Opinion Roundup: Burning The Koran Commentators from across the political spectrum have weighed in on the planned burning of the Koran by a Florida Minister. Many have argued against the minister's plan, while others argue the Constitution protects even extreme speech. NPR's Jennifer Ludden shares a roundup of national opinion on the planned event.

Opinion Roundup: Burning The Koran

Opinion Roundup: Burning The Koran

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Commentators from across the political spectrum have weighed in on the planned burning of the Koran by a Florida Minister. Many have argued against the minister's plan, while others argue the Constitution protects even extreme speech. NPR's Jennifer Ludden shares a roundup of national opinion on the planned event.


The Florida pastor of a tiny church is getting a lot of attention for promising to burn copies of the Quran this weekend. Despite several high profile calls for him to back down, for now, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center plans to go ahead with the event that he's called International Burn a Quran Day. He's expected to speak to the press sometime this afternoon. He has set off intense debate over free speech rights and respect for different faiths.

In a few moments, we'll hear a number of opinions on whether this event should be allowed to go ahead. And we want to hear your opinions, too. What do you have to say about this? Give us a call, 800-989-8255 or you can email us: talk@npr.org. We'll get to your calls in a moment.

Right now, NPR's Greg Allen is in Gainesville, Florida and following the story. He joins us now. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN: Hi, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: So, the FBI reportedly visited this pastor's church today. And President Obama asked the pastor to cancel this quote, "stunt" - do we know if it's going to go ahead?

ALLEN: Well, it's hard to say at this point. He's - up till now what we've heard from the pastor is that he has no intentions of cancelling. Yet, at the very same time, he says, he has though heard what General Petraeus and others have said, and he's considering it. And today, all day long, he's had a procession of visitors that have come. Many people have come not able to get in because you have to have an appointment. He's certainly a man in demand.

The most - most interestingly, recently of late, we've had an imam from central Florida, a Muhammad Musri, who met with him yesterday. He's back today with a possibility with the offer to broker a deal that could possibly have the Quran burning called off over the weekend, linking it with the Islamic center in New York. And he said that's something that Terry Jones talked to him about yesterday, saying if that the Islamic center wasn't built that he might be willing to not have the Quran burning.

So that's the first that we've heard that Terry Jones is linking those two events. They've certainly been linked in coverage in some of the discussions.

LUDDEN: High stakes negotiations there. The Associated Press is reporting the White House may personally - that President Obama might even place a call to the pastor. Do you know anything about this?

ALLEN: No. We haven't had a chance to talk to Terry Jones yesterday. As you say, we expect to have him out here soon. We - you know, his spokespeople are around and they say, oh, he'll have a statement later. Meanwhile, he's doing some one-on-one interviews.

In terms of the White House, it'll be interesting to see what happens with that. I mean, there's a lot of speculation about why the FBI was here today. The first thought would be that the security is such a concern at this event on Saturday that they might be here to talk about some of the security preparations, but then that might suggest there could be more to it than that, especially if the White House is considering reaching out to him. So I don't know more about it at this point than that.

LUDDEN: Can you tell us, Greg, what is the mood there in Gainesville?

ALLEN: Well, you know, the main mood here is concern about how it might affect - I shouldn't say the main mood, but one big concern is how it might affect the football game on Saturday. It's a big game. 90,000-plus fans will be down at the football stadium at - on the University of Florida campus. And that is, you know, singular event here. They don't have that many football home games every year. And there's concerns that it could somehow negatively affect that. That's somewhat parochial. But more than that, people are concerned that it's presenting their city in a bad light.

Most of what we hear is widespread opposition to what Pastor Jones is talking about. But today, as we've been here at the Dove World Outreach Center, there is - many people have come by to express their support for him, who say it's common sense, they burn our flags overseas, why can't we burn their Quran here. I mean, that's - it's a kind of a very straight proposition that some people come and said to us. You know, and that's one of the things that he'll say as well. But we, of course, know that, what the repercussions could be if he goes ahead with it on Saturday.

LUDDEN: NPR's Greg Allen on the line from Gainesville, Florida. Thanks so much for your time, Greg.

ALLEN: My pleasure, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: As you can imagine, this event has stirred up intense controversy. Despite criticism from political leaders across the nation and hundreds of death threats, Jones has adamantly defended his position. He says he still believes the event is necessary.

Reverend TERRY JONES (Senior Pastor, Dove World Outreach Center): This message is not a message of peace. It's not a message of love. It's a message of warning. We feel that there's time to talk. Diplomacy - and diplomacy works most of the time. And most of the time it is probably the best way. But sometimes there are people who will not listen. That is why we have an army. That is why we have jails. Some people will not listen, and they must be shown this far and no farther. And that is actually, that is actually our message.

