- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A proposed book-burning by an evangelical pastor in a Florida college town this weekend has inflamed sensitivities from Afghanistan to Washington, D.C., and added a new irritant to U.S. relations with Muslims abroad.

The Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., said Tuesday that he will go ahead with his plans to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday in remembrance of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, even though U.S. officials said it could endanger U.S. troops, tourists and diplomats overseas.

But an interfaith coalition in Washington denounced Mr. Jones‘ plan as anti-Islamic bigotry, while a spokesman for the State Department called it “un-American” and the U.S. commander of troops in Afghanistan said it likely would “incite violence” among extremists around the world.

What’s more, Brian Robertson, a spokesman of Families of September 11, said burning the Koran can serve “no useful purpose whatsoever.”

“This is not the America that we all have grown to love and care about,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a member of the interfaith coalition that held a news conference in Washington. “We have to stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters and say, “This is not OK.’”

The interfaith group included representatives from Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths, including the former archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. The Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on Tuesday published an article with the headline “No one burns the Koran” and denounced Mr. Jones‘ plan.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces, said the planned burning of the Koran “could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort” in Afghanistan.

“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,” Gen. Petraeus said in a statement.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said during a briefing with reporters that the Obama administration strongly opposes the Florida pastor’s plan.

“We think that these are provocative acts,” Mr. Crowley said. “We would like to see more Americans stand up and say that this is inconsistent with our American values. In fact, these actions themselves are un-American.”

Both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also strongly denounced the planned book-burning.

“I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Mr. Jones, who has written a book titled “Islam Is of the Devil,” left open the possibility Tuesday of changing his mind, saying he is praying about his decision to mark the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks by burning the Koran at his small Christian congregation in Gainesville, home of the University of Florida.

But in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, he said he intends to carry out the book-burning.

“We think it’s time to turn the tables, and instead of possibly blaming us for what could happen, we put the blame where it belongs — on the people who would do it,” Mr. Jones said. “And maybe instead of addressing us, we should address radical Islam and send a very clear warning that they are not to retaliate in any form.”

Mr. Jones did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Times.

In Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday hundreds of protesters chanting “Long live Islam” and “Death to America” set fire to an effigy of Mr. Jones.

Protests also have erupted in India and Indonesia.

“Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday,” Gen. Petraeus said.

“Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult,” he added.

Mr. Robertson, of the Families of September 11, said Gen. Petraeus‘ comments “speak for themselves, and that is a fairly powerful statement.”

Families of the victims of Sept. 11 maintain a “quiet presence” on the anniversaries of the attacks, he said, and are encouraged to attend official ceremonies.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he worries that Mr. Jones‘ protest could send the wrong message around the world.

“Unfortunately, not most of the people in the Muslim world really understand that this is a tiny, fringe group with a church of some 50 people that has been repudiated and rejected by all mainstream religious groups in America,” Mr. Hooper said.

“It will be unfortunate if all the Muslim world sees or hears are images of Korans being burned in America and not understanding the American context of the First Amendment that doesn’t allow the government to prevent such a thing,” he added.

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