President Barack Obama, Gen.David Petraeus, the US Commander in Afghanistan, and other American leaders have rightly condemned the proposed burning of the Holy Koran by Pastor Terry Jones, who leads a congregation of about 50 followers in the city of Gainesville, Florida, on 9/11 coinciding with the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland.
2. There is still considerable anger in sizable sections of the US population over the 9/11 terrorist strikes by Al Qaeda and over the subsequent terrorist attacks on US citizens and troops in the Af-Pak region. There have also been attempts and thwarted attempts to indulge in acts of terrorism in the US itself, the latest being the unsuccessful attempt to blow up an American plane over Detroit on Christmas Day last year and in Time Square in New York on May 1 last.
3. The anti-US activities of the Yemen-based Anwar al-Awlaki , a US citizen of Yemeni origin, who has been described as a made-in-the-US bin Laden, have added to the concerns of Americans and their sense of unease and discomfort in their relations with Muslims. Al-Awlaki's sermons, while he was still in the US, were allegedly attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers. He reportedly met secretly with at least two of the hijackers in San Diego, and one hijacker moved from there to Falls Church, Virginia, as al-Awlaki moved. His sermons were also allegedly attended by Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist in the US Army, who killed 13 persons in a shooting incident on November 5, 2009, at Fort Hood— an important military base located just outside Killeen, Texas. The "Christmas Day bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had allegedly met al-Awlaki during his training by Al Qaeda in Yemen. In March 2010, al Awlaki said in a videotape reportedly delivered to CNN that jihad against the US was obligatory for all Muslims.
4. The US Homeland has been targeted not only by Al Qaeda, but also by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is believed to have had a hand in the conspiracy to carry out the unsuccessful terrorist strike in New York in May last. It has threatened more terrorist strikes in the US Homeland.
5. One cannot, therefore, blame large sections of the US population if their distrust of the Muslims remains high. This distrust---and the resulting resentment---has been further aggravated by the ill-advised attempts to construct near Ground Zero in New York what has been called the Cordoba House project --- a 15-story community center that would include a performance-art center, gym, swimming pool, and a mosque. Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim cleric, who inspired the project, has projected it as intended to foster better relations between the West and Muslims.
6. How insensitive and uncaring Muslims can be to the feelings of others not belonging to their religion is evident from the way they are trying to go ahead with the project unmindful of the protests against it and the concerns over its implications for peace and harmony in the US.
7. For large sections of Muslims---not only in the US, but also in the rest of the world---their feelings and sensitivities have to have primacy over those of others. They have a right to feel hurt and concerned, but not others.
8. The self-centred attitude of the Muslims and their unwillingness to take note of the sensitivities of others have created a feeling of revulsion against their community all over the world. Some express it openly. Many don’t.
9. Pastor Terry Jones’ threat to burn a copy of the Holy Koran is a reflection of this revulsion and the anger against the Muslims. No right-thinking person and no Government can support his plans. It could not only act as a red rag to the Al Qaeda/Taliban bulls and result in more terrorist attacks on US nationals and troops in the Af-Pak region, but could also drive more US Muslims into the arms of these organizations and result in an aggravation of the threat of home-grown terrorism in the US.
10. The US Government should find ways of stopping his threatened act by persuasion or, if necessary, by invoking the law. At the same time, it is important to stop the Cordoba House project too, which would definitely add salt to the wounds of hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim Americans. The attempt of the Muslim sponsors of this project to project it as an initiative to heal the wounds and foster Muslim-non-Muslim harmony will not carry conviction. It will be seen as one more attempt by the Muslims to flaunt their right to do what they want unmindful of the feelings and sensitivities of others. (8-9-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: email@example.com )