Growing Resentment Over Florida Pastor’s Plan to Burn Qur’an on Sunday

Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay says a U.S. church’s plan to burn the Qur’an on Saturday – the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks – will put soldiers from Canada and other countries at risk in Afghanistan. MacKay’s comments regarding the plan by The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., are similar to those made earlier this week by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Petraeus said images of burning Qur’an could be used for the extremist cause. “I do believe that in Canada we are quick to embrace people’s expressions of freedom, but burning a Qur’an is no different than burning a Bible,” MackKay said Wednesday. “This is a book of faith… It’s important to point out that we are not fighting Islam or Muslims writ large in Afghanistan. We are fighting extremists,” he said from Victoria. (CBC) In a statement MacKay said, “This initiative is insulting to Muslims and Canadians of all faiths who understand that freedom of thought and freedom of religion are fundamental to our way of living.” (Reuters) Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs has also condemned the plan.

The White House and the U.S. State Department slammed the church’s plan on Tuesday, saying it would jeopardize U.S. lives in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton used a foreign policy talk to weigh in on hot button political issues Wednesday, slamming the pastor for his “disgraceful” plan. Clinton warned about the long-term consequences of rising federal budget deficits, arguing that they will eventually diminish U.S. power and impair America’s ability to act effectively in the global arena. Her remarks came during an appearance before the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations. It was her second major foreign policy speech there as secretary of state. Clinton said sadly that, “that’s the world we live in right now.” (CNN)

At the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Robert Gates told staff in a morning meeting that he “strongly endorsed” the view of his military commanders that any Qur’an-burning plan could endanger U.S. lives, said a Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Dave Lapan. General Ray Odierno, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said the event would only provoke Muslim extremists and increase threats to U.S. troops. “What this does is feed right into what they want. And they’ll use this to generate more hate. And what that will turn into is potentially more violence against U.S. troops,” Ordierno told NBC’s “Today” show. “I think there will be some backlash. I think you’ve started to see some already. And I’m worried that it will turn into violence against our troops (in) Iraq, Afghanistan and other places as well.”

An associate at the Florida church said Wednesday he doesn’t believe the burning will lead to any deaths. “I don’t believe that anyone would die as a result of something we do,” Wayne Sapp told CBC News. “People have to be accountable for their own actions… If a radical element of Islam is violent, if it’s out to take American lives, today it will use this as an excuse. Tomorrow it will find something else.” Despite the criticism, the church appears undaunted. “We feel like the Qur’an is a very deceptive, very violent teaching,” Sapp said. “It leads people in a direction that as we see in radical Islam, brings about a very violent nature.” (CBC) Sapp said the plan has brought worldwide attention to the issue of radical Islam.

The Dove World Outreach Center is led by Pastor Terry Jones, who appeared on CBS’s Early Show, to say the burning will proceed. “We are still determined to do it, yes,” Jones announced. He said he wanted the Qur’an-burning event to send a “warning” to what he called hard-line Muslims, who he said were intent on exerting influence over the United States. “We are sending a message to them that we don’t want them to do as they appear to be doing in Europe,” Jones said. “We want them to know if they’re in America, they need to obey our law and constitution and not slowly push their agenda on us.” (Reuters) Jones is a mustachioed pastor with mutton-chop sideburns who has authored a book titled “Islam is Of the Devil.”

Other religious groups are firing back, planning their own events in response. Larry Reimer, a pastor at the United Church of Gainesville, said Jones has about 30 people worshiping with him. “He represents virtually no one.” Reimer called the plan dangerous, hurtful and harmful. “It’s disrespectful and has nothing to do with God, who tells us to love one another,” Reimer said. (CBC) He planned to deliver a 3,000-signature petition to Jones on Friday asking him not to burn the Muslim holy book. Authorities in Gainesville say they are stepping up special security measures for Saturday’s event at Jone’s church. Law enforcement officials said a number of death threats, including one reported to be from a known “terrorist organization,” have been made against Jones, and the FBI and federal agencies were working with Gainesville authorities. Local authorities have warned Jones that he would violate city ordinances if he went ahead without proper authorization. City officials have denied his request for a burn permit.

In addition, Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders say they will read passages from the Qur’an at services this weekend.

Actress Angelina Jolie, visiting Pakistan to highlight the plight of millions of people devastated by the country’s worst floods, said on Wednesday she “hardly had the words” to express her opposition. (Reuters)

In Iran, the planned Qur’an-burning drew protest from a leading cleric. “I along with 1.5 billion Muslims… condemn this brutal and savage spirit… I warn about its consequences,” Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpaygani told Iran’s Students News Agency ISNA. “If it happens, Obama should be tried for it and this priest should be arrested immediately and his church must be shut down forever,” he said. (Reuters)

The planned Qur’an-burning on the anniversary of September 11, 2001, attacks on United States has attracted worldwide condemnation and touched off protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. It also comes near the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and amid heightened tensions in the United States over a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York. Opponents of the building plan say it is insensitive to families of the victims of the attacks by militant Islamist group al-Qaeda.

With anger growing in Afghanistan over the proposed Qur’an-burning, Afghan police went on alert to guard against more protests. The United Nations called the event “abhorrent” and the Vatican also added to a growing chorus of global criticism.

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