Gainesville, Florida: An evangelical pastor insisted his plans for a mass torching of the Quran would go ahead after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the “disgraceful” burning ceremony in Florida.
Clinton was the most senior US official to speak out against the torching scheduled for the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, saying she was “heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths.”
The White House also added its voice to warnings that the move could trigger outrage around the Islamic world and endanger the lives of US soldiers. "It puts our troops in harm's way. And obviously any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm's way would be a concern to this administration,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.
He was reiterating comments by top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who warned burning the holy book of Islam would provide propaganda for insurgents.
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," said Petraeus of the plan, adding that it could cause significant problems "everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."
But the small church, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has vowed to mark Saturday's ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning Quran as they remember the almost 3,000 people killed by Al Qaida hijackers.
"We are taking his concerns very seriously," pastor Terry Jones told CNN late Tuesday, referring to Petraeus, but "we right now have plans to continue."
Although the fire authorities turned down an application a few weeks ago from Jones to hold the open-air burning ceremony, police cannot intervene until they actually light the proposed 200 Qurans.
Even then, no arrests would be made as contravening local ordinances is only a misdemeanor, and citations – fines and warnings – are issued in such cases.
US Attorney General Eric Holder met religious leaders to discuss ways of stemming the anti-Islam tide, with calls from the broad coalition of faiths to make a strong speech condemning hate crimes.
Muslim Advocates executive director Farhana Khera said after the meeting that Holder had described the Quran-burning plan as “idiotic and dangerous,” but regretted the ceremony itself was not a violation of federal law.
Saturday’s anniversary is set to coincide with festivities for Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, a time of prayer and fasting for nearly 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
Religious bigotry was roundly condemned at a press conference called by the coalition of inter-faith leaders meeting with Holder. "To those who would exercise derision... bigotry, open rejection of our fellow Americans for their religious faith, I say shame on you," said Richard Cizik, one of the country's most prominent evangelical leaders.
"We are profoundly distressed and deeply saddened by the incidents of violence committed against Muslims in our communities. And by the desecration of Islamic houses of worship," added Rabbi Nancy Kreimer.