The breaking news this hour is that Pastor Jones of Gainseville has cancelled Saturday's commemorative Qur'an burning and is now discouraging others from consigning their accumulated copies to the flames. There's one big catch: the pastor claims that he made his decision on the understanding that the Park51 community-center planners had withdrawn their plan to build the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" at their desired site. In New York, Imam Rauf denies making any deal with the pastor or any plan to move the community-center site. The owners of the site had earlier today rebuffed an offer from Donald Trump to buy the property and preempt its dedication to Islam.
It looks as if Jones is basing his action (or inaction) on the assurance of a Florida imam whom Jones presumes to have the ear of Rauf. As I write, ABC reports that a "bewildered" Jones has just told reporters that he had been lied to. The network also reports that Defense Secretary Gates spoke with Jones earlier today, after the pastor signalled that he might stand down if the Obama administration requested him directly to do so. Because the story seems to be very volatile at the moment, I'll reserve further comments until later as (or if) the situation clarifies.
Update (7:45 p.m.). It seems that Jones misunderstood what the Florida imam promised him. The imam himself says that he only promised to arrange a meeting in New York between Jones and Rauf. Whether the location of Park51 would have been subject to negotiation at such a meeting seems very doubtful, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Florida imam made the prospects look more promising than they now seem. For his part, Jones could just be a gullible yokel. But when I started this post 90 minutes ago I thought that he'd performed a cunning if not clever maneuver by putting the ball in Rauf's court and placing the burden of peaceful compromise on him. As far as I know, Park51 had had nothing to do with Jones's plans before -- he may have planned the Qur'an burning before the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy broke out -- but linking the two issues may have been his only way to attempt to save face in the face of mounting public pressure and rumored death threats.
As I write now, Jones hasn't reneged on his renunciation, but claims that he still wants to meet with Rauf on Saturday. Whether he continues to insist on that meeting may depend on whether he sees any chance of actually negotiating a relocation of the GZM or whether he thinks that such an encounter will be his proverbial 15th minute in the spotlight. He may prove content to complain, despite whatever clarifications follow, that he had kept his word while the Muslims lied. If the entire purpose of the bonfire, as I suspect, was to promote his anti-Islamic products, he has probably won as much publicity as he could get whether he carried out his plan or not.
I still wonder a little, however, whether he meant, when he said that the event would expose the nature of Islam, that he actually expected to be attacked or martyred on the spot by Muslims. Their violence, possibly, would have been his proof of their essential, "satanic" violence. If he thought that, I think he would have been disappointed. Of all men involved in the controversy, he may actually have been the least endangered. I don't know how well protected he's been lately, but I have to wonder how badly "extremists" or "Islamists" in this country want to prevent the burning if there haven't been attempts, that we know of, to stop it already. If they revere the Qur'an so much, shouldn't they be taking preemptive steps against Jones? If they haven't, it means one of three things. The first possibility is that Jones is, in fact, really well protected. The second is that there simply aren't any American Muslims motivated enough to go to Gainseville and stop the infidel. The third possibility is that such extremists as there are actually want the burning to take place in order to exploit it for maximum propaganda and as a justification for indiscriminate reprisals against random Americans. If so, then they're less interested in upholding the honor of their religion or the sanctity of their holy book than in stoking up their hatred and finding excuses to kill. Take your choice of these theories, or come up with your own.
10:00 p.m. The latest from Jones is that the burning is "on hold" or "suspended," not cancelled. The Florida Imam, Muhammad Musri, has tried to clarify his own position. He personally opposes the Park51 project, but obviously has no authority to relocate it. He says he only promised to arrange a meeting between Jones and Rauf in New York. Meanwhile, Rauf says that he has not spoken with Musri. Nor does he consider the site of the community center subject to bartering. Musri seems to be an inept meddler who may end up having made things worse. For starters, Jones now considers him a liar. Second, assuming collective responsibility, the pastor now expects Rauf to "back up one of his own men." Third, it's only through Musri's intervention that the burning and Park51 are linked. Rauf is not answerable for Musri's apparent stupidity, and is under no obligation to back the fool up. Jones has no right to make his behavior conditional on anything Rauf does or says. If he decides to go through with the burning, that's his prerogative, and the responsibility should be his alone. It won't be, however, and that's why this remains the hot story of the moment.
11:45 p.m. Into the presumptive breach leaps Rev. Fred Phelps and the infamous congregation of Westboro Baptist Church. The Land of Whatever blog informs me that Westboro has declared its intention to burn Qur'ans should Jones be intimidated into not doing so. It's unclear whether they'll stand down if Jones keeps his plans suspended. So far, Jones has not recanted his recommendation that no one else burn Qur'ans, but I doubt that would stop Phelps's flock when the fever is upon them. Ironically, Phelps probably has a greater affinity with the extremist advocates of sharia than his bigotry would ever acknowledge. Perhaps a meeting of minds can be arranged....