Samuel Webster

September 14, 2010 I’d prefer that you burn the Qur’an in private. Posted In: Blog, Writing

If you came into contact with any form of mainstream media last week, you will have heard of Pastor Terry Jones, a god-fearing pastor from Florida who decided that this year’s 9/11 anniversary was the perfect time to make a statement. But perhaps it is more than God which strikes fear into the heart of this religious leader, since his statement was to burn about a hundred copies of the Qur’an on the day American was set to mourn the tremendous loss of life at the hands of renegades.

General Petraeus

There have been plenty of articles which attack Pastor Jones and his very-small congregation for the ramifications of his actions, and I’m with them there but I actually think there’s another side of this debate which should be touched upon. General Petraeus, commander of the US forces in Afghanistan urged Pastor Jones to rethink his actions, fearing retribution in Muslim states; retribution in the form of American casualties. Now, why is one of the highest ranking members of the US Defence Force addressing a man who only leads a congregation of thirty? Because Muslim activists had already begun burning American flags in response, and in the middle of the war it’s generally not the best idea to inflame the enemy. Especially when it’s the kind of war fought with improvised weapons over civilian ground.

This is the point where a lot of the commentary has veered into the ethics of the situation. Major media has argued the nature of the act in reference to freedom of speech, and condemned a man for his ignorance, not only for his limited knowledge of Islam’s role in 9/11 but also for refusing to consider the lives of American troops. I’m not writing this with the purpose of pointing out the problem with republican ignorance towards religious values, but rather to point out the sleight of hand trick major media has quite successfully pulled off.

You see, Pastor Jones didn’t go on a major network unplanned and tell everyone what he wanted to do; he painted the side of a truck. He didn’t pay a skywriter to help espouse his views on the evils of Islam, he told his congregation in church on Sunday. This story didn’t come from nowhere into global syndication, it was put there. Now, it’s a bit of a snowball effect from local anchor to state bulletin and then syndicated press, but there is one thing in common. This story was put to the American public, under the guise of informing the general population, because it would sell newspapers, it would boost ratings. It is the perfect piece for everyone – those who disagree with Jones can be outraged and those who stand by him can be outraged at the outrage. There is no national benefit to having this story out in the open. He wasn’t threatening anyone in particular. He was the local nut job waiting to fill column inches.

But what followed was not a simple story. What followed was the media, ignoring the fact that they had put this information in the hands of enemy forces overseas through their thoughtless propagation, turning on Pastor Jones for the implications of his actions. Yes, this man showed his ignorance when he told reporters that he wouldn’t taken General Petraeus’ advice, but the bigger issue is why did his actions have any bearing on national defence and why isn’t the media being openly criticised for the way it fuelled a story, knowing that if it reached global syndication that there would be retributions. Pastor Jones didn’t tell insurgents about how much he hates Islam. He told a local man with a huge megaphone.

I repeat: Pastor Jones is not responsible for the syndication of his hate; that information was put in the hands of people who should know the consequences of their actions and chose to run with it anyway. Such a thing is irresponsible and frankly disgraceful.

Stephanie Rice

In Australia last week, we were certainly exercising our right for “on-air faux pas” as Sam Newman labelled a Malaysian man a monkey, Stephanie Rice decided to call South African sportspeople “faggots” and a bunch of people came to their defences. I won’t go too far off track to discuss the issues with both of these incidents except to say that both Newman and Rice understand the implications of their stardom. Newman is paid to be on a nationally broadcast television show and understands the regulations of the medium and Stephanie Rice is sponsored by major brands either because her talent is seen as a quality endorsement, or her celebrity is seen as a solid promotional medium. Both of them signed contracts understanding that they would be public faces to which certain standards apply. Sam Newman is probably a racist, and Stephanie Rice, while she may not be homophobic, is certainly ignorant to the plight of minorities fighting for social equality, but you cannot argue that they were unaware or didn’t deserve the retributions. What’s worse is that Channel Nine continues to employ Newman, not only after what he did, but with an open statement that they would be willing, if he chose to speak that way again, to pay the same fine.

What’s the connection between Pastor Jones, Stephanie Rice and Sam Newman? They are all engaged with a media who ignore their own actions when it comes to pointing the finger, who cover themselves with cash and public distraction when they are called upon to repent, and who see no problem in perpetuating the ignorance which challenges social equality the world over.

It seems that with deep pockets comes loose morality: this is a real concern, about flippant actions, with deathly consequences.

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