noticed. Early on in the campaign, Ukip and the Conservatives formed a tacit electoral pact. This time round, Ukip isn’t standing in more than 200 seats, handing Tory candidates a clear run against their opponents in many otherwise competitive constituencies. So, while the left-of-centre is divided, the right gets its act together and looks strong. Tory votes have been artificially suppressed by the rise of Ukip over the past few elections – until it won 12.6 per cent of the electorate in 2015. With the collapse of the Ukip vote, and that party no longer putting up a fight in nearly a third of constituencies, Theresa May had good reason to stride about the place as cockily as she did before the campaign was suspended because of the Manchester outrage.

That’s why she can go quiet, and that’s why she can afford to roam into the centre ground, with some policies stolen from Ed Miliband (caps on energy bill, workers on company boards) and others from Michael Foot (spending commitments that aren’t costed). But that is also why she can afford to move right on immigration and Brexit. It’s why she feels she can go north, and into Scotland and Wales. It’s a full-blooded attempt to get rid of that annoying irritant of democracy: opposition.

Because May’s opponents are not making much of this land-grab, and because the media seem too preoccupied with the usual daily campaign gaffes and stammering answers from underprepared political surrogates, it falls once again to the electorate to shout their disapproval.

More than two million new voters have registered since the election was announced. Of these, large numbers are the under-25s. Whether this will be enough to cause any psephological upsets remains to be seen. But my hope is that those whom politicians hope to keep quiet are just beginning to stir. Who knows, we might yet hear some noise.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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