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Listening to the conversation going on in the US today, one would think that Muslims are about to take over the country, impose Syariah law and destroy American democracy. It is silly, but there is no shortage of takers.

PASTOR Terry Jones’ plan to burn copies of the Quran to mark the anniversary of 9/11 was highly irresponsible but unsurprising — given the rising intolerance in America today.

Since the shocking events of 9/11, Americans have been consumed by concern for their own security and safety. That is understandable.

Unfortunately, those concerns have also been shamelessly exploited by politicians, the media and some religious leaders to advance their own agendas.

It is all about the politics of fear and suspicion now. And the more America’s confidence in itself sags, the more distrustful the mood becomes.

Listening to the conversation going on in America today, one would think that Muslims are about to take over America, impose Syariah law on everyone and destroy American democracy. It is silly, of course, but there is no shortage of takers.

Take, for example, the rumour that President Barack Obama is Muslim. Despite his repeated denials, more than a third of Americans believe it to be true.

Neo-conservatives have done such a great job convincing Americans that Obama is a closet Muslim, and therefore not to be trusted with America’s security, that the truth itself no longer matters.

Obama’s recent attempt to plead for religious tolerance and respect, as any president worthy of the office should do, only fuelled the suspicion that he is colluding with America’s enemies. The reaction was so strong that Obama was obliged to retreat.

William James, the father of modern psychology, said: “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.”

What we are seeing in America today is proof enough of that hypothesis. And then there’s that whole contentious debate about the so-called “9/11 mosque.”

A plan to turn an old building in Lower Manhattan into an Islamic centre has been deliberately cast by some as a calculated attempt by Muslims to defile hallowed ground and insult the memory of those killed on 9/11.

In fact, the proposed Islamic centre is a full two blocks away from Ground Zero.

Some, of course, consider that two blocks is too near. We have a somewhat similar debate in Malaysia when it comes to building churches and temples.

Millionaire entrepreneur Donald Trump crassly offered to buy over the offending property for more than its market value if the centre was moved to a location at least five blocks away.

What if others think that is still too near?

The only reason such absurdity has gone on for so long is because powerful people profit from this madness. They should heed the warning of the Prophet Hosea that “they who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind”.

America has long held out a beacon of hope to the world in its noble ideas of freedom, justice and equality.

It is what makes America a great and unique nation. The world is waiting to see if Americans have the courage of their convictions at this critical juncture in their history. As a Christian, I am distressed and saddened by Pastor Jones’ actions because it is so contrary to the message of the Gospel.

I hope my Muslim friends will take some comfort from the fact that so many Christians and Christian organisations, including the US National Association of Evangelicals, have unreservedly censured Jones.

Men of faith must do no less. The other worrying thing about this whole episode is that it bes tows inordinate power on the intolerant and the ignorant to create division and sow discord .

Having discovered a cheap way of gaining attention, sooner or later others may begin burning the Quran to make a point. What then? More anger? More demonstrations? More violence in retaliati on?

It is understandable, of course, that Muslims would feel outraged over the desecration of the Quran but their predictable reactions may simply be giving the lunatics on both sides too much power to push their collective butt ons.

It is about time we marginalised these lunatics by refusing to dignify their provocations and thereby demonstrating that we are bigger and better than them.

There is a verse in the Quran that says, “forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds): for God loveth those who are kind.” Likewise in the Bible it says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

The best response to intolerance is for Christians and Muslims to strive to outdo each other, not with aggressive responses or irrational actions but by walking in forgiveness and overlooking each other’s misdeeds as we are both commanded to do.