When the news broke last week that Terry Jones, the pastor of a very small church in Florida, was planning to hold a Koran-burning party to mark the 9th anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attacks, it wasn't difficult to guess what was going to happen next - worldwide media attention, followed by cries of support from some, rambunctious denouncement from others, and a fatal protest in Afghanistan - regardless of whether the bonfire went ahead or not.
The story came amid other reports of uproar over plans to build an Islamic centre and mosque near the Ground Zero site in New York. President Obama and other politicians called for tolerance, while protest groups for and against the building sought out support and scheduled demonstrations to take place on the anniversary.
From my flat in London, it was intriguing to watch. By all accounts the previous eight anniversaries had been commemorated with a unifying solemnity and togetherness. This year, for some reason, it had become political. And, as chance would have it, I was going to be Stateside for the occasion.
I arrived in Soho on Friday evening for Fashion's Night Out. The sky was ablaze with two shards of light illuminating the downtown sky, representing the Twin Towers. It was a stark reminder that seemed to do nothing but humble those who noticed it. The following morning, 11 September, the ceremonies began. The victims' names were read. Speeches were given and respect was paid. In Florida, the pile of Korans remained intact and the planned protests against the mosque in New York were too small to demand significant newspaper inches.
It was heartening, in a small way, to discover that the global propaganda and sensationalism had done little to sway majority opinion at street level. For the most part, reason has trumped emotion. Jones, recoiling from his 15 minutes of fame, was ultimately rendered as a bit of whack job, while the demonstrations over the mosque fizzled out. Again, the only major loss was during a protest that was staged in an area not far from Kabul, where two people died over the planned desecration of the Koran. A tragic, yet inevitable end, given the circumstances.
On the streets of New York, people went about their weekend business. Some spoke of the sky being a similar shade of blue on the same day eight years previous. Others waxed lyrical about how much they loved their country as they browsed cheap leather coats at vintage markets and stopped into their favourite cafés to eat their brunch.
A lobbyist friend, more political than most, dared to question the motives of those protesting. "It's not about the mosque," he said following a day of back-to-back memorial ceremonies. "Americans aren't happy. Unemployment is too high. The economy is bad. They're looking for something to blame."
This argument tends to suggest that Islamist fundamentalism is the scapegoat for broader domestic issues that challenge modern-day America. And perhaps this is the point. It's easy to blame society's ills on extremism. The media, coupled with the strong emotions that tarnish rationality in the face of injustice, can become a powerful cocktail that, for some, erodes away perspective.
But thankfully, the issues behind these events are recognised by many on both sides of this supposed fight as much more complex and nuanced than anything the sensationalist news agencies want to spoon feed us. So far, it seems that this perspective and rationality continues to reign supreme – regardless of what you read in the newspapers.
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By: Kate McAuley