LUDDEN: General David Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, warned that going ahead with the Quran burning would put U.S. troops in danger. President Obama echoed that sentiment today in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America." He offered his own criticism of the plan.

(Soundbite of interview, "Good Morning America")

President BARACK OBAMA: What he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans, that this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance. And as a very practical matter, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We're already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat...

Mr. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (Host, "Good Morning America"): What more could happen?

Pres. OBAMA: ...that he's making.

Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you worried about?

Pres. OBAMA: Well, look, this is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida.

LUDDEN: But we've also been hearing free speech arguments. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Jones' right to burn the Quran. He spoke during a press conference Tuesday.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Independent, New York City): The First Amendment protects everybody, and you can't say that we're going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement. If you want to be able to say what you want to say when the time comes that you want to say it, you have to defend others no matter how much you disagree with them.

LUDDEN: And we've already got emails coming in. Steve in Placerville, California, writes: If even a single copy of the Quran is burned, people should buy one, then tell a friend or family member to buy one, then they tell someone and so on. It will send a positive counteractive message and the burning will have the unintended result of exponentially increasing the number of Qurans in the country compared to however many are destroyed.

Maji(ph) has written in - Moji(ph) has written in to say: I am a moderate Muslim. I'm glad this is happening, because it reveals the very ugly face of colonial extremism.

And from Scott in St. Paul, Minnesota: As a Christian, I'm offended that the individual who says he's about to burn copies of the Quran is identified as a Christian pastor. In my opinion, he's neither Christian nor a valid spiritual leader or a man of God. While the First Amendment protects controversial speech, the Supreme Court also has limited speech with the shouting fire in a crowded theater doctrine. Doesn't the potential fallout from this action meet the criteria for dangerous speech?

Let's bring a listener in on the conversation. Ann Marie is in Charlotte, North Carolina. Go right ahead.

ANNE MARIE (Caller): Yes. I'm really feeling like this has been really inflamed by the media, and I'm not blaming any - I know that we need to show these sorts of things. But at the same time, you can't stop every idiot who's going to do something really stupid in their own church, small church. And I think if we just didn't give him any backing, if we didn't give him any media attention, it wouldn't be quite so much of a big deal. And I really feel like that - if we could just leave him alone, it would lose his power.

LUDDEN: Ann Marie, thanks for the call. And you're not the only one making that argument. An op-ed in today's Jordan Times in the Middle East says this: One has to wonder what the official and media response in America would be if the same pastor burnt any other religious book. It is sad to say that anti-Islamic bigotry seems to have gained enough acceptance in the U.S. mainstream that while officials denounce the pastor, none seems to have moved seriously to prevent his provocations. For us, in this region, the correct response to this pastor's virulent antics would be to shrug our shoulders. Sadly, this will not be our reaction.

Let's bring in another call. Lark in Portland, Oregon. Hi there.

LARK (Caller): My name's Lark Ryan(ph). I'm a psychotherapist here with an emphasis in trauma. And I'm trained to organize folks here in Portland. Instead of burn a Quran day, to have a buy a Quran day. I've contacted all the local bookstores. I contacted the librarian, encouraged borrow a Quran day. So just trying to get the word out, information about how we can respond nonviolently. And of course, you have a right to burn a book. And I have a right to say I wish you wouldn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: All right. Well, thanks so much, Lark. Finley(ph) is in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Go right ahead, Finley.

FINLEY (Caller): Hi. How are you doing? I am a professing Christian, and I cringe when I think that this gentleman is representing Christianity to a lot of people, especially non-Christians. Book burning, by its very definition, is reprehensible, any kind of book. And I do not support him. On the other hand, he does have the right to do it and to say - and to ask the question "should he be allowed to do that?" implies, actually, ultimately, the use of force to prevent him from doing that. You just ask the question. He should not be prevented from doing it. He has the right to do it. As reprehensible as it is, we cannot say he should not be allowed to do it. This is still the United States and that freedom of speech is an important part of it.

LUDDEN: Okay. Well, Finley, thanks so much for that call. Ahmed(ph) is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Go right ahead, Ahmed.

AHMED (Caller): Yes. Thanks for taking my call. I'm an American Muslim. And I was going to comment that, basically echo what John Boehner said, that it's a pretty bonehead decision to try to burn the Quran. What's going to happen is that this bonehead is going to burn the Quran and some bonehead Muslim somewhere in a different part of the world, they're going to go burn churches and they're going to start burning - and harassing Christians. So this is a really bad thing to do.

