Listen to article

America is currently dealing with two cases of religious extremism that could endanger the rest of the world- the proposed building of a Ground Zero mosque in New York close to the site of the levelling of the Twin Towers by Islamic terrorists in 2001, and the plan to burn the Quran tomorrow in Florida. The rest of us should speak up and protest that no individual or group hiding under the First Amendment or any claim to freedom of whatever kind has the right to put other human beings inside America or elsewhere in danger. Terry Jones, a misguided Pastor of a small church of about 50 people, in Gainesville, Florida, is threatening to mark the anniversary of the New York 9/11 incident by burning several copies of the Islamic Holy Book, the Quran. Since he announced his extremist plan in July, he has received about 100 death threats and has been widely condemned, but the man is undeterred. He says he has received support from many people who have sent him additional copies of the Quran to burn on their behalf. Certainly, there are enough crazy people who will support such an irresponsible venture. America should call its mad man to order and restrain him.

There have been rather curious attempts to argue that this is all about free speech and human rights. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg says for example that the action may be wrongheaded but Jones and his supporters are protected by the First Amendment. "He has a right to do it", Bloomberg said. It is the same freedom to do it that Imam Feisal Rauf, the leader of the group planning the Cordoba Centre in New York is flaunting; in his own case, he wants to build a mosque close to the site of the 9/11 incident at Park 51, and call it "Ground Zero Mosque". Both Jones and Rauf are sick clerics; their proposals smack of insensitivity, intolerance, and outright recklessness. This of course is the dilemma of democracy and liberty. Democracy is said to be illiberal if it places direct checks on the expression of rights, it is described as liberal when it carries the banner of almost limitless rights. But no one should have the right to endanger society or humankind.

The American authorities are arranging extra security at home and at their embassies abroad, in the event of violent reactions to Terry Jones’ promised act of anti-Muslim terrorism; Rauf’s Ground Zero mosque is being debated. In the latter case, the problem is not that he wants to build a mosque; it is what he wants to call it and where. Rauf can build his mosque but he must not be allowed to call it "Ground Zero mosque" – that would be an assault on the memory of the dead. As for Terry Jones and his supporters, they should be arrested immediately and quarantined until the nineth anniversary of 9/11 passes. It is in America’s interest to do so. Jones’ action poses a threat to all mankind. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has appealed to the media not to cover the burning of the Quran; in India, the Home Minister, P. Chidambaram has also asked the Indian media to be restrained in reporting the story; both Ministers may have no control over that. Debating whether Jones has the right to burn the Quran or not, and seeking to rationalize his actions make no sense whatsoever. This is not about legal right. It is about global security: a religious war on a global scale could be disastrous for us all.

Understandably, there has been a loud expression of outrage across the Muslim world, with threats in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bahrain and elsewhere, that Muslims are prepared to kill Americans wherever they can find them if the Quran is publicly desecrated tomorrow on American soil. I am afraid of the implications for Muslim-Christian relations in Nigeria. Muslim fanatics in Nigeria have a reputation for taking on any kind of religious battle even when it is not of their own making. In 2005 when a Danish cartoonist was accused of insulting the Holy Prophet (SAW), there were reprisal killings in many countries, but Nigeria recorded more casualties than all the European countries put together on account of that incident. A cartoon may now seem like a smaller offence compared to the burning of the Quran, the main text of the Islamic religion, the Holy book of the faith. Muslims regard the Quran as the word of God; it is considered so sacred that people are not expected to handle it carelessly; to burn the Quran in the eyes of Muslims amounts to an assault on Islam and God.

In 2007, in Gombe, a female secondary school teacher, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Olusesan who was said to have accidentally thrown the Holy Quran out of the window while invigilating an examination was beaten to death by her own students. We have also had cases of murder and riots resulting from unproven allegations that someone urinated close to a Mosque in Idi Araba, Lagos. In 1994, Gideon Akaluka, a trader, was beheaded in Kano also on account of allegations that he desecrated the Quran. In 2002, a fatwa was placed on Miss Isioma Daniel, a ThisDay newspaper reporter for allegedly making disparaging statements about the Prophet. Terry Jones will not only endanger all Americans but the Christian world. He wants to burn the Quran, exactly a day after the end of the Ramadan fasting period, nothing can be more disrespectful and provocative. The Nigerian authorities should not see this as an American problem. The security agencies should be put on red alert, all the flashpoints of religious violence in Nigeria should be secured; intelligence teams and other security agents should be prepared to respond to any emergencies. Both Christian and Muslim leaders in Nigeria should begin to reach out to each other and also talk to their followers. Each time Nigeria gets caught in the new Cold War between Christian and Muslim evangelists, the local cost is usually high.

The rise of a certain extremist brand of Pentecostal bigotry is perhaps the biggest emergent threat to the cause of inter-religious understanding and co-operation. Terry Jones runs the Dove Outreach Centre: it is a Pentecostal Church, one of those churches that see Satan in everything, casting out demons and evil forces, running deliverance programmes and regarding persons of other faiths as enemies. Like his Nigerian counterparts, Jones is very critical of the leaders of orthodox churches. Like many of his type in Nigeria also, he is a self-styled "Doctor" in addition to being the author of a book titled Islam is of the Devil. His kind has done incalculable damage to the Christian doctrine. They stand the doctrine on its head and sow dangerous seeds in unformed minds. Barely two weeks ago, one young lady at the University of Ibadan went to the university mosque and told the Muslims who were busy praying to accept Christ or prepare to rot in Hellfire!

Religious leaders across the faiths have an obligation to stop clerics on the fringe of lunacy from misleading the faithful, and to place greater emphasis on tolerance as a pillar of the faith. At a press conference on Wednesday, Terry Jones declared that "as of this time, we have no intention of cancelling, " adding that "this approach is at this particular time in history very necessary." He wants to teach radical Islam a lesson but it is precisely his kind of approach that will further radicalize the same Islamic extremists he wants to drive out of America and further position America as an enemy of Islam – a disservice to President Obama. He is obviously an attention-seeker who is enjoying his new-found notoriety. What does Doctor Jones teach his congregation? Does the Bible not say, "love thy neighbour as thyself"? Doing so certainly includes respect for the feelings of others.

By burning The Quran, Jones is saying that it is not a book that is worth reading. But who is he to say so? I am a Christian, and I think every Christian should read the Quran just as every Muslim should read the Bible if we hope to promote religious understanding. Terry Jones is an extreme right-winger; he should be prevented from playing God. His burning of the Quran won’t solve any problems; it will create more, it is significantly, a violation of the Ministry of Jesus Christ. It is written: II Timothy 2: 19: that "Whoever says that he belongs to the Lord must turn away from doing wrong things." Is Terry Jones really a Christian?

All governments of the world must join the international outcry against Terry Jones. The Nigerian government should issue a statement without any further delay, stating how dangerous Jones’s intention is, and appeal at the same time to Nigerians not to fight over a matter in which all Nigerians are innocent. Jones says: "We are burning the book. We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people." He is wrong. In 2008, Hindus burnt the Holy Quran as a mark of disrespect to Muslims; it resulted in the murder of both Muslims and Hindus. The burning of any book at all is an act of bigotry, an affront to other people’s values, to pick up the Quran and set fire to it, is a mini-equivalent of the Holocaust.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by thewillnigeria.com