BURNING ISSUE: Obama appeals for tolerance on 9/11 anniversary

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama last night appealed for religious tolerance amid the Koran-burning controversy.

Reminding Americans that the “overwhelming majority” of Muslims around the world are peace-loving people, he described Pastor Terry Jones’ plans to burn copies of the Koran as a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida”.

Obama said it was imperative that people in the US distinguish between their real enemies and those who only still have the potential to become enemies because of continued vilification of Islam in the United States. At a time when polls suggest that a substantial number of Americans erroneously believe that Obama is Muslim, the president cited his own Christian faith at one point.

“We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other,” he said at a news conference in the East Room of the White House.

“We may call that god different names, but we remain one nation. And, you know, as somebody who, you know, relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand, you know, the passions that religious faith can raise.”

Pastor Jones, who planned an International Burn-a-Koran Day, last night challenged the imam overseeing plans for a controversial Islamic centre in New York to start talks. The pastor had planned to fly to New York last night and hoped to meet Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf today, on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US, to discuss unhappiness about the centre being sited close to Ground Zero.

He had to reconsider when Imam Rauf said he had no plans to meet the pastor, although he was open to seeing anyone “seriously committed to pursuing peace”.

Last night, Jones said he had “a challenge to give to the imam in New York”. Standing outside his church, the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida, he handed over to KA Paul, a controversial Christian preacher who has been praying with the pastor.

Paul gave out his own telephone number and that of another pastor and gave Imam Rauf a two-hour deadline to get in touch.

Paul said it was legally acceptable for the Islamic centre to be built near the Twin Towers site but not morally acceptable.

“Is it the right thing to burn the Koran? Legally can the pastor burn the Koran tomorrow?” he then asked. “Legally it’s right but is it the right thing to do? No.”

His remarks suggested the pastor was standing by his earlier decision to cancel the bonfire planned for today.

Jones had called off the protest, saying he had been promised the centre’s location would be changed, but then admitted he was reconsidering after it emerged no such commitment had been made by the imam.

Meanwhile, chair of the Irish Council of Imams, Hussein Halawa, said he hopes the pastor will not burn copies of the Koran as such action would be an act of terror and would lead to terror and violent retaliation.

Picture: Pakistani lawyers burn a U.S. flag while rallying in reaction to a small American church's plan to burn copies of the Koran in Multan, Pakistan on Thursday


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