Florida Minister Still Plans To Burn Quran

Florida evangelical church leader Terry Jones plans to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11. His threat to go ahead comes despite warnings from senior military leader General David Petraeus, and senior administration officials about the potential damage to relations with the Muslim world.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News.� I'm Steve Inskeep.�

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.��

In Gainesville, Florida, an Evangelical church leader says he will burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, September 11th. That's the ninth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.�

The Reverend Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center is attracting�international attention, and condemnation, for his proposed book burning. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has warned that burning the Quran could produce a violent backlash against U.S. troops.��

And interfaith leaders in this country are calling on the pastor to drop the plan, calling it, quote, "outright bigotry directed against America's Muslim community."�

Last night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this to say at an iftar dinner, the sundown meal that breaks the day-time fast during the month of Ramadan.�

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Many of you know that in 1790, George Washington wrote to a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, that this country will give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. The real story of Islam in America can be found in this room and rooms across America.

WERTHEIMER: NPRs Greg Allen has been following the story, and first of all, Greg, tell us about Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center.

GREG ALLEN: Sure. Morning, Linda. Yes, well, he's been well-known in Gainesville for quite some time. You know, Gainesville, as you know, is a college town known for its progressive politics, kind of laid back lifestyle. But on the edge of town you've got this small church with about 50 or so congregants. And they're known for being provocative and outrageous.

Among other things, he's been talking for some time about his concerns about Islam. He has a book out that says Islam is of the devil. And he's posted signs last year all around his church - large signs - saying that, which caused quite a stir at the time.

He believes simply, as he says in his sermons and elsewhere, that he believes that the Quran is an evil book, because it contains material that's not in the Bible. And he believes that since it's not of the Bible it must be evil and that's why he's taking this action.

WERTHEIMER: So, Greg, what you're saying is that there is one man who has his own particular brand of activism and about 50 other people in his congregation? Is there anybody else? Does he have any other kind of support for this?

ALLEN: I can't tell you who that would be, Linda. I have not found that person yet. You know, certainly among religious leaders in Gainesville, there's been a strong outcry. And they've really pulled together with interfaith statements, interfaith services, trying to do everything they can to suggest that tolerance should be - is what many of these religious faiths are all about, not about, you know, rejecting one faith over another.

So they've been doing that in Gainesville. We've seen that nationally, as well. Religious leaders came together, yesterday, and made a similar statement. We're hearing it from political leaders, both locally in Gainesville and also, nationally, as well.

So at this point it really seems about Terry Jones and his congregation against the rest of the world.

WERTHEIMER: In Gainesville, are people concerned - what are they concerned about? Are they concerned about the possibility that harm might come to some American military people as a result of this demonstration?

ALLEN: Right. Well, of course, you know, when you talk to folks in Gainesville, their first thought is, like, why does our town have to represented in this light? Of course, that's your first reaction.

But they share the concerns that General David Petraeus and the spokesman of the State Department and all throughout the military and the administration have expressed, which is that if this demonstration goes - if this book burning goes forward on Saturday, that will be such a strong demonstration against Islam, that you worry about the backlash.

And we've seen, as you well know, that the incidents in the past when small things have happened, you know. So, there's a fear that this could actually come back to haunt us afterwards, with violence against troops overseas.

WERTHEIMER: Very quickly. Any chance that it won't happen?

ALLEN: Well, we'll see. I mean, Reverend Jones says he's considering what he's heard from General Petraeus and others. He's having a news briefing today. We'll find out what his thoughts are. But so far, he's been very adamant. In fact, he's said that he feels that he has a calling to do this.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.

NPRs Greg Allen.

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