The leader of a tiny US church said today he was determined to burn copies of the Koran on September 11, despite pleas from the White House, the military, the Vatican and Angelina Jolie.
“We are still determined to it, yes,” the Rev. Terry Jones said.
He said he has received more than 100 death threats and has started wearing a pistol since announcing his plan to burn the book Muslims consider the word of God and insist be treated with the utmost respect.
The 58-year-old minister proclaimed in July that he would stage “International Burn-a-Koran Day” at his church in Gainesville, Florida.
Supporters have been mailing copies of the Koran for him to put on a bonfire on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
General David Petraeus, head of the US military in Afghanistan, 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.”
Secretary of State Hillary 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,” she said.
Angelina Jolie condemned the plan during a trip to Pakistan to raise awareness about the floods that have devastated the largely Muslim country.
“I have hardly the words that somebody would do that to somebody’s religious book,” she said.
The Vatican denounced it “outrageous and grave” and said every religion had the right to expect that its sacred books, places of worship and symbols would be respected.
A White House spokesman said: “Any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.”
Meeting with religious leaders to discuss recent attacks on Muslims and mosques around the US, Attorney General Eric Holder called the planned burning both idiotic and dangerous.
David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Barack Obama said today: “The reverend may have the right to do what he’s doing but it’s not right. It’s not consistent with our values. ... I hope that his conscience and his good sense will take hold.”
The Rev. Jones said he was concerned about worldwide reaction but was “wondering, ’When do we stop?”’ He refused to cancel the protest at his Dove World Outreach Centre.
“How much do we back down? How many times do we back down?” he said. “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.”
In Afghanistan, Jones’ planned burning continued to provoke outrage.
“It is the duty of Muslims to react,” said Mohammad Mukhtar, a cleric and candidate for the Afghan parliament in the September 18 election. “When their holy book Koran gets burned in public, then there is nothing left. If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed.”
Kabul resident, Rajab Ali said, “If this (burning of the Koran) happens there will be chaos in Afghanistan and being a Muslim, if we don’t defend the Koran then what else we can do?”
The Koran, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behaviour among Muslims.
Muslims consider the Koran along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed to be sacred. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to it 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.