Protests about how much we respect Islam do not seem to do much good

The plan by a minuscule “extremist Christian” group to burn a pile of copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 has got a lot of people very jittery.

Hillary Clinton described the planned burning as a “disrespectful, disgraceful act”. More to the point, perhaps, David Petraeus, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, warned that there could be retaliatory action against US troops; presumably he meant from Afghans who would normally have been supportive or at least neutral. Protests have already taken place in the capital Kabul at which effigies of Pastor Terry Jones (of the ironically named Dove World Outreach Centre) were burned alongside the American flag.

Christians all over the world are busily disassociating themselves from the proposed Koran burning. L’Osservatore Romano, under the headline “No one burns the Koran”, reported Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay (and before anyone says that should be “Mumbai”, “Bombay” is what the locals mostly still call it), saying “I condemn this completely insensitive threat that is disrespectful to the Holy Qur’an, on behalf of the Catholic Church”. L’Osservatore Romano went on to report that Christians around the world were protesting against the threatened event.

Well, no doubt they are. But it will all do no good: al-Qaeda has already said that this affair just shows how hostile to Islam we all are in the West, and that’s what will be generally believed, for all Hillary Clinton’s insistence that we all respect Islam, truly, we really do.

Now, I really do not think this book-burning (indeed, any burning of any book) should take place. But it probably will; and it’s no good Hillary Clinton pleading that no TV cameras should be present at the event. They will be, of course; and if no one intervenes to stop it, then the resulting image of Christians burning the Koran will be around the world in seconds.

The fact is that there is a way this could be handled if the local authorities in Gainesville, Florida, have the wit to think of it: it seems that this event will be illegal, because Pastor Jones has no permit for a bonfire. Why don’t they just have fire-engines at the ready, and charge in to put out the fire immediately: then the TV pictures would be of Christian firemen extinguishing this anti-Islamic outrage. Simple.

But would even that do any good? Would not the headlines all over the Middle and Far East then be “Christians commit waterlogging outrage against the Holy Qur’an”? The trouble is that whatever we do or say to try to reassure the Islamic world about our respect for them and their religion, they will continue to believe that we privately harbour a profound hostility towards them and everything they stand for.

We just don’t begin to understand them, that’s the problem. If they started to burn piles of Bibles, we wouldn’t turn a hair, because it’s not the material, physical reality of a copy of the Bible that makes it the Holy Bible, it’s what it says. Why don’t they think like that about mere physical copies of the Koran? Search me.

Meanwhile, I have a profound respect for Muslims and for their beliefs. Honestly. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.