Until just a few weeks ago no one outside his small circle of friends, family, and congregants had ever heard of Rev. Terry Jones. This morning, merely typing in three letters on a Google search, “T-E-R” produced several listings for the reverend.
Jones is the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, a small evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, Florida. Founded in 1985, the church has only about 50 members.
In July of this year, Jones announced his plan to burn a number of Koran holy books at his church on Sept. 11, the ninth anniversary of the al Qaida terrorist attack on the U.S. The news media picked up on the reverend’s planned book burning event and catapulted Jones into the international limelight. Religious groups of all flavors from the U.S. and around the world condemned Jones’s plan and called on him to cancel the event. Jones had steadfastly refused to do so until very recently.
But this morning, on NBC’s Today, Jones declared that there would not be a Koran burning at his church, “Not today, not ever.” So why the change of heart? Did he succumb to pressure or fear? And is this man a genius or a fool?
Whether or not he is a fool depends on his original motive. If, as he claimed in the Today interview that he was on a mission from God, then he is a fool. Anyone who believes God has spoken to them and given them a mission has a few screws loose. On the other hand, if his mission was to gain notoriety in an effort to bring his church more popularity among Florida’s evangelicals, then he has certainly accomplished that mission with great alacrity. That would make Jones a public relations genius, at least with respect to his own base of faithful.
Jones claimed he has not caved in to threats of violence against him. He also claims that the negative publicity had nothing to do with his decision. He compares what has happened to him with the story of Abraham in the bible. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his own son. Abraham was about to go through with it when, at the last minute, an angel appeared and stopped him. The point to the bible story is a mystery. It is apparently an allegory, but with what message, that God is capricious or mercurial? If God is omniscient he certainly didn’t need to test Abraham’s faith.
But Jones claims that God’s plan for him was to show the world how violent and dangerous Islam is. Whether that plan was God’s or Jones’s the point was definitely made. Jones pointed out that his view of Islam as a fanatical, dangerous religion was confirmed by the violent uproar that has pervaded the Islamic community abroad since his announced Koran-burning event. Demonstrations, threats of violence, and condemnation have been pervasive throughout the Islamic world. Gen. Petraeus, the commander in Afghanistan, begged Jones to call off the event because he feared for the lives of his soldiers. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Commander in Chief himself, Pres. Barack Obama, called on Jones to cancel his plans for fear of repercussion by Muslim fanatics. And those repercussions would have come. Some blowback may still occur despite the fact that the Koran-burning event has been cancelled.
For years, Muslims have burned the American flag in protest of the fact that America is the leader of the Free World and they are obviously jealous of our ways. Of course, their claim is that America is an evil nation who wants to wipe them out and take over their religion. But Americans just chalk up their demonstrations and chants to the fact that they are lunatics. If a Muslim Imam were to threaten to burn a few bibles, there might be a denunciation by devout Christians, but they would not resort to mass violence.
But draw an unflattering cartoon of Mohammad in a newspaper or threaten to burn a Koran, and death threats, violence, demonstrations, and chaos abound in the Islamic world. And that does tend to prove Jones’s point about Islam, even if he didn’t have to go through with his Koran burning exercise.
So was that his plan all along? If so, the reverend may be a genius. But I am highly skeptical. The fact that he vacillated so much over the past couple of days – the event was on, then it was off, then it was maybe on again, then it was definitely off – indicates that he really didn’t have a clue. He was looking for a way out that would save face, and he found it. He would play the role of Abraham, this time with a real message to the world that Islam is a freaky violent religion. And even if that was not his plan all along, serendipity stepped in and allowed him to come away from this debacle declaring victory.
The events of the past couple of weeks show that Muslims, at least those who reside in Islamic nations, are dangerous and misguided. It is not just the fringe element of Islam; it is Islam itself that promotes violence and hatred. There are, of course, Muslims who do not fit the well-deserved stereotype. But to the vast majority of Muslims whose views have not been tempered by civilization, Islam gives them the green light to invoke terror at will.