Clinton condemns 9/11 Quran burning

US secretary of state joins General Petraeus in condemning plans by a small Florida church to burn c

Hillary Clinton has added her name to a long list of those who have condemned plans by a Florida church to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 as "a warning to radical Islam".

The burning is planned to take place at the Dove World Outreach Centre, a 50-member evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, Florida. Its pastor, Rev Terry Jones, told CNN that he is taking the widespread criticism "seriously", but refused to say whether the event would be cancelled.

He reiterated once more that the burning was intended to send a message to radical Islam that "if you attack us, we will attack you". More than 9,000 people have now joined the Facebook group "International Burn a Koran Day".

The US secretary of state expressed her disapproval at a dinner last night to celebrate the breaking of the Ramadan fast, calling the proposed burning a "disrespectful, disgraceful act". She went on to say:

I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths, from evangelical Christians to Jewish rabbis, as well as secular US leaders and opinion-makers.

Chief among these fellow critics is the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who yesterday warned that the burning could endanger US troops abroad. He said:

It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses, and could cause significant problems. Even the rumour that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday. Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.

As well as Clinton and Petraeus, the White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, the attorney general, Eric Holder, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, Cardinal Theodore E McCarrick, and dozens of other faith leaders have all condemned the burning.

The same Florida church hit the headlines last year for selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Islam Is of the Devil".

This latest incident marks a growing trend of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, most notably demonstrated by the furore over the building of a mosque and community centre two blogs away from the Ground Zero site.

With the US midterm elections fast approaching, a certain faction of the Republican right seems to have succeeded in incorporating this kind of extremist reaction to Islam into legitimate political debate, with figures such as Clinton and Petraeus forced to address what might previously have gone unnoticed as a ridiculous and disgusting act by a tiny minority.

Now that the Democrats are in danger of losing both the Senate and the House, they must find a way to counter the effects of this strategy before it makes a lasting and regrettable impact on November's vote.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Stella Creasy targeted for deselection

Organisers on the left believe the Walthamstow MP is the ideal target for political, personal and geographical reasons.

Stella Creasy, the high-profile MP for Walthamstow and defeated deputy Labour leadership candidate, is the first serious target of an attempt to deselect a sitting Labour MP, the New Statesman has learnt.

Creasy, who is considered to be on the right of the party, is believed to be particularly vulnerable to an attempt to replace her with an MP closer to the Labour party’s left. Her constituency, and the surrounding borough of Waltham Forest, as well as the neighbouring borough of Leyton and Wanstead, has a large number both of new members, inspired either to join or return to Labour by Jeremy Corbyn, plus a strong existing network of leftwing groupings and minor parties.

An anti-bombing demonstration outside of Creasy’s constituency offices in Walthamstow – the MP is one of around 80 members of Parliament who have yet to decide how to vote on today’s motion on airstrikes in Syria – is the latest in a series of clashes between supporters of Creasy and a series of organized leftwing campaigns.

Allies of Creasy were perturbed when Momentum, the grassroots body that represents the continuation of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, held a rally in her constituency the night of the Autumn Statement, without inviting the MP. They point out that Momentum is supposedly an outward-facing campaign supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party towards the 2020 general election and the forthcoming local and European elections. Labour holds 27 out of 27 council seats in Creasy’s constituency, while Creasy herself has a majority of 23,195 votes.

“If you look at the seat, there is nothing to win here,” said one Labour member, who believes that Momentum and other groups are planning to depose Creasy. Momentum has denied any plot to remove Creasy as the MP.

However, Creasy has come under pressure from within her local party in recent weeks over the coming vote on bombing Syria. Asim Mahmood, a Labour councilor in Creasy’s constituency, has called for any MP who votes for bombing to face a trigger ballot and reselection. Creasy hit back at Mahmood on Facebook, saying that while she remained uncertain of how to vote: “the one thing I will not do is be bullied by a sitting Walthamstow Labour councilor with the threat of deselection if I don’t do what he wants”.

Local members believe that Mahmood may be acting as the stalking horse for his sister, the current mayor of Waltham Forest, Saima Mahmud, who may be a candidate in the event of a trigger ballot against Creasy. Another possible candidate in a selection battle is Steven Saxby, a local vicar. Unite, the recognized trade union of the Anglican Communion, is a power player in internal Labour politics.

Although Creasy has kept her own counsel about the direction of the party under Corbyn, she is believed to be more vulnerable to deselection than some of the leader’s vocal critics, as her personal style has led to her being isolated in her constituency party. Creasy is believed to be no longer on speaking terms with Chris Robbins, the leader of the council, also from the right of the party.

Others fear that the moves are an attempt by Creasy’s local opponents to prepare the ground for a challenge to Creasy should the seat be redrawn following boundary changes. The mood in the local party is increasingly febrile.  The chair of the parliamentary Labour party, John Cryer, whose Leyton and Wanstead seat is next to Creasy’s constituency, is said to fear that a fundraiser featuring the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, will take an acrimonious turn. Cryer was one of just four shadow cabinet ministers to speak against airstrikes in Syria.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.