By Mitch Stacy
ABOVE PHOTO: Rev. Terry Jones at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., Monday, Aug. 30, 2010. Jones plans to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds to mark the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States that provoked the Afghan war.
(AP Photo/John Raoux)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A top general, the Secretary of State, the White House and political and religious leaders from around the world have decried a plan by the leader of a small Florida church to burn copies of Islam’s holiest text to mark the 9/11 attacks. The Rev. Terry Jones is not backing down.
Despite the mounting pressure to call off Saturday’s bonfire, Jones said at a Wednesday news conference that he also has received much encouragement, with supporters mailing copies of the Quran to his Dove Outreach Center of about 50 followers. The plan comes as an emotional debate continues over a proposed Islamic center near the ground zero site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
“As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing,” said Jones, 58, who took no questions.
Jones was flanked by an armed escort and said he has received more than 100 death threats since announcing in July that he would stage “International Burn-a-Quran Day.” Muslims consider the Quran the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect.
The book, according to Jones, is evil because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.
Fearing the burning could spark anti-American violence, the State Department ordered U.S. embassies around the world to assess their security. The posts are to warn American citizens in countries where protests may occur.
The move came a day after Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, e-mailed The Associated Press to say the burning would endanger troops and that “images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence.”
Petraeus spoke last Wednesday with Afghan President Karzai about the matter, according to a military spokesman Col. Erik Gunhus.
“They both agreed that burning of a Quran would undermine our effort in Afghanistan, jeopardize the safety of coalition troopers and civilians,” Gunhus said, and would “create problems for our Afghan partners … as it likely would be Afghan police and soldiers who would have to deal with any large demonstrations.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the pastor’s plans were outrageous, and along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urged Jones to cancel the event.
“It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world’s attention, but that’s the world we live in right now,” Clinton said in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Not just the Democratic administration has weighed in. Ex-Alaska governor and former Republican candidate for vice president Sarah Palin said in a Facebook post that though people have the constitutional right to burn the Quran if they choose, doing so would be an “insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at ground zero.”
“I would hope that Pastor Terry Jones and his supporters will consider the ramifications of their planned book-burning event,” she wrote. “It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don’t feed that fire.”
Conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck wrote in an Internet blog that burning the Quran is like burning the flag or the Bible — something people can do in the United States, but shouldn’t. Legal experts have said the burning would likely be protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
“Our good Muslim friends and neighbors will be saddened,” Beck wrote. “It makes the battle that they face inside their own communities even harder.”
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, called on Beck to denounce the plan that he said would set off a massive reaction in parts of the Muslim world.
In Afghanistan, the plan provoked outrage.
“It is the duty of Muslims to react,” said Mohammad Mukhtar, a cleric and candidate for the Afghan parliament in the Sept. 18 election. “When their holy book Quran gets burned in public, then there is nothing left. If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed.”
Muslims consider the Quran along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad to be sacred. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect Quran is deeply offensive.
Jones’ Dove Outreach Center is independent of any denomination. It follows the Pentecostal tradition, which teaches that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in the modern day. Pentecostals often view themselves as engaged in spiritual warfare against satanic forces.
The Vatican also denounced the protest and a religious watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said it would send a copy of the Quran to the Afghan National Army for every one that might be burned.
Actress Angelina Jolie, in her capacity as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N.’s refugee agency, condemned the protest during a trip to Pakistan to raise awareness about the floods in the largely Muslim country.
Jones’ neighbors in Gainesville, a city of 125,000 anchored by the sprawling University of Florida campus, also have said they disapprove. At least two dozen Christian churches, Jewish temples and Muslim organizations in the city have mobilized to plan inclusive events — some will read from the Quran at their own weekend services. A student group is organizing a protest across the street from the church on Saturday.
And Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent candidate for U.S. Senate, said he’d be closely monitoring what happens to try to ensure safety.
“In addition to being offensive, the Gainesville protest puts at risk those brave Americans who are fighting abroad for the freedoms and values that we believe in as Americans,” Crist said in a statement.