Quran-Burning Church Wants to ‘Shock The World Into Focus’
An issue that has been simmering for two months sparked a fresh media frenzy following General David Petraeus’ warning Monday that the planned Quran-burning by the Gainesville-based Dove World Outreach Center could endanger American troops in Afghanistan and be used to incite violence around the world.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday evening commented to a mostly Muslim audience on Dove World pastor Terry Jones’ “plans to burn the Holy Quran on September 11.”
“I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths, from evangelical Christians to Jewish rabbis, as well as secular U.S. leaders and opinion-makers.”
She was speaking to guests, including ambassadors and diplomats and “70 young American Muslim leaders,” at an Iftar (a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner) at the State Department.
Clinton may also address the issue during a major foreign policy address at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Tuesday.
Crowley called the Quran-burning plans “un-American.”
“While it may well be within someone’s rights to take this action, we believe and hope that cooler heads will prevail and other ways can be found to promote a dialogue among the world’s greatest religions,” he said.
Crowley said the incident could endanger not only U.S. troops but also diplomats and citizens abroad.
Jones said in a number of interviews Tuesday the church planned to go ahead with the event on Saturday.
His church, which earlier put forward 10 reasons why it thought the Quran should be burned, added another five in an online posting Tuesday: “Shock the world into focus …get people to start asking hard questions …remind the world we still have freedom of speech … expose the truth … [and] force the world into action.”
“Amidst the capitulation of U.S. generals, municipal fire departments, and various religious leaders, it seems appropriate to provide a reminder for those who are not too familiar with certain inalienable rights of Americans …” it says, then goes on to quote the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The posting ends with a comment about the warnings of violent reprisals.
“A small church, in a small town, down a back road, burning copies of its own books, on its own property, is not responsible for the violent actions anyone may take in retaliation to our protest,” it says. “If violence happens in reaction to this, the violence was not caused by us, it has just been exposed.”
‘Brothers and sisters in Christ at risk’
Some of that predicted violence could well target Dove World’s co-religionists in the Islamic world, according to organizations working in countries where Christians are a vulnerable, sometimes persecuted minority.
“Already Muslim militants in Indonesia have promised to kill Indonesian Christians if Qurans are burned in Florida, and the history of anti-Christian violence in the country suggests that this is not an idle threat,” Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the Barnabas Fund, said Tuesday.
“Barnabas partners in Iraq have expressed concern at the probable Muslim backlash against an already beleaguered Iraqi Church. And Christians in numerous other places who live in daily fear of potentially deadly attacks will at once be placed in much greater danger,” he said. “It cannot be right to exercise our freedom to protest in a way that puts at risk the lives of our brothers and sisters, for whom Christ died.”
Sookhdeo, an expert on radical Islam, urged Dove World not to carry out its protest.
“Barnabas Fund is fully committed to making known the aspects of Islam that result in injustice and oppression of non-Muslims, not least the persecution of Christians,” he said.
“But we believe that the biblical and Christ-like way to do this is by speaking the truth in the power of God’s love, and by extending that love to Muslim people even when they are hostile to us. In that context it can never be justified to destroy a book that Muslims regard as sacred, however firmly and profoundly we may disagree with its contents.”
Pakistan Christian Congress president Nazir Bhatti also appealed to Jones not to go ahead with an event which he said would provide radical Islamists with another excuse to attack already at-risk Christians in Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere.
‘Contradicts the values we fight for’
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen added his voice Tuesday to condemnation of the Quran-burning plans.
“I think it’s a disrespectful action and in general I really urge people to respect other people’s faith and behave respectfully,” he told reporters ahead of a meeting with President Obama.
“I think such actions are in strong contradiction with all the values we stand for and fight for.”
Before he took the helm at NATO, Rasmussen in his capacity as prime minister of Denmark became a hate figure for many Muslims when he defended the publication of the “Mohammed cartoons” on free speech grounds. The incident unleashed a furor in the Muslim world, with a boycott of Danish goods and protests, some violent, in many countries.
In April 2009, NATO member Turkey with the backing of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) sought to block Rasmussen’s appointment to head the 26-nation alliance, citing his role in the cartoon affair.
The dispute cast a shadow over NATO’s 60th anniversary summit before mediation by Obama saw Rasmussen duly appointed to the post. He pledged to “pay close attention to the religious and cultural sensibilities of the different communities that populate our increasingly pluralistic and globalized world.”
The Dane did not offer the apology many Muslims wanted, but did say during an Alliance of Civilization event in Istanbul that he was “deeply distressed that the cartoons were seen by many Muslims as an attempt by Denmark to mark and insult or behave disrespectfully towards Islam or the prophet Mohammed. Nothing could be further from my mind.”