Pastor ready to 'send a warning' by burning Koran


PASTOR Terry Jones says he’s “definitely praying” for God’s guidance about whether to go ahead with his “International Burn a Koran Day”.

As Jones prays, an extraordinary array of world organisations and celebrities have condemned his plan to “send a warning” to radical Muslims by burning their holy book on the grounds of his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday evening.

By yesterday, the Vatican, the United Nations, Nato, the White House, the US departments of defence, justice and state, dozens of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders – even the actor Angelina Jolie – had spoken out against Jones’s intended action.

Alluding to the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the Vatican’s pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue yesterday issued a statement saying: “These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection.”

Pope Benedict XVI angered Muslims in 2006 when he quoted a 14th-century text which criticised the prophet Muhammad for “evil and inhuman” actions “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.

On Tuesday evening, two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders from across the US held an “emergency summit” in the nation’s capital. “We are appalled by such disrespect for a sacred text that for centuries has shaped many of the great cultures of our world,” they said in a statement.

Speaking at the council on foreign relations, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that in a country of more than 310 million people, “it is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people, can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get the world’s attention.”

Mrs Clinton stressed that the Koran burning “doesn’t in any way represent America or Americans or American religious or political leadership . . . We want to be judged by who we are as a nation, not by something that is so aberrational. We are hoping that the pastor decides not to do this. We are hoping against hope that if he does it, it won’t be covered, as an act of patriotism.”

Gen David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan who launched the wave of official criticism, has warned that “images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan – and around the world – to inflame public opinion and incite violence”.

President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said the Koran burning would put US troops “in harm’s way”.

Angelina Jolie, who is working with flood victims in Pakistan, said she had “hardly the words” to express her opposition to burning someone else’s holy book.

After religious leaders met with US attorney general Eric Holder on Tuesday evening, Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, said Mr Holder described the planned Koran burning as “idiotic and dangerous”.

Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg is the only public figure who has supported Pastor Jones’s right to burn Korans. It may be distasteful, Mr Bloomberg said, but the first amendment of the US constitution protects even unpopular speech.

Mr Bloomberg uses a similar rationale to defend the planned construction of an Islamic community centre near the site of the 9/11 attacks. Ron Cunningham, a columnist for the Gainesville Sun, wrote that Pastor Jones’s “15 minutes of fame is beginning to feel like an eternity in purgatory”.

The town with a population of 100,000 has never known such notoriety, Mr Cunningham continued. “But now they’re talking about Gainesville in the White House, the Vatican and on the streets of Kabul, Islamabad and Jakarta. And not in a good way.”