“It’s so good, it made me cry,” said Jasmine, the Muslim woman who runs a bar in northern Virginia. “May God bless all these people!”
We were at the Tavern for our Saturday night gup-shup after a long day. Since some of us do odd jobs – from driving cabs to tending tables – our meeting starts late.
“I wish we showed the same courage against hate-mongers in the Muslim world. Please spread the message,” said Jasmine, pausing only to greet us.
“And you, Mr Scribe, write about it,” she said to a middle-aged man who writes for a newspaper in Pakistan. “Let them know there’s more than the CIA in America.”
The scribe nodded but did not interrupt. Interrupting Jasmine can be risky. She has a short-temper and a sharp tongue, “but a golden heart,” as most of us often tell each other.
She is better off than most in the group and never hesitates in helping those who need it, jobs, job recommendations, money.
She stopped and started fidgeting with her laptop while we turned to our hookahs and coffees.
Jasmine connected the laptop to a large television screen and started playing a video of New York’s Times Square, the same place Faisal Shahzad tried to bomb on May 1, 2010.
As the video began, a man with a large handlebar moustache filled the screen.
We all knew this face. It was Terry Jones, the butcher-faced pastor of a tiny group, with less than a dozen followers. Fined $3800 in Germany for using a fake degree, Jones was also kicked out of his church for making “indefensible theological statements and his craving for attention.”
So he formed his own non-denominational church, which is not affiliated with any religious establishment in America or anywhere in the world. Jones has also been shunned by his daughter, Emma, for his “strange beliefs and practices.”
Unable to attract more followers and heavily in debt, in October 2010, Jones founded a political organisation, “Stand Up America Now.” The party never took off.
On October 27, 2011, Jones announced that he was running for President of the United States, as an independent candidate. It did not work.
Abandoned by everyone, Jones turned to the last refuge of all scoundrels, the politics of hate.
In February 2011, he tried to address an anti-Islam rally in London but the British Home Secretary banned Jones from entering the UK.
After failing on all fronts, Jones and a dozen others burned copies of Muslim holy books outside, what he calls his church, in Gainesville, Florida. The burning caused a violent reaction in the Muslim world and got him the notoriety he wanted.
But Jones remains an insignificant person in America. He has no followers and most Americans believe he suffers from some mental disease.
So we were obviously shocked when Jasmine played his video.
“I am not a very religious person but I do not want to see this hate-monger,” said Foroud, the only Iranian member of our group.
“Turn off the computer,” demanded Mian Saheb, the most religious among us.
“We come here to relax, not for more tensions,” said Zalmay, an Afghan.
“Yes, turn it off,” said Ahmed, a Somali-American.
“No, not him,” shouted the scribe. “I do not want to write about him.”
“Wait, wait,” Jasmine shouted back. “No need for knee-jerk reactions. First watch the video and then tell me how you feel.”
And she pressed the start button again.
The video showed Jones walking into Times Square with some supporters and a megaphone. This was the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
A little over four months ago, a Pakistani Muslim, Faisal Shahzad, had tried unsuccessfully to bomb Times Square.
So, Jones was obviously expecting a warm welcome from New Yorkers to his anti-Islam rhetoric. There were thousands of people in the square but only few came forward to listen to him.
As he began his rhetoric, a Muslim woman in hijab moved away with her children. A couple of other South Asian looking men watched silently.
“Why we are here today is 9/11,” said Jones. “We … want to bring attention to what happened here almost 10 years ago. It was a radical Islamic attack that day.”
He then started attacking Islam, calling it “a religion of bondage and lies.” A woman with a thick American accent interrupted him: “No, it is not. No, it’s really not,” she said.
An African-American man told another his friend that this was the man from Florida who had been burning Muslim holy books.
“How are you going to run around and talk about preaching God and all of that and you want to burn holy books of God,” he said.
This forced Jones to switch from talking about Islam to “radical elements of Islam.”
Then another American, a man, walked close to Jones, holding a cell phone.
“Nothing you can make that can’t be made, no one can save that can’t be saved,” he recited a song from his phone.
“It’s easy, all you need is love, love is all you need,” he began to sing loudly.
Then he said to others standing near him, “it’s a free country folks, why can’t I hear you singing.”
The entire crowd joined him, ignoring Jones.
Another man walked close to Jones, holding a sign that said “Idiot” and it pointing towards the pastor of hate.
The voice of hate was drowned in the love song as Jones watched helplessly.
The video stopped, leaving us speechless.
“You did not want to watch this video, did you?” Jasmine mocked us.
“Do not get into one-upmanship,” the scribe told her. “The feeling this video has generated is too good to be wasted like this. Let us not talk at all.”
“Yes, he is right,” Jasmine responded, “let the message sink in. Love is all we need.”
Watch the video here.
The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.
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