All politics is international

Torsdag, 16. September 2010     0 kommentti(a)

For a preacher with a congregation of less than 50, and a rather dubious track record, Terry Jones has been getting his message out with great success. Jones’ Koran burning day in Florida and the arguments over a Muslim cultural centre in the vicinity of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan have become actually linked in recent days by Terry Jones’ mission to NYC. But for many onlookers around the world Jones’ campaign has only added evidence to a perception that the “Ground Zero mosque” fight had already amplified: that of an America against Islam.

The protests over the cultural centre called by its critics the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ began last year in anti-Islam activists circles. Notably prominent bloggers and writers such as Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs have been protesting and organizing to try and stop the building of the cultural centre and mosque since it was first profiled in the New York Times in December of 2009. This effort was well known to those who follow the politics of Muslims in Western countries, either as critics or supporters, since the spring when New York City approved the plan and protests against it began. Coverage in the wider media was limited mainly to the New York press except for Fox News that covered the story regularly with, unsurprisingly, the majority of its interviewees speaking against the planned centre.

The story became more widely known as prominent American conservatives, notably former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin joined in the condemnation of the plan in July. Ultimately the level of debate reached the point where President Obama became involved in the discussion in August.

A similar process took place around Jones’ idea to burn a Koran, although here it was more the condemnations of his plan, particularly by General David Petraeus last week, that brought the story into the US and international press. But academic and blogger Marc Lynch notes that Jones’ Koran burning plans have been discussed widely in Arabic language press for more than a month, and that the media in the Muslim world have also been following the ups and downs of the debate over the mosque in New York closely as well. Lynch argues that extremists amongst Muslims already hate America and therefore this episode will not affect them, but it is the much larger ‘middle ground’ in the Arab and wider Muslim world that is watching closely and these events are undermining US public diplomacy attempts, most notably the good will gained by Obama’s Cairo speech. What essentially is a domestic political debate in the US between conservatives and progressives has rapidly spilled out across international borders, showing in an age of globalization that all politics is simultaneously both domestic and international.

The ripples of the weekends’ events in New York can also be felt in Europe, most notably in that Geert Wilders took time out from negotiating over the potential roll of his party in or supporting the future government of the Netherlands to be the keynote speaker at the rally against the building of the mosque. Secondly (and although their leader was refused entry into the United States), the English Defence League (EDL) had a strong presence at the same protest rally. The EDL, originating in a conglomeration of football “firms” (fans and/or hooligans), has in the last year in the UK become a major instigator of protests against they claim radical Islam, although this has spilled over into simple bigotry against all Muslims at times. Their protests have gained moral support from American right-wingers, so it appears from their flags last weekend they were in New York to return the favour:

Photo by diaper on Flickr

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