Leading article: A small step back from mayhem

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is a measure of the interconnected nature of the world that a decision by a small-time Florida pastor could be met with relief around the globe. Terry Jones suspended his plan for a Koran-burning to mark today's anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 in response to a report, not subsequently confirmed, that the controversial Islamic Centre would be moved from its intended site near Ground Zero.

The furore surrounding the Islamic Centre in Manhattan shows how bitter the legacy of 9/11 remains nine years on. Attempts by the Mayor of New York and President Obama to support the development as a sign of tolerance and reconciliation cut little ice with many Americans. Similarly, while Mr Jones's stunt may have been his own parochial initiative, it drew support far beyond the town of Gainesville – and triggered ferocious protests in many Muslim countries. In a taste of what might be to come, three people were shot during a protest at a Nato base in Afghanistan.

As the anniversary approached, Mr Jones was the recipient of an impassioned public plea from Mr Obama, another from General David Petraeus, US commander in Afghanistan, a phone call from Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and several visits from the FBI. These people were only too aware of the worldwide mayhem that any planned Koran-burning might cause, even if it was beyond Mr Jones's imagining. The protests over the Danish cartoons would have paled into insignificance beside the anger that would be triggered by a bonfire of Korans and the likely reprisals against US and Nato troops.

Almost everything about this affair is highly regrettable, from the extent of Islamophobia in a country – the United States – known for its religious tolerance, to the timidity of national leaders in the face of violent threats to free speech, to the hostility towards the Western world shown by Muslim protesters and whipped up further by preachers at Friday prayers. If the divisive consequences of 9/11 were not completely obvious at the time, they certainly are now. The pastor's retreat is a small bright spot on a mostly dark horizon.