Burning the Quran would an "outrageous and grave gesture," the
Vatican said Wednesday, joining a chorus of voices pleading with a small
Florida church not to burn Islam's holy book on the anniversary of the
September 11, 2001, attacks.
The Vatican body responsible for dialogue with other religions said
expressed "great concern" about the plan by Dove World Outreach Center in
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it would be a
"disrespectful, disgraceful act." She was speaking Tuesday night at a State
Department dinner in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Her statement came a day after the top U.S. military commander in
Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, warned that the plan "could cause significant
problems" for American troops overseas.
But the pastor of the Florida church, Terry Jones, has rebuffed pleas to
call off the event, saying radical Islamists are the target of his message.
"The general needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to
shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them,"
Jones said on CNN's "AC360."
"We are burning the book," Jones said. "We are not killing someone. We
are not murdering people."
Earlier Tuesday, Jones said his flock was taking Petraeus's warning
seriously but had not decided to cancel the event.
Jones told CNN that while his congregation still plans to burn Qurans to
protest the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the church is "weighing" its
"We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely
praying about it," Jones said on CNN's "American Morning."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the few public officials who
defended Jones's right to go ahead, even as he condemned the idea as
"I don't think he would like if somebody burned a book that in his
religion he thinks is holy.... But the First Amendment protects everybody, and
you can't say that we are going to apply the First Amendment to only those
cases where we are in agreement," Bloomberg said, citing the section of the
Constitution that promises freedom of speech.
"If you want to be able to say what you want to say when the time comes
that you want to say it, you have to defend others no matter how much you
disagree with them," Bloomberg said.
The planned action has drawn sharp criticism from Muslims around the
world and from U.S. officials.
The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan condemned it as "disrespectful, intolerant
and divisive," in a statement on Wednesday.
"We are deeply concerned about all deliberate attempts to offend members
of any religious or ethnic group," said Stephen Engelken, the second-ranking
diplomat at the embassy.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday issued a statement
saying 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."
It emphasized that it strongly condemned "the offensive messages, which
are contrary to U.S. government policy and deeply offensive to Muslims
especially during the month of Ramadan."
"Americans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds reject the offensive
initiative by this small group in Florida. A great number of American voices
are protesting the hurtful statements made by this organization," the
Afghanistan embassy said.
With about 120,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops still battling al Qaeda and
its allies in the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban movement, Petraeus warned that
burning Qurans "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."
Thousands of Indonesians gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta,
Indonesia, on Sunday to protest the planned Quran burning.
"The burning is not only an insult to the holy Quran, but an insult to
Islam and Muslims around the world," said Muhammad Ismail, a spokesman for the
hard-line Indonesian Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population.
Jones said his congregation is aware that the action is offensive.
"We realize that this action would indeed offend people, offend the
Muslims. I am offended when they burn the flag. I am offended when they burn
the Bible. But we feel that the message that we are trying to send is much more
important than people being offended."
Jones said Muslims are welcomed in the United States, if they observe the
Constitution and don't try to impose Sharia, or Muslim law.
The message, he said, is directed toward the "radical element of Islam."
"Our message is very clear," he said. "It is not to the moderate Muslim.
Our message is not a message of hate. Our message is a message of warning to
the radical element of Islam, and I think what we see right now around the
globe provides exactly what we're talking about," he said.
The center says it was founded in 1986 as a "total concept church for the
rich, the poor, the young and the old." Its purpose is to "stand up for
righteousness and for the truth of the Bible." It stresses that "Christians
must return to the truth and stop hiding."