Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Possible Burning of One Koran; Definite Burning of One Million News Stories

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By Barry Rubin

News that a crackpot minister at an incredibly tiny church in Florida may burn a Koran (and ultimately didn't!) is a global story. The man’s plan is condemned by just about everyone, though some point out he has a constitutional right to do so.

There are several, all obvious, reasons for this universal criticism, mainly boiling down to two:

--It is disrespectful to another religion and inappropriate for our society, which is supposed to be tolerant, etc.

--Such a deed might endanger Americans and U.S. foreign policy goals by making Muslims angry and in some cases violent.

A lot of "properly thinking," good-hearted Americans are feeling mighty guilty, unnecessarily I might add. One young man said, "Why do I feel the need to walk up to Muslims on the street and wish them peace and show them that Americans are not all bigoted racists?...What has happened to my beautiful country?...The day Americans start burning Korans is the day when Osama bin Ladin has won..."

Yes, this is what years of inducing and indoctrinating guilt has done. Simply another example of arguing that the tiniest blemish on Western society or Israel proves they are evil while elephant-sized warts in other countries are to be ignored.

One doesn't, however, define a country by the most extreme, isolated individuals but by the mainstream. Muslims will only believe that Americans are all bigoted racists (mostly bigoted racists or have any significant number of bigoted racists) if they are told lies about America. Similarly, Americans are being very foolish if they believe this kind of disproportionte nonsense.

Nowadays, the United States can easily win any tolerance competition in the world. Indeed, the Koran-burning story proved this in the end since peaceful persuasion without threats or material pressure talked the minister out of the burning. On the other hand, a lot of Americans are very much in the race with the rest of the world about who can be the most anti-American.

What is never pointed out is that the threatened action's equivalent—which, remember, hasn’t even happened yet and has no institutional or widespread support—happens daily in dozens of locations throughout the Middle East and the Muslim-majority world, not at the hands of marginal nut-jobs with no following but from powerful political and religious figures or media outlets with huge bases of support.

Every day, there are massive lies told intended to incite people to hate the West and America, Christians and Jews. Every day, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and Jews are being persecuted and in some cases driven out of Muslim majority countries with no one in the Western power establishment even noticing, must less protesting.

Unfortunately, it is sadly true that the Muslim majority areas of the world are to bigoted racists what Saudi Arabia is to oil;  Newcastle is to coal; Florida is to oranges; and Hollywood is to movies.

I thought of appending specific examples but since there are so many I suggest you refer to the sites of MEMRI or Palestinian Media Watch or Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) or Survey of World Broadcasts (SWB), or English-language edition of Arabic newspapers (which include translations).

Oh, and by the way, according to the FBI figures for 2008 there are ten times more antisemetic incidents (1013) in the United States than there are anti-Muslim ones (105). How many anti-Christian hate crimes were there? Only four less than anti-Muslim ones, 101.

Remember that bigoted actions in the United States or Europe or Israel are the action of individuals. Every radio program, newspaper, Christian minister, and citizen acts on their own. In such matters, they face 99 percent social and political disapproval, including from Christian and Jewish clergy.

But when religious, national, ethnic, or other kinds of slander, incitement, and hatred happen in the Middle East they are the result of government or government-approved action. The people who do so are often drawing government salaries, given access to state-controlled institutions, and are rewarded for what they do and say. Muslim clerics are either silent or supportive, virtually without exeption.

Thus, in comparison to 99 percent disapproval for “hateful” actions in the West, in the Muslim-majority Middle East virtually nobody, outside of a tiny group of (often persecuted) moderates dare raise their voices against these actions. Two examples picked at random from the last few hours: here and here. But you don't need to bother to read these, just choose your own favorites.

Moreover, no matter how many condemnations, apologies, or acts of tolerance occur in the West, no matter how many mosques are built or repaired with U.S. taxpayer money (in countries where it would be impossible to build a church), no matter how many times Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says "Holy Koran" instead of just plain Koran, no matter whether the words "Islam" and "Islamism" are barred from U.S. government documents, these efforts will have virtually no impact on Middle Eastern public opinion. Why? For one thing, because public attitudes have been thoroughly prepared to be hostile and disbelieving; for another, few will ever hear about such things because the media will not report on them, neither will public institutions.

Does that justify bigotry in the West or burning Korans? Of course not. But there’s something else it doesn’t justify:

Refusing in the West to report, analyze, and condemn what goes on daily with far more public support and official approval in the Muslim-majority Middle East.

What are the wrongful motives for that behavior?

--Fear that telling the truth will make “Muslims” angry.

--Belief that one only has the right to criticize one’s own country (or allies) and religion but that exercising rational judgment in discussing others is somehow “racist.”

--Panic that reporting on the bigotry and extremism of millions of others will encourage a minister in Florida with 50 followers to burn a Koran.

Such a paralysis is not how democracies are supposed to function. That is not how people keep their freedoms and way of life.

By the way, if you want to see a brilliant and constructive response to such issues and situations, check out the People's Cube (the funniest and best satirical site on the Internet) "Draw a Positive Muhammad Day" contest in which readers competed to create posters carrying a moderate message for Islam. There are about 50 entries--you have to keep going all the way to the bottom of the page to see them all. This blurb doesn't indicate my endorsement of all of them! But the very first one (Forget Holy War, Improve Local Communities) is particularly brilliant; the fourth (Prophet Mohammad Cancer Research Center) quite poignant; and the seventh ("Let your actions show that Islam is indeed a religion of peace.") is just awesome.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

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