GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ The government turned up the pressure Tuesday on the head of a small Florida church who plans to burn copies of the Quran on September 11, warning him that doing so could endanger U.S. troops and Americans everywhere.
But the Rev. Terry Jones insisted he would go ahead with his plans, despite criticism from the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, the White House and the State Department, as well as a host of religious leaders.
Jones, who is known for posting signs proclaiming that Islam is the devil’s religion, says the Constitution gives him the right to publicly set fire to the book that Muslims consider the word of God.
Gen. David Petraeus warned Tuesday in an e-mail to The Associated Press that “images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan _ and around the world _ to inflame public opinion and incite violence.” It was a rare example of a military commander taking a position on a domestic political matter.
Jones responded that he is also concerned but is “wondering, ‘When do we stop?”‘ He refused to cancel the protest set for Saturday at his Dove World Outreach Center, a church that espouses an anti-Islam philosophy.
“How much do we back down? How many times do we back down?” Jones told the AP. “Instead of us backing down, maybe it’s to time to stand up. Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior.”
Still, Jones said he will pray about his decision.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the administration hoped Americans would stand up and condemn the church’s plan.
“We think that these are provocative acts,” Crowley said. “We would like to see more Americans stand up and say that this is inconsistent with our American values; in fact, these actions themselves are un-American.”
Meeting Tuesday with religious leaders to discuss recent attacks on Muslims and mosques around the U.S., Attorney General Eric Holder called the planned burning both idiotic and dangerous, according to a Justice Department official. The official requested anonymity because the meeting was private.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added her disapproval at a dinner Tuesday evening in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths,” Clinton said.
At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs echoed the concerns raised by Petraeus. “Any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration,” Gibbs told reporters.
Jones said he has received more than 100 death threats and has started wearing a .40-caliber pistol strapped to his hip.
The 58-year-old minister said the death threats started not long after he proclaimed in July that he would stage “International Burn-a-Quran Day.” Supporters have been mailing copies of the Islamic holy text to his church to be incinerated in a bonfire.
Jones, who has about 50 followers, gained some local notoriety last year when he posted signs in front of his small church declaring “Islam is of the Devil.” But his Quran-burning scheme attracted wider attention. It drew rebukes from Muslim nations and an avalanche of media interview requests just as an emotional debate was taking shape over the proposed Islamic center near the ground zero site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
The Quran, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.
“It’s hard for people to believe, but we actually feel this is a message that we have been called to bring forth,” he said last week. “And because of that, we do not feel like we can back down.”
Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is deeply offensive.
Jones’ Dove Outreach Center is independent of any denomination. The church follows the Pentecostal tradition, which teaches that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in the modern day. Pentecostals often view themselves as engaged in spiritual warfare against satanic forces.