by Frederick Cosby, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com
Ignoring an avalanche of criticism from the White House, Justice Department, State Department, an interfaith coalition of religious leaders and the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, the pastor of a small Florida evangelical Christian church says he plans to go forward with his plans to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11.
Gen. David Petraeus led the cascade of criticism against the Pastor Terry Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., saying that the Quran-burning event will produce the perfect recruiting tool for extremists overseas and could hurt U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.
“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,” Petraeus said in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
Jones said he took Petraeus’ words seriously, but vowed to press on with the Quran-burning.
“Instead of us being blamed for what other people will do or might do, why don’t we send a warning to them?” Jones told Sky News. “Why don’t we send a warning to radical Islam and say, don’t do it. If you attack us, if you attack us, we will attack you.”
Jones’ so-called “International Burn a Quran Day” comes amid a heated debate over the proposed construction of a large Islamic center and mosque two blocks from where the World Trade Center’s twin towers stood before two hijacked airliners felled the giant structures on Sept. 11, 2001.
Opponents of the project, called Park51, say its sacrilege and insensitive to survivors of the attack to build the center so close to what they feel is hallowed ground, despite the presence in the area of bars, an off-track betting parlor, a strip club and a small mosque that’s been in the neighborhood before the World Trade Center opened its doors.
Supporters of the project, including President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, argue that the developers have the right under religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution to build the center.
At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs echoed Petraeus’ sentiments that the Quran-burning could pose a problem for U.S. troops. “Any (type) of activity like that … that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.”
Attorney General Eric Holder, in a meeting Tuesday with an interfaith group of religious leaders, called Jones’ plan “idiotic and dangerous.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at an Iftar meal at the State Department to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said she was “heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful act that has come from American religious leaders from all faiths … as well as secular U.S. leaders and opinion makers.”
Earlier in the day, P.J. Crowley, a state department spokesman, called the Quran-burning event “un-American.”
“The pastor says that, you know, he’s contemplating these actions to combat radicalism,” Crowley told reporters. “In fact, these actions, if they take place – we hope they don’t – will actually feed radicalism. As Gen. Petraeus mentioned over the weekend … given social media, they can have at least as powerful an impact as the tragic events and photos Abu Ghraib had.”
Crowley’s sentiments were echoed by a multi-ethnic, multi-racial group of leaders that included Muslims, Jews and Christians. They condemned Jones’ event during a news conference at Washington’s National Press Club.
“This is not the America we all have grown to love and care about,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “We have to stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters and say ‘This is not okay.”
“This is not America,” added Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington. “America was not built on hate.”