A US church minister today insisted he will go ahead with plans to burn copies of the Koran in protest at the September 11 attacks despite the top general in Afghanistan warning it endanger American troops.
Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Florida said he understood general David Petraeus’ concerns, but plans to hold the burning on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the attacks.
Gen. Petraeus 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.”
The Rev Jones said he is also concerned but wonders how many times the US can back down.
“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,” he 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.”
The pastor, who runs the small, evangelical Christian church with an anti-Islam philosophy in Gainesville, said he has received more than 100 death threats and has started carrying a .40-calibre pistol.
The threats started not long after the 58-year-old minister proclaimed in July that he would stage “International Burn a Koran Day.” Supporters have been mailing copies of the Islamic holy text to his church to be incinerated in a bonfire.
The fire department has denied him a burn permit for September 11, but he has vowed to go ahead with his event. He said lawyers have told him his right to burn the Koran is protected by the First Amendment whether he has permission from the city or not.
Muslims consider the Koran 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 Mohammed. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Koran is deeply offensive.
At least two dozen Christian churches, Jewish temples and Muslim organisations in Gainesville are planning inclusive events – some will read from the Koran at their own weekend services – to counter what the Rev Jones is doing. A student group is organising a protest across the street from the church on September 11.
The Rev Jones, who has about 50 followers, gained some local notoriety last year when he posted signs in front of his small church proclaiming “Islam is of the Devil.” But his Koran-burning scheme, after it caught attention on the internet, brought rebukes from Muslim nations and an avalanche of media interview requests just as an emotional debate was taking shape over the proposed Islamic centre near the World Trade Centre site in New York.
The Koran, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than the Christian biblical truth and incites radical, violent behaviour among Muslims.