Burning the Qur’an between perceptions and realities
By Ali Younes — In the minds of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world, it’s not a coincident that a small extremist church in Florida wants to burn copies of the Qur’an, while a huge controversy erupted in New York over the plans to build a Muslim cultural center few blocks away from where World Trade Center once stood, and that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, honored the Danish cartoonist who drew offensive cartoons of prophet Mohammad. Such issues receive widespread media coverage and are bound to increase stereotypes and misconceptions between the Muslim World and the West. It will also increase the level of hostilities and intolerance on both sides.
Regardless if the pastor goes through with his intentions or not, he already poisoned the well and the damage to the image of the United States has already been done.
The pastor’s decision once again, cast the spot light on the cultural differences between East and West. As this case shows, the Western understanding of personal freedoms which are not only codified in the legal systems but also part of the political culture is radically different from that of the rest of the world.
In other parts of the world particularly in Muslim countries where the system of government is mostly authoritarian, this issue is deeply emotional and political. People in Muslim countries are disillusioned and baffled that the US government seems to be unable or “don’t want “to do anything about the intending burning of copies of the Qur’an.
Because the majority of Muslims around the world are governed by governments that dictate almost everything in their lives, they, therefore, have an expectation that the US government should stop this man from doing what he intends to do.
It is true that the local governments in state of Florida cannot legally prevent the man from doing what he intends to do on his private property and that they can only prevent him from doing so, by way of denying him a permit if it was on public grounds. But in the Islamic World, that’s beside the main point. This act is considered not just an insult to Muslims but it also an assault on the very essence of their religion which is the word of God, the Qur’an.
This case also shows how different the secular West is from the Islamic world where religion is an extensive part of public life and where public freedoms are very limited. That’s not the case in the West where religion has receded and quarantined in churches and private domains and people can express their freedoms anyway they want including insulting religions and religious symbols. In the US media, for example, Jesus is the subject of jokes; and often portrayed in cartoon characters and in movies in such way that is very offensive to religious Christians. But that hardly generates any strong reaction from the churches or the religious establishment or the public. The separation between religion in public and religion in private is very real and deeply embedded in Western cultures.
Moreover, this issue feeds the perception that America is filled with hatred and that its government, for not doing, or unable to, do anything about it, is against Islam. Especially that this issue comes on the heel of the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. Both issues are creating a strong hostile perception of the US government with the possibility of severe consequences.
(Ali Younes is a writer and an analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
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