Pastor of Florida church cancels plans to burn Qur'an, later reconsiders

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Friday, September 10, 2010

A protest in India against the planned September 11 Qur'an burning.
Image: Shabiha.

The leader of a Gainesville, Florida church announced yesterday that the church had canceled its plan to burn copies of the Qur'an tomorrow but later stated that he had reconsidered his decision. Earlier yesterday, Pastor Terry Jones said that the Dove World Outreach Center would cancel the burning of the Islamic holy book, stating that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, had agreed to relocate Park51, a mosque and community center to be located a few hundred meters away from the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In a press conference on Thursday, Jones announced that "we have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday and on Saturday I have agreed to meet with the Imam." However, Rauf has denied that he struck a deal with the pastor, saying that he was surprised by the announcement of a deal.

On Thursday night, Jones insisted that he had struck a deal with Rauf, saying that he had been "clearly, clearly lied to". Jones also said that he is having second thoughts of his earlier statement on Thursday afternoon.

"I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to burn any Qur'ans. However, I have not spoken to Pastor Jones," Rauf said on Thursday. He followed up, stating that "We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we here to barter. We are here to extend our hand to build peace and harmony."

The developer of the New York City mosque in question also denied that a deal had been reached with Jones, stating that "The Muslim community center called Park51 in lower Manhattan is not being moved. The project will proceed as planned."

On Wednesday, Jones had announced his intention to go ahead with the September 11 Qur'an burning. He also said that he has support from churches around the United States, and that people from around the country have been mailing him Qur'ans to burn. The pastor also said that he has received over 100 death threats and has taken to carrying a gun on his hip for self-defense. In the past, the Dove World Outreach Center has declared that "Islam is of the devil" and that the religion is "evil" as it does not teach that Jesus was the son of God. Even though the church announced that it would continue with the plan, Jones could run into trouble as the Gainesville fire department has denied the church a permit to burn the Qur'ans.

A 17th century Qur'an in the Victoria and Albert Museum
Image: Adam Morgan.

Many prominent figures have condemned the Qur'an burning. Yesterday morning, US president Barack Obama responded, "... what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans," and warned, "This is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda." In his interview recorded on Wednesday for Good Morning America, Obama stated that "this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan", adding, "This could increase the recruitment of individuals who'd be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities."

General David Petraeus, NATO commander in Afghanistan, said on Wednesday that the plan would endanger US troops worldwide. In response to the general's comments, Jones had told the press that "we understand the general's concerns, we are taking those into consideration. We feel it's maybe the right time for America to stand up. How long are we going to bow down? How long are we going to be controlled by the terrorists, by radical Islam? ... As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing."

Other prominent people from around the globe condemned the plan earlier this week, including the head of the US State Department, Hillary Clinton. She called it a "disrespectful, disgraceful act," while US Attorney General Eric Holder pitched in, calling the book burning "idiotic and dangerous."

Republican Tea Party activist and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin also chimed in, saying that burning the Qur'an would be an "insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at ground zero." She also said that people have the constitutional right to burn the book, and that "I would hope that Pastor Terry Jones and his supporters will consider the ramifications of their planned book-burning event. It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don't feed that fire."

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemned the plan, saying that his God was a tolerant God, and suggesting that freedom of religion comes from a tolerant spirit.

A coalition of religious leaders from different religions including Islam, Christianity and Judaism met in Washington to condemn "International Burn a Koran Day". People took to the streets in the Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan in protest. In Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, thousands of protesters gathered around the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta on Monday.

Due to the increase in tension caused by this activity, INTERPOL released an alert warning of attacks and asking member nations to contact the international police agency if they receive information on public safety hazards.

Despite the criticism, legal commentators say that Jones and his church have the constitutional right to burn the book, which is considered by Muslims to be the word of God. "The First Amendment, as it's been interpreted, would probably not win if it were put up to a vote. It is very hard to explain to people why this sort of conduct should be permitted," said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University.

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