At around 5:00 p.m. Thursday, Pastor Terry Jones told reporters, according to the New York Times, that he had canceled his church’s “International Burn A Quran Day” commemoration of the 9/11 attacks. He and well-known Florida Imam Muhammad Musri stood side-by-side and made their announcement, noting that the event had been canceled due to an agreement that the New York Ground Zero mosque would be moved elsewhere. It wasn’t too long afterward, following the public denial by the New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf that any such agreement had been made, that Jones appeared before reporters again and said that the quran burning had been suspended, but considering that he had been lied to, deserved reconsideration.
So, to burn or not to burn…
Somewhere within the media firestorm that has become the controversy surrounding the planned burning of qurans at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, on the anniversary of 9/11, Pastor Terry Jones began negotiating against the planned building of a mosque in New York City. It is unclear how it became a bargaining tool, but Imam Muhammad Musri had been in talks with Jones in attempts to get the Pastor to reconsider the wisdom of holding such a fractious event. But at 5:00 p.m. Thursday, Jones was under the impression that the Ground Zero Mosque, the planned building of a mosque on property two blocks from Ground Zero in New York known as the Cordoba Initiative, was going to be erected elsewhere.
Musri would later say that Pastor Jones had misunderstood. The Florida Imam said he had passed on information that he and Jones were to meet with people involved in the Cordoba Initiative on Saturday, but he said that Jones must have misunderstood.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has been the leading spokesman for the group planning to build the New York community center/mosque, told CNN that he had not been made aware of an agreement of any kind regarding the Ground Zero Mosque, nor was he aware of a meeting that was to take place.
Musri later said that he had not spoken directly to the Imam in New York but to his staff, who had assured him they would arrange a meeting with the Imam.
Jones, according to Newsmax, later said that Musri “clearly, clearly lied to us.” He said that he would take the quran burning commemoration under reconsideration, but at present the plans for “International Burn A Quran Day” had been suspended.
Could they all be lying? Or could they all be telling their own versions of the truth? Or could it be a mixture of both — with everyone exiting the strange controversy without too much damage done?
Consider that the Imam Muhammad Musri has been very vocal about being against both the building of the divisive Ground Zero Mosque in New York and the scheduled burning of qurans in Florida. Then consider that nobody knows what has been said in private negotiations. Everybody involved — even peripherally — could walk away from the situation under the umbrella of plausible deniability, casting blame at others.
Pastor Terry Jones, who has caused worldwide debate, condemnation, and outrage for his planned actions to burn qurans at his church on Sept. 11, could step away, save face (somewhat), and blame the Florida Imam for lying to him about moving the Ground Zero Mosque. He could then pretend to reconsider, having already canceled the event.
Musri could walk away, allowing Jones out of his self-righteous dilemma by offering him something of importance in lieu of the quran burning (whether true or not). Musri would have the plausible deniability of having given Jones information he (Musri) thought he had.
Imam Feisal Abdul Raul could have been the unwitting (or knowing) pivot in the entire story, giving Jones his escape, allowing him to cancel then “suspend” and “reconsider” his quran-burning plans. Raul not knowing about the agreement — or even a meeting for a possible agreement — was the perfect hitch in the plan.
And even if Raul truly knew nothing, Musri, regardless if he was telling the truth or not, gets closer to both his goals — qurans not being burned in Florida and the Ground Zero Mosque not being built in New York. How so? Sharif el-Gamal, head of the real estate group that controls the properties and the Ground Zero Mosque project, has said that they were unwilling to relocate. The New York Times reported Thursday that he has issued a statement reinforcing that position. It is that position, a position which looks like intractability and indifference to a sensitive issue, and the plausibility that Raul may have entered into an agreement and reneged, that could potentially increase the opposition to the building of the mosque/community center.
Or one or more of the principles in these “talks” could be lying…
Succinctly, Jones no longer has to burn qurans to get his “radical message” out. It is out. In fact, it has caused an incongruous amount of worldly consternation. Demonstrations and rallies against the planned burnings erupted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, and other Muslim countries. World leaders decried the Pastor’s plans, President Obama going so far as to call it a “stunt” that would jeopardize Americans, including troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. General David Petraeus, the international forces commander in Afghanistan, said much the same thing several days before the President. Religious leaders, including the Vatican, spoke against the anti-Islamic burning. Interpol even issued a global alert to its 188 member nations to be aware of possible increased terrorist activity in response to the burnings.
The message was sent and answered.
Given the worldwide reaction and spectacle that the announced event garnered, burning qurans at his Florida church would now seem anti-climactic.