The top US commander in Afghanistan has warned that a church pastor’s plan to burn copies of the Koran during a 9/11 memorial service may jeopardize the lives of US soldiers serving overseas.
Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, has announced plans to burn copies of Islam’s sacred book on the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Critics say the announcement is just a publicity stunt hosted by a small church looking for free press, while others see the plan as fanning the flames of hatred, potentially putting American soldiers in the Middle East in harm’s way.
General David Petraeus denounced the action, saying it could spark a backlash against US forces "not just in Kabul, but everywhere in the world".
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort," Petraeus said in a statement to US media. "It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems.
"Not just here, but everywhere in the world, we are engaged with the Islamic community," the commander added.
Petraeus leads a 150,000-strong NATO force against Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
In a comment to the Wall Street Journal, Jones acknowledged the US commander’s concerns, but appeared determined to go ahead with the “libricide” anyway.
"We must send a clear message to the radical element of Islam,” Jones said. “We will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats."
Protests against the pastor and his little-known church, which has a 50-member congregation in Gainesville, Florida, have been reported in Afghanistan and Indonesia, as well as in churches and communities across the United States.
Meanwhile, the Islamic advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations is promoting "Share the Koran" dinners to enlighten the public about the book Muhammad during the month-long religious feast of Ramadan that began in August.
"American Muslims and other people of conscience should support positive educational efforts to prevent the spread of Islamophobia," said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper in the release.
The National Association of Evangelicals, meanwhile, released a statement urging the church to cancel the event, warning it could exasperate tensions between the two religions.Meanwhile, US Attorney General, Eric Holder, called the idea "idiotic and dangerous".
Dove's Facebook page, created with the book burning event in mind, reportedly has more than 1,600 readers. But many visitors to these sites have expressed their repugnance at the idea, with one individual going so far as to question the “real perpetrators” of 9/11.
“I find it detestable that Muslims are being demonized for the events of 9/11,” wrote “Anne” from Des Moines, Iowa. “There has never been a reliable investigation of the events surrounding what really happened that tragic day, but it seems that Islam is being used as a scapegoat now for everything.”
Another contributor, who went by the name “Dallas”, called the actions of the church “unforgivable and framed in a Nazi mindset.”
The latest controversy, which is pitting Christian versus Muslims over the question of 9/11, not to mention religious toleration, comes amidst a controversial proposal to build “Cordoba House”, an Islamic community center, near Ground Zero, site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City.
The debate has served as a lightning rod for raw emotion, with one side arguing that America was built on the foundation of religious tolerance and therefore should permit the construction. The other side says Muslims should not be allowed to gather at a spot so close to the site of America’s worst domestic attack, which many American people believe was orchestrated by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from his hideout in Taliban territory.
The events of September 11, 2001, were responsible for getting the United States involved in two devastating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which the American people have sacrificed great blood and money fighting.
Desecration of the Koran has caused the United States problems in the past.
In December 2008, deadly protests erupted in Afghanistan when it was reported that a US soldier in Iraq destroyed a copy of the holy book with bullets.
In September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, in what it described as an attempt to contribute to the debate over Islam and self-censorship, published a series of 12 cartoons that showed the Prophet Muhammad in various unflattering poses. The publication led to riots in the Muslim world, where it was estimated that over 100 people were killed.
As of Wednesday, the pastor remained defiant in the face of international condemnation, saying the book burning event will go ahead as planned on Sept. 11 between between 6 PM and 9 PM.