• BEST IN STATE—Senior Courtney Schoen Lewis was named Best PR Student in Utah. Story

Threatened Qur’an-burning prompts discussion of religious tolerance, media role

September 17th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

By Satenik Sargsyan

LOGAN—The Rev. Terry Jones’ recent threats to burn Qur’ans on the anniversary of 9/11 set on fire national debates religious tolerance in the United States and about limits on the First Amendment.

Jones, the richly-mustached pastor of the tiny, evangelical Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., was the lead actor of several days of breathless national media attention after threatening to burn the “evil” Muslim holy book, and then backing down from international and ecumenical condemnation.

Discussion of the Florida minister’s plan was widespread on the USU campus, too. USU students have yet to stop debating the tolerance of America’s predominantly Christian society toward other religions, and about the mass media’s role in fostering beliefs and portraying images about other cultures and religions.

Safiyyah Ballard, a senior in sociology and journalism, disagrees with Jones on religious and political grounds, but acknowledges his constitutional right of freedom of speech.

“It’s irresponsible in my opinion,” Ballard says, “but when it comes to censorship, when you start saying what someone can’t do, the floodgates are opened.”

But Ballard worries about the message sent by the extensive worldwide news coverage of Jones’ planned Qur’an-burning.

“Media studies have shown that the people in the world take what they see in the media at face value,”” she said. “The images they see do matter.”

Anthropology sophomore Symone Caldwell thinks that a small thing hitting the national media in such a manner leaves the world confused on where Americans stand as a society.

“It’s bad on us,” Caldwell said. “In recent history we see Muslims coming into the international arena and saying that we need to respect them, and what this guy did is disrespectful to the Muslims living in this country and everywhere else in the world.”

For statistics doctorate student Abbass Al Sharif, who is Lebanese and was raised Muslim, the media are to blame for making heroes out of people like Jones. The media often “exaggerate the extent of some events” involving Muslims, Sharif said, and do not clarify the distinction between radical Islamists and billions of peaceful Muslims.

“In a way, they made this guy a hero by reporting so much about him,” Sharif said. “I don’t think anyone who believes in democracy thinks that this is freedom of speech, because there are limits. And those limits mean respecting other people and religions.”

Health education junior Hazem Khan, a practicing Muslim from Saudi Arabia, agreed. “Freedom is not an excuse for this action because there is an obvious attack on others’ beliefs,” he said.

While Ballard, a Christian from North Carolina, argues for First Amendment rights granted to citizens and the media, she agrees with Sharif on the impact of media coverage, and questions news decisions about the amount of coverage that the major news media gave Jones.

“I think the media are at fault for making it into a much bigger deal than it was,” she said. “This was a very small and unsophisticated congregation, and they would not have had as big of an impact if it wasn’t turned into a much bigger deal.”

In Sharif’s opinion, sensational stories like the threatened Qur’an burning tend to mislead people and foster religious intolerance.

“I am afraid that people everywhere in the world who are not fully educated on the subject matter might blindly follow what is said about Islam,” Sharif said. “Usually religious people believe with their heart, and brainwashing those people may be very dangerous.”

Nic Tarbet, a freshman in political science and public relations, thinks that the lesson of the Jones story is “how intolerant people are these days.” Tarbet says that growing up in an LDS community, he didn’t have a chance to intertact with people from other religions.

“Growing up, I’ve come to see and understand how people act and intertwine in our community,” Tarbet said. “I don’t understand how an American could find this kind of an attitude acceptable when America was founded on freedom and liberty. It only shows intolerance toward other religions or his lack of knowledge for other religions.”

These kinds of episodes, along with the ongoing debate about the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, foster a tense atmosphere among students from the Middle East. Sharif said his American friends sometimes make “terrorist jokes.” It’s all on a joking level, and he laughs at them, but it also illustrates how close to the surface stereotypes about people with Middle Eastern origins exist in American society.

“At this stage of my life I am not fully practicing Islam,” Sharif said. “But such stereotypes make me protective of my culture, even before my religion. It seems like the religion lately is only an origin of conflict.”

Sophomore Chris Thomas, a double major in history and English, thinks that religion is a source of recurring conflict because majorities have hard time understanding minorities.

“I don’t think the majority of Americans understand Islam as a religion,” Thomas said. “They view Muslims as people who killed Americans on 9/11, whereas it was a radical group of people.”

Sharif agrees that ignorance is often at the root of many cultural misunderstandings. “I don’t even think this pastor has read the Qur’an,” he said. “Just like the radical Muslims pick what they want from the Qur’an to start a conflict, he has done the same.”

But political science freshman Karapet Muradyan thinks “the whole thing is not a big deal,” but just a continuation of religious intolerance.

“Muslims are killing Nigerians in Africa and burning Bibles in Africa,” even as Rev. Jones threatens to burn Qur’ans in Florida, Muradyan said. “The religious wars have always been around. I don’t understand why people are upset about some pastor burning a Qur’an. He’s only exercising his freedom of speech.”


Tags: , , ,

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.