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.

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Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.