The leader of a small church in Florida that espouses an anti-Islam philosophy said he was still praying about whether to burn copies of the Qur’an on September 11, a plan the White House, religious leaders and others are pressuring him to call off.
The Reverend Terry Jones said he has received more than 100 death threats and has started wearing a .40-caliber pistol strapped to his hip but still did not back off his plan on Tuesday to burn the book Muslims consider the word of God and insist be treated with the utmost respect. The 58-year-old minister said the death threats started not long after he proclaimed in July that he would stage “International Burn-a-Qur’an Day.”
Supporters, though, have been mailing copies of the holy text to his church of about 50 followers to be incinerated in a bonfire on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
General David Petraeus took the rare step of a military leader taking a position on a domestic matter when he warned in an email to the Associated Press that “images of the burning of a Qur’an would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence.” Jones responded that he is also concerned but is “wondering, ‘When do we stop?”‘
He refused to cancel the protest at his Dove World Outreach Centre but said he was still praying about it.
‘Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam’
“How much do we back down? How many times do we back down?” Jones told the AP. “Instead of us backing down, maybe it’s time to stand up. Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behaviour.”
Jones gained some local notoriety last year when he posted signs in front of his church declaring “Islam is of the Devil.” But his Qur’an-burning idea attracted wider attention. It drew rebukes from Muslim nations and at home as an emotional debate was taking shape over the proposed Islamic centre near the Ground Zero site of the 2001 attacks in New York.
His actions most likely would be protected by the US Constitution’s guarantee of free speech. The US Supreme Court has made clear in several landmark rulings that speech deemed offensive to many people, even the majority of people, cannot be suppressed by the government unless it is clearly directed to intimidate someone or amounts to an incitement to violence, legal experts said.
The fire department has denied Jones a required burn permit, but he said lawyers have told him he has the right to burn the Qur’ans, with or without the city’s permission.
Legal or not, US Attorney General Eric Holder during a meeting on Tuesday with religious leaders to discuss recent attacks on Muslims and mosques around the U.S. called the planned burning idiotic and dangerous, according to a Justice Department official. The official requested anonymity because the meeting was private.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added her disapproval at a dinner in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths,” Clinton said.
Interfaith Solidarity Day
Local religious leaders in Gainesville, a progressive city of 125 000 anchored by the sprawling University of Florida campus also criticised the lanky preacher with the bushy white mustache. At least two dozen Christian churches, Jewish temples and Muslim organisations in the city have mobilised to plan inclusive events — some will read from the Qur’an at their own weekend services. A student group is organising a protest across the street from the church on Saturday.
Gainesville’s new mayor, Craig Lowe, who during his campaign became the target of a Jones-led protest because he is openly gay, has declared September 11 Interfaith Solidarity Day in the city.
At the White House, spokesperson Robert Gibbs echoed the concerns raised by Petraeus. “Any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration,” Gibbs told reporters.
The Qur’an, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behaviour among Muslims.
Muslims consider the Qur’an 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 Qur’an is deeply offensive.
Jones’ Dove Outreach Centre 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 world’s leading Sunni Muslim institution of learning, Al-Azhar University in Egypt, accused the church of stirring up hate and discrimination, and called on other American churches speak out against it.
Last month, Indonesian Muslims demonstrated outside the US embassy in Jakarta, threatening violence if Jones goes through with
Jones dismisses the response of the other churches as “cowardly.” He said even if they think burning Qur’ans is extreme, Christian ministers should be standing with him in denouncing the principles of Islam. – Sapa-AP