The Obama administration Tuesday called a Florida clergyman's plans to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by burning a Koran abhorrent and un-American. The State Department said it is concerned the threatened action could subject U.S. soldiers, diplomats and tourists abroad to risk of harm.
Administration officials say the Florida pastor and his followers are within their constitutional rights to burn a Koran, just as U.S. anti-war protestors have burned American flags at demonstrations in the past.
But they say they hope the church group reconsiders its threatened action, and finds another way to mark the 9/11 anniversary without steps that could spark anti-American protests and potential violence abroad.
In the administration's strongest language to date on the announced plans of Florida evangelical Christian pastor Terry Jones, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the contemplated actions are abhorrent, inappropriate, and should not happen.
"We think that these are provocative acts, they are disrespectful, they're intolerant, they're divisive and we're conscious that a number of voices have come out and rejected what this pastor and this community have proposed," said P.J. Crowley. "We would like to see more Americans stand up and say that this is inconsistent with our American values, in fact these actions themselves are un-American."
The spokesman said that though nominally a protest against religious extremism, the Koran burning could fuel radicalism.
Citing the warning of U.S. Afghanistan Commander General David Petraeus that the action could be exploited by the Taliban for propaganda purposes, Crowley said they could have the same damaging impact as the 2006 release of photos of U.S. troops abusing prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
Crowley said if the burning does go forward, he hopes people around the world will realize that the action does not reflect the views of the vast majority of Americans and the U.S. tradition of religious tolerance.
"If this community goes ahead with this proposed event on Saturday, we would hope that the rest of the world will judge us not by the actions of one pastor or 50 followers, but judge us by a tradition that goes back to our founding," he said. "We did not indict entire countries or an entire religion over the actions of 9/11. And we would hope that the rest of the world does not indict the United States for the actions of one fringe element in Florida."
The Florida pastor said he takes the warnings about possible violence against Americans abroad seriously, but says he and his followers have firmly made up their minds to go ahead with the protest.
He says the U.S. administration should warn Muslims abroad against any retaliation.