U.S. Commanders Warn Against U.S. Church's Plan To Burn Koran On 9/11
Date of Publication : Wednesday 8 September 2010 10:29
Two of the top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are criticizing plans by a small Christian church to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States by burning copies of the Koran.
The plan is envisioned by a church with about 50 members in the town of Gainesville, Florida, that calls itself the Dove World Outreach Center. Church leaders describe their organization as a "New Testament, charismatic, nondenominational church."
Local authorities in Gainesville have refused to give the church a permit to stage the book-burning rally. They say the plan will violate fire-safety rules. But Terry Jones, the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, says he intends to carry out the book burning on schedule.
General David Petraeus, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, says Jones' church risks undermining efforts by U.S. President Barack Obama to reach out to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.
Petraeus says Jones' plan is "precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses" to cause "significant problems" -- not just in Afghanistan, but everywhere in the world where the United States is engaged with the Islamic community.
'Jeopardize And Undermine'
The commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Caldwell, told journalists in Kabul on September 6 that the small church also could trigger retaliation against U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan.
"Their very actions will, in fact, jeopardize the safety of the young men and women who are serving in uniform over here," Caldwell said, "and also undermine the very mission that we are trying to accomplish."
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul also has criticized the plan as an "offensive initiative," saying in a statement that the U.S. government "in no way condones such acts of disrespect against the religion of Islam and is deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups."
The U.S. statement says: "Americans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds reject this offensive initiative by this small group in Florida. A great number of American voices are protesting the hurtful statements made by this organization."
The warnings from U.S. officials follow an angry protest in Kabul on September 6 by several hundred Afghans who carried banners with anti-U.S. slogans and chanted "Death to America" as they denounced the planned book burning.
'Stop Desecrating The Koran'
The Kabul protest was comprised mostly of Islamic school students like Wahidullah Nori, who gathered outside Milad ul-Nabi mosque in western Kabul.
"We're gathered here today to express our concern to America and we will continue with our demonstration every day," Nori said. "We call on America to stop desecrating our holy Koran."
Today, Iran weighed in on the controversy. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called on Western countries to "prevent the exploitation of freedom of expression to insult religious sanctities." Otherwise, he said, "the emotions of Muslim nations cannot be controlled."
In comments broadcast by CNN, Pastor Jones said it would be "tragic" if anybody's life was lost as a result of his church's planned Koran burning. But Jones says he and his congregation feel they "must sooner or later stand up" to the "fear and hatred being propagated by Islam."
The church's website says it seeks to "expose Islam" as a "violent and oppressive religion." It also displays a sign reading "Islam is of the Devil." The church made headlines last year when it distributed T-shirts printed with the same statement.
Reports about the desecration of the Koran by non-Muslims anywhere in the world have caused outrage in Afghanistan and other conservative Islamic countries. There have been frequent demonstrations and riots in Afghanistan in recent years amid rumors about foreign soldiers desecrating copies of the Koran.
In January, Afghan troops shot dead eight demonstrators and wounded 13 in southern Helmand Province during a riot that was triggered by rumors that foreign troops had desecrated a copy of the Koran during a raid. There also have been deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan against depictions of the Prophet Muhammad by newspaper editorial cartoonists in the West.
But there also has been growing anger against Muslims in the United States by conservatives and Christian extremists, who blame the religion of Islam for Al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Jones' plan to burn the Koran comes at a time of already heated debate in the United States over a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center and prayer center two blocks from the site of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
Opponents of the building plan say it is insensitive to families of the victims of Al-Qaeda. But the city of New York and Obama have supported the plan, saying it would be discriminatory to blame all Muslims -- instead of just radical Islamic extremists -- for the September 11 terrorist attacks.