Pentagon urges controversial Florida pastor to stop Qu’ran burning plans
By Rizwan Khatik - Sat Apr 21, 12:17 pm
The Pentagon is appealing to Florida pastor Terry Jones against repeating last year’s burning of the Qur’ran and images of Muhammad that led to widespread rioting and deaths round the world.
US officials are monitoring the situation and the military is fearful for the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere if Jones goes ahead with his plan, announced on his website, to set fire to the Qur’an next week.
Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida and self-appointed scourge of Islam, has set a deadline of 5pm on Saturday April 28 for his demands to be met for the release of a Christian religious leader in Iran.
If the Iranian cleric Youcef Nadarkhani is still imprisoned, Jones says he will set fire to a Qur’n and multiple images of Muhammad.
The threat from Jones comes on top of a row over the publication this week by the Los Angeles Times of pictures showing US troops with dismembered bodies in Afghanistan in 2010 and the apparently accidental burning of Qur’ans and Islamic religious documents by US troops at Bagram airport in Afghanistan in February that left 41 dead and more than 200 injured.
The last time Jones organised such a spectacle was on March 20 last year when he burned a Qur’an dressed in a judicial robe in the grounds of his church. The act prompted attacks on a UN compound in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan in which seven UN employees died, and there were other fatal protests around the region.
Asked by the Guardian whether the cost in terms of lives lost of his previous escapade did not make him pause, Jones said that the impact of his Qur’an burning was not his responsibility. “What happened last time and what could happen this time is not our responsibility. All we did was burn a book. It posed no threat to anyone else, yet riots broke out several thousand miles away – which just proves how extreme Islam is.”
In the run-up to his March 2011 burning, there were numerous interventions of senior US officials, right up to Barack Obama, secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the then defence secretary, Robert Gates, who phoned Jones in person. So far this time, Jones said, he has yet to be contacted by any official figure.
This year has already been disastrous for relations between Afghans and US forces, and there are certain to be protests if Jones does burn the Qur’an, although authorities will be alert to possible violence after deadly demonstrations in February.
Maulavi Mohammad Qalamuddin, deputy head of the virtue and vice ministry under the Taliban regime, said: “This person who is planning to burn the holy book in Florida is an ignorant person. He is crazy, like an animal. This man is going to make the Muslim people of Afghanistan emotional … It is the job of the American government to stop him and capture him.”
There are also fears that if Jones does go ahead, his behaviour could be used as insurgent propaganda.
“Islam doesn’t allow us to dishonour the Christian holy book, so it is the job of Christians to respect the holy Qur’an as well,” said Jamshed Hashimi, a 45-year-old teacher at one of the private universities of Kabul. “It is the job of the Americans to stop this person, otherwise the militants, the insurgents will use this opportunity and the people will help them.”
The Nato-led coaltion in Afghanistan referred comments to the US, and the office of President Hamid Karzai could not immediately be reached for comment