MIAMI, Florida September 08, 2010- A church planning to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11 is ‘definitely praying’ about the controversial demonstration, its pastor said after Gen. David Petraeus warned it would put in danger the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
In an interview on CNN, Terry Jones, of the Dove World Outreach Church in Gainesville, Fla., appeared to suggest church members might decide not to go ahead with the controversial demonstration.
Jones, author of a book called “Islam is of The Devil,” told CNN’s “American Morning” show that the burning was designed to send a message to radical Islam.
But when he was asked about the views of Petraeus, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Jones said: “We are actually very, very concerned of course; we are taking the general’s words serious. We are continuing to pray about the action on September 11. But we don’t know, how long do we back down?”
Pressed on whether this meant the church might decide not to burn the Quran, Jones told the show: “We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely praying about it.”
“We are weighing the thing that we are about to do. What it possibly could cause, what is our actual message, what are we trying to get across?” he added.
A Facebook group has been set up called ‘International Burn A Koran Day’ and is linked to from the church’s website. As of Tuesday morning, it had 8,539 members.
A member of the church, Fran Ingram, told msnbc.com that they had a “stack of about 150” Qurans, which she said had been sent from across the world. “We are expecting to burn about 200 at least,” she said.
“I think we should go ahead personally,” Ingram added. “That’s what I think. I stand with the pastors. We need to go ahead with it.”
However, asked about how she would feel if the church decided to abandon the event, she told msnbc.com: “I would be in agreement … not like a puppet on a string … I believe in the word of God. We are hearing what God wants us to do.”
She said “a few of the pastors” would burn the Qurans on a field outside the church, while she and other members of the congregation remained inside. “They are going to take the risk,” Ingram said.
Jones, who runs the small, evangelical Christian church with an anti-Islam philosophy, says he has received more than 100 death threats and has started wearing a .40-caliber pistol strapped to his hip.
On Monday, Petraeus said the Quran-burning event would be exploited by the Taliban.
“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” he said. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world, we are engaged with the Islamic community.”
Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, told CNN the news of event was already provoking popular anger in Afghanistan.
“It’s their Holy Book, so when somebody says that they’re going to destroy that and cause a desecration to something that’s very sacred to them, it’s already stirred up a lot of discussion and concern amongst the people,” he said.
“We very much feel that this could jeopardize the safety of our men and women that are serving over here,” Caldwell added.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Washington Tuesday that he “strongly condemned” the church’s plan.
“I think such actions are in a strong contradiction with all of the values we stand for and fight for,” he said.
“Of course, there is a risk it may also have a negative impact on the security for our troops,” Rasmussen added.
‘Death to America’
In Kabul, several hundred demonstrators, mostly students from religious schools who gathered outside Kabul’s Milad ul-Nabi mosque on Monday, rallied to protest against the church’s plan.
“We call on America to stop desecrating our Holy Quran,” student Wahidullah Nori told Reuters. Some in the crowd chanted “Death to America.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the “United States government in no way condones such acts of disrespect against the religion of Islam, and is deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups”.
“Americans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds reject this offensive initiative by this small group in Florida, a great number of American voices are protesting the hurtful statements made by this organization,” it said in a statement.
Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is deeply offensive.
In this progressive north Florida town of 125,000 anchored by the sprawling University of Florida campus, the lanky preacher with the bushy white mustache is mostly seen as a fringe character who doesn’t deserve the attention he’s getting.
Still, at least two dozen Christian churches, Jewish temples and Muslim organizations in Gainesville have mobilized to plan inclusive events — some will read from the Quran at their own weekend services — to counter what Jones is doing. A student group is organizing a protest across the street from the church Saturday.
The Vatican newspaper on Tuesday published an article in which Catholic bishops, including Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore, Pakistan, criticized Jones’ plan.
“No one burns the Quran,” read the headline in Tuesday’s L’Osservatore Romano.
The fire department has denied Jones a required burn permit for Sept. 11, but he has vowed to go ahead with his event. He said lawyers have told him his right to burn the Quran is protected by the First Amendment whether he’s got permission from the city or not.
The Dove World Outreach Church describes itself as “New Testament, Charismatic, Non-Denominational.”
The church’s website says it seeks to “expose Islam” as a “violent and oppressive religion.” It displays a sign reading “Islam is of the Devil.”
The website’s front page has a blog by Ingram entitled “Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran.”
‘We do not hate any people’
“We are using this act [burning the Quran] to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful. We do not hate any people, however. We love, as God loves, all the people in the world,” Ingram wrote in the article, dated Sept. 2.
The dispute comes at a time of already heated debate over a proposal to build a cultural center and mosque two blocks away from the site in New York of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Opponents of the building plan say it is insensitive to families of the victims of the attacks by al-Qaida.
U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan soon after those attacks for harboring al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden.
Demonstrations and riots triggered by reported desecration of the Quran are not infrequent in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. The most violent protests came after cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2006.
Last January, Afghan troops shot and killed eight demonstrators and wounded 13 in southern Helmand province in a riot triggered by a report that foreign troops had desecrated the Quran during a raid. A spokesman for NATO forces denied the report.