Media Fan the Flames of Religious Intolerance

When a Florida church announced last summer that it was planning an "International Burn A Quran Day" to commemorate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the news spread rapidly through the Internet and was picked up by dozens of mainstream media outlets worldwide. Pastor Terry Jones's image and words were suddenly everywhere.

After public outcry and private pressure forced him to back down, Jones is at it again: He held a mock trial for the Islamic holy book and oversaw its burning on March 20, and he is now planning an anti-Islam protest at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich., one of the nation's largest mosques, in April.

And yet again, the news media is chomping at the bit.

This is the kind of publicity that most organizations dream about. Public acts of intolerance like this are designed to make a splash, to both incite fear and rally followers to a cause. And the controversy they engender, the acrimony they spark, makes a salacious news story. But is this news? Or should it be?

Burning a Quran -- or any holy book -- is an offense not just to Islam but to our common humanity, and we can hardly turn a blind eye, but this kind of violence is not the story of our society; it is a sideshow. For every one act of hate in the world, there are hundreds, thousands, millions of acts of kindness.

All over the world, through interfaith organizations like the United Religions Initiative (URI), millions of people are overcoming religious divisions in some of the most divisive societies, working side-by-side to end religiously motivated conflict and build peace in their communities. A Better Community 4 All Pakistan, a URI Cooperation Circle, started a school in Lahore slum that teaches Christian and Muslim children side-by-side and instills in them values of respect and tolerance. Another URI member in Israel co-founded the country's first Arab-Jewish Waldorf Kindergarten with the same goal. And a URI group in Barcelona, Spain facilitated a funeral for a prominent Muslim in the local Catholic Church because there was no Muslim worship space large enough.

Every day, in ways large and small, ordinary people of all faiths, all cultures, all traditions are working to bridge differences and bring an end to the senseless violence that undermines lives and livelihoods.

Their stories rarely make headlines, yet they reflect who we are as a people so much more accurately than the voices of intolerance at our fringes. If we as a society can find a way to put the good news ahead of the bad, to give stories of hope and courage the kind of frenzied attention we now give stories of anger and despair, we will take the megaphone away from those who would sow division and hatred and allow the quieter chorus of peace and fairness to prevail.