Political and religious leaders are condemning plans for the head of a small U.S. church to burn Qurans on Saturday to protest against violent Islamic extremists. The church's leader says they will conduct the event despite critics who fear it will inflame religious tensions around the world.
For weeks, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has been advertising an event it calls "International Burn a Koran Day". The small Christian church chose to hold the event on September 11, in part to honor those killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
The church's leader, Pastor Terry Jones, says the burning of the Quran sends a message to violent Islamic extremists like al-Qaida, which carried out the attacks against the United States.
"Our burning of the Quran is to call to attention that something's wrong. Something is wrong. It is possibly time for us in a new way to actually stand up, confront terrorism," he said.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the planned event goes against a long history of religious tolerance in the United States. She said it also sends the wrong message about the country's relationship with Muslims in America and elsewhere.
"It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people, can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get the world's attention. But that's the world we live in right now. I mean, it doesn't in any way represent America or Americans or American government, or American religious or political leadership," he said.
U.S. military officials also condemn the planned event, saying that it might inflame tensions and lead to new attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
At the United Nations, the spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says Mr. Ban is disturbed by the actions of the Dove World Outreach Center.
Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq says the event threatens to damage U.N. efforts to help communities overcome religious divisions around the world.
"Any such action, if carried out, would contradict the efforts of United Nations and many people around the world to promote tolerance, intercultural understanding and mutual respect between cultures and religions. In fact, it would only lead to further discord and polarization between communities, that is what our concern is," he said.
The Vatican also is expressing concern, saying that burning the Quran would be an "outrageous and grave gesture." Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi says burning the holy book of Islam is not the proper way for people to show their outrage about the 2001 terrorist attacks. "This act would only call for new hate and violence. It goes directly in the opposite direction to the building of peace to which we all, as faithful in god and as people of peace, are called," Lombardi said.
In Florida, Pastor Jones says his church has received scores of death threats as well as messages of support about the event, which is scheduled to be held on Saturday. He says he is aware of the concerns, especially regarding possible risks to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but that the church will not change its plans. "So as of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing. So on September 11th, we shall continue with our planned event," he said.
Religious groups across the United States say they plan to protest the burning on Saturday, with events that include readings from the Muslim holy book.