And what I was going to - if I had a chance to talk to this pastor, I would tell him that I bet you have not read the Quran. If you had read the Quran, the Quran calls Jesus, peace be upon him, a prophet of God, the Messiah, the Christ. The Quran calls Virgin Mary the mother of Jesus, peace be upon him, as the best woman of the humanity.

The Quran essentially reaffirms the Ten Commandments. So I bet he just has not read the entire Quran and maybe have read one verses, two verse some other places, and that's what his decision is about. And he's going to cause a lot of problems, not for the Muslims, not for the Quran, but probably a lot of problems for the Christians around the world.

And by the way, I have to say that I hope the Muslims around the world hear and understand the reaction of the majority of the Christians who are in support. There are some churches who are actually going to be reading from the Quran, in Minnesota and other parts, and I - we just heard from other callers who are thinking about buying the Qurans.

So I think that's a really bad decision on his part and it has - does not make any sense whatsoever.

LUDDEN: Well, Ahmed, thank you so much for your call.

AHMED: Thank you.

LUDDEN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get a few - a sampling of some opinion - op-ed pieces that have been out there. Redstate.com is a right-wing political site. Eric Erickson writes: I think this pastor in Florida is terribly misguided. The message of Christ is one of grace and hope. Let's not, however, be fooled by the thinking that this act will incite Islamists in some special way. If Islamists did not have Quran burnings to incite them to kill Americans, they would just find something else. Heck, they may go back to soldiers in Iraq using the Quran for target practice.

A syndicated columnist, Clarence Page, has weighed in. He says: Know your enemy. General Petraeus knows what Pastor Jones apparently does not. Our enemy is terrorism, not Islam. By threatening to set their holy book on fire, Jones makes the world's Muslims the enemy, which only backs up the propaganda that Osama bin Laden and his cronies have been preaching to the world - excuse me. We Americans want moderate Muslims to speak up and denounce Islamic extremism. We need to do the same with our own anti-Islamic extremists.

Let's take another phone call. Lynn(ph) is in Moab, Utah. Go right ahead, Lynn.

LYNN (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I kind of just wanted to agree with the last couple of people that emailed you, inasmuch that it is a small segment of Muslim people that believe in the terrorism and all the horror that's been going on, and a small majority of Christian and American people that believe the same way.

When you get people of extreme beliefs pitted against other people of extreme beliefs, you could blow the world up. And I think that the pastor should think back during the colonial days, what extent the Christians went through to try to save the world and turn them on into the real faith. If everybody could just back down a couple of steps.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, Lynn, thank you so much for your phone call.

LYNN: Thank you.

LUDDEN: Let's have another call here. Sarah(ph) in Folsom, California. Go right ahead.

SARAH (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I really see this as chiefly a publicity stunt, but a desecration of a holy book. And I'm Jewish and if Torahs were being desecrated this way, I would want Americans - all Americans -to speak out about it. And so I'm speaking out about it as much as I can, but I really think it needs to be taken seriously from that point of view.

LUDDEN: Well, thank you for calling.

SARAH: Thank you.

LUDDEN: And we have time for one last phone call. Michael in Tucson, Arizona. Go right ahead.

MICHAEL (Caller): Yes. Hi. It's a pleasure, actually, to be talking with you. I'm from the Middle East myself, born and raised. I was - I lived among the Muslims. They respected us extremely, I would say.

So the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan had brought a negative view of the Americans. And basically, many Christians who have lived in Iraq, now they are in Syria and Jordan, and there are refugees all over the place. There are hundreds of thousands of Christians who are refugees within their homeland and outside. So by doing so, there were churches burned in Iraq, and this was all as a result of occupation of Iraq. We have done so much damage to the Christian communities within the Middle East that it's, it's unrepairable. And this is going to add insult to injury, basically, and...

LUDDEN: All right, Michael. I think...


LUDDEN: ...we need to leave it there, but thank you so much for your call.


LUDDEN: Just a couple of quick emails. KNB(ph) in Dayton, Ohio: There's no question this event should be allowed to happen because we enjoy the right to freedom of speech in America. However, just because someone has the right to burn the Quran doesn't mean they should. It's a terrible way to make his point, valid or no.

And Cameron(ph) writes: Hearing about this issue makes me sick. My husband is serving overseas in Afghanistan in the military, and this man is placing him at greater harm. I want my husband home.

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