The following is guest post by Andrew Hammond, a director at ReputationInc, an international strategic communications firm, was formerly a special adviser to the Home Secretary in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and a geopolitics consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.
The ninth anniversary of September 11 is being overshadowed by the news of Pastor Terry Jones and his now-suspended plan to burn copies of the Koran at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Even if the bonfire does not take place, the news of it is tragic for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, although President Barack Obama and other US officials have rightly condemned the pastor’s previously intended actions, the episode has exacerbated anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world. This comes at a sensitive period at the end of Ramadan, when debate is also still raging about an Islamic group’s plan to build a community center, which includes a mosque, near Ground Zero in New York City.
It is this latter issue that has apparently enraged Pastor Jones whose backpedaling on the Koran burning only came after he announced an alleged agreement with the community project’s leaders whereby the building would be located further from the World Trade Center site. Although the pastor’s claims of a deal reportedly have been denied by some of those involved in the project the risk remains that he could resume prior plans to hold his “International Burn a Koran Day.”
The re-invigoration of anti-Americanism caused by this episode presents a major political headache for the Obama administration whose public diplomacy has — over the last two years — helped restore US standing across much of the world. But there is still much work that remains. The 2010 Pew Global Attitudes Survey released in June shows that in nine of 15 countries public favorability toward America lags behind that recorded at the end of the Clinton administration a decade ago.