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10 September 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:14am

Terry Jones’s holy mess

Only a mind as unbounded and bizarre as the Marquis de Sade's could understand the Quran burning deb

By Patrick Osgood

The Marquis de Sade is damnable by the standards of both the wilfully ignorant bigot pastor Terry Jones and the questionably esteemed imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

The literary output of this dissolute and oddly brilliant libertine is therefore – in a suitably perverse way – a good place to start when looking back on the media-facilitated farce that was (and may be yet) the Quran book-burning scandal:

“Miserable creatures, thrown for a moment on the surface of this little pile of mud, is it decreed that one half of the flock should be the persecutor of the other?”

We have witnessed the media and political discourse be shaped by the manifestation of an understanding of the world so animally stupid that even Sarah Palin feels entitled to denounce it, despite her having shamelessly upped the ante over the Cordoba centre by decrying it as a “stab in the heart” of Americans who lost loved ones on 9/11.

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It is tempting to examine this debacle within a wider context of The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoon controversy, and the ease with which violence might be elicited from a society prepared for it. Though to do so would do an undue dignity to an episode that, unlike these former events, was created instantly by the media rather than gradually by a coterie of opportunistic clerics.

Instead, we should bear in mind De Sade’s observation that even the most fanciful fiction cannot keep up with the madness of history, and consider two things before expelling Reverend Terry Jones from our collective consciousness.

The first is specific and prosaic. The members of congregation of the Dove Outreach Centre are now proud owners of four copies each. If the Qurans are not going to be burned, what is their fate? We can I think discount the possibility that any of them will be read. Chucking them in a bin will cause even more “outrage” than doing so with a cat. I leave the thought with you.

The second is general and a little more abstract. We have to recognize (as would the Marquis) that there is a queasy nexus between the roller coaster of humiliation and retribution inherent in fanaticism and the predilection for outrage and crisis in the 24 hour news media. The Socratic dialectic dies a little death with every needlessly confrontational interview. Media exposure in the current form prefers games of two halves, and results in entrenchment instead of elucidation.

If we shape our conversations around the language of shame, outrage, sensitivity and offense we give cover to the self-pitying, the self-righteous, the credulous and the stupid for whom these words are legitimating preludes to emotional blackmail, surrogated victimhood, and untrammelled violence.

So keep you comments civil!