Iranian Lawmaker Criticizes Saudis for Remaining Silent on Qur’an-Burning by American Pastor

By Patrick Goodenough | May 1, 2012 | 4:49am EDT

In this Sept. 9, 2010 picture, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center speaks to the media in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin, File)

( – Iran is demanding an apology from the U.S. government for the latest Qur’an burning by a Florida pastor who gained notoriety in 2010 for threatening to burn the Qur’an on the ninth anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks.

Some Iranian lawmakers tried to use the pastor’s latest publicity stunt to score points against Shi’ite Iran’s longstanding Sunni rival, Saudi Arabia.

Watched by a handful of followers in Gainesville, Fla., Terry Jones on Saturday torched a copy of the Qur’an and a purported image of Mohammed – one of the controversial Danish cartoons – in a protest he linked to the continuing imprisonment in Iran of Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor on death row for “apostasy.” The event was streamed live on the Internet and the clip has been posted on YouTube.

Iran’s foreign ministry quickly issued a condemnation, calling it part of a campaign aimed at promoting “Islamophobia.”

“Such indecent actions by the U.S. pastor definitely incite religious hatred and provoke the wrath of the world’s Muslims, and this makes the responsibility of the U.S. government heavier given its inaction to prevent the recurrence of such extremist actions,” it said.

“The international community is awaiting an immediate, strong, and clear action by the U.S. government to deal with the perpetrators of the sacrilegious act.”

The foreign ministry’s reaction received wide media coverage in Iran, although reports in official and pro-regime media outlets ignored the Nadarkhani angle.

Iran has generally remained silent on the plight of the pastor, although a government official did speak about him during a U.N. Human Rights Council session in March, denying that Nadarkhani faces the death penalty. Court documents state clearly that he was sentenced to death after being “convicted of turning his back on Islam.”

Some Iranian lawmakers seized on Jones’s actions to question the zeal of other Muslims.

Mohammad Kowsari, vice chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, criticized Saudi Arabia for not speaking out in defense of Islam, despite its claim to be guardian of the religion’s most revered sites.

“Saudi Arabian officials who consider themselves the custodians of the Ka’aba [in Mecca] and the House of the Prophet of Islam [in Medina] have not only remained silent on the Qur’an burning by the Americans, but have also gone along with them,” Iran’s Ahlul Bayt news agency quoted him as saying on Monday.

If all Islamic countries took a unified stance on the matter, he said, “enemies” would no longer burn or disrespect the Qur’an.

“This heinous act stems from the policies adopted by the Zionist regime and American politicians who after their defeats from Iran are trying show the holy book is responsible for their worldly failures by burning and desecrating the Quran,” Kowsari added.

Hossein Sheikholeslam, a diplomat who advises Iran’s parliamentary speaker on international affairs, also questioned what he called the Islamic world’s “inadequate” reaction to Qur’an desecration.

“The most important measure the Muslim world needs to take is mobilize against such policies and behaviors of the Zionists and Americans,” he told Iran’s International Qur’an News Agency.

Sheikholeslam accused the U.S. government and “the Zionists” of being behind such incidents.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu in a brief statement “deplored” the incident, but said it “should not be amplified by reactions and the perpetrators should be dealt with as justified by legal and ethical norms.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Monday said “the desecration of holy texts of any kind” was deplorable and disrespectful. “I frankly don’t want to give this issue or that individual any more air time here,” she said.

Asked about Iran’s demand for a U.S. apology, Nuland added, “This is the act of one individual and in no way reflects the values of the American people or of the U.S. government.”

Jones claims that International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander Gen. John Allen and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns both contacted him several days before the latest burning to express concern.

In its statement, the Iranian foreign ministry tried to link the Gainesville incident to the burning of Qur’ans at a U.S. base in Afghanistan last February, saying the Bagram incident had “led to” the one in Florida.

ISAF said the destruction of the texts at Bagram was not intended as a provocation. U.S. officials said the books were destroyed because they had been used to carry extremist messages between militant detainees held at the base.

That incident prompted a series of apologies from U.S. political and military leaders, including President Obama, but violent protests spread across Afghanistan.

More than 40 people were killed, among them six American soldiers – including two officers assassinated while working inside an Afghan government ministry.

The last time Jones’s small church burned a Qur’an, in March 2011, Pakistan’s government was first to condemn the act, followed by Iran and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Pakistani media and Islamist organizations fueled public anger for more than a week before the March 20 incident began to get coverage elsewhere in the Islamic world.

Protests then spread to Afghanistan, where – after Friday prayers on April 1 – Muslims attacked a U.N. compound. Seven foreign U.N. workers and four Afghan civilians were killed, and another 12 people died during two further days of rioting.

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