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 assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.