Talking Terry Jones back from the brink

October 1, 2010
By tomsander

Flickr photo by photine

Interesting account in the Washington Post by Jim Wallis about behind-the-scenes efforts to convince Terry Jones (of the “Dove World Outreach Center” in Gainesville, FL) not to burn the Quran on 9-11.

The storm around the imam, his wife and their proposed community center was already bad enough when, on Thursday, Sept. 9, it threatened to get a lot worse. That afternoon, Jones announced that he would be heading up to the Big Apple to talk with the imam [Imam Rauf] on the 9/11 anniversary. He seemed to think that he could leverage his Koran-burning threat to pressure Rauf to move his center — in the process getting even more attention. The idea was offensive: It suggested a moral equivalence between burning the holy book of a billion people and building an interfaith center, and it presumed that one of the world’s most important and courageous moderate Muslim leaders should bargain with the irresponsible, incoherent pastor of a tiny church.

How, I wondered the next morning, could evangelicals — members of the faith tradition that Jones and I both claim — run interference? I felt strongly that we were the ones who should deal with Jones, rather than a respected imam whose faith he had demonized.

At that moment, I got a call from another dear friend, Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance. He was in New York and wanted to know what he could do to help Rauf. He explained that he had Jones’s cellphone number and had spoken to him earlier in the week. In an effort to talk Jones out of his original plan, he had asked him: “Will you be willing to be with me when I have to talk to the widow of an evangelical pastor in the Middle East who is killed because of what you are about to do, or to a congregation whose church is burned to the ground as a result of your Koran burning? Will you help me explain to them why you had to do this?”

Tunnicliffe seemed like the right person in the right place at the right time. We strategized how we could stop Jones from confronting the imam. I called Khan and asked her and the imam to trust Tunnicliffe; meanwhile, he pulled together many of New York’s best young evangelical leaders to meet with Jones.

That afternoon, Jones got to town and checked into a hotel in Queens. He was immediately surrounded by police officers, who, he later told Tunnicliffe, warned him that his life was in danger and advised him not to go out. With a terrified Jones now reluctant to leave his hotel, a conference call replaced the face-to-face meeting that Tunnicliffe had planned. Without going into the details of a private dialogue — one Tunnicliffe hopes will continue — he later told me that the pastor seemed “lost.” Others described the exchange as “powerful,” “productive” and “reflective.” During the conversation, Jones vowed never to burn a Koran and even asked what an apology might look like.

Planned Cordoba House (Park 51), NYC

One wonders whether there are similar efforts afoot to convince Imam Rauf that he’d garner more goodwill for American Muslims by agreeing not to locate Cordoba House 2 blocks from Ground Zero.

Meanwhile, Muslims who feel that their faith has been expropriated by terrorists have taken a peaceful offensive in the aftermath of the “Ground Zero” Mosque controversy. [see earlier blog post here.]

See Muslims in America video here

While Park51 has a constitutional right to locate near Ground Zero and the Cordoba House sponsors of the project profess a vision of uniting the three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), one wonders whether they couldn’t also do a lot for their goal of Islamic goodwill by acquiescing.  They could note both that there is already a mosque four blocks from Ground Zero, albeit overcrowded, where Muslims can pray, and that Park51 would do much to foster peace and harmony.  But they might also decide to build elsewhere to show non-Muslims how Muslims have an interest in peaceful reconciliation. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the leaders of the Park51 Cordoba house project, hasn’t backed down, but he did tell CNN that he “wouldn’t have done it” if he knew what pain the project would have caused.

A recent New York Times poll adds credence to such a position: “50 percent of those surveyed [New York City residents] oppose building the project two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, even though a majority believe that the developers have the right to do so. Thirty-five percent favor it….67 percent said that while Muslims had a right to construct the center near ground zero, they should find a different site…Most strikingly, 38 percent of those who expressed support for the plan to build it in Lower Manhattan said later in a follow-up question that they would prefer it be moved farther away, suggesting that even those who defend the plan question the wisdom of the location.”  Opposition was higher among lower-income New Yorkers and higher among those outside of Manhattan.  The poll, conducted August 27-31, also picked up some animosity or unease towards Muslims: “One-fifth of New Yorkers acknowledged animosity toward Muslims. Thirty-three percent said that compared with other American citizens, Muslims were more sympathetic to terrorists. And nearly 60 percent said people they know had negative feelings toward Muslims because of 9/11.”

See NYT article: “New Yorkers Divided Over Islamic Center

See NYT article, “American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong” (9/6/10, by Laurie Goodstein)

See NYT “Offended Muslims Speak Up” (9/24/10, by Steven Greenhouse), about evidence of increased anti-Muslim bias in the workplace and elsewhere.

The Christian Science Monitor has a feature on “The man behind the mosque near ground zero: Who is Feisal Abdul Rauf?” (9/4/10, by Ron Scherer)

And our faith in American Grace rebounded a bit with the announcement that a group of Tennessee churches have joined forces to raise money to help rebuild a mosque torched in Columbia, Tennessee in an act of religious bigotry.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply