Burning the Koran would be a "recruitment bonanza" for al-Qaida, President Obama warned Thursday as he urged a Florida church to cancel a book-burning event that he says could spark serious violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"I just hope [Pastor Terry Jones] understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values," Obama told ABC. "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."
The proposed event prompted flag-burning demonstrations abroad and sharp debates domestically over whether the same outrage flowing from the highest levels of the Obama administration should also apply to proposals to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York City.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin commented: "People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at ground zero. It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious
intolerance. Don't feed that fire."
Gainesville police tell Newsmax they will be on a heightened state of alert on Saturday, and the State Department has advised U.S. embassies around the world to reassess their security measures.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, sent a personal letter to Jones urging him not to burn the book that Muslims consider holy.
Graham, who professes love for Muslim people but has been outspoken in his view that Islam does not lead to salvation, said, “It's never right to deface or destroy sacred texts or writings of other religions even if you don't agree with them."
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Catholic archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., went even further Wednesday during a news conference at the National Press Club sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America.
If “someone sees the Gospel as the truth of God’s presence in our world, that person should embrace the Gospel," McCarrick told CNSNews.com. "If a person sees the Koran as proof of God’s presence in the world, then I cannot say, ‘Don’t embrace the Koran.’”
Pastor Jones, meanwhile, told USAToday that neither the White House nor the State Department has contacted him personally to ask him to cancel the protest scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at his Dove World Outreach Center.
Receiving such a request, he said "would cause us to definitely think it over . . . I don't think a call from them is something we would ignore."
The leader of the 50-member church contends that he plans to burn the Koran in protest of shariah and acts of violence he sees as linked to the Islamic faith.
His venture has generated protests worldwide, including the following:
- Thousands of Afghans Thursday burned the U.S. flag and chanted "death to the Christians."
- About 200 Pakistanis marching in Multan burned a U.S. flag during their protest of the plan to incinterate copies of the Koran.
- A Muslim cleric in Afghanistan said Muslims would have a religious duty to react if the Koran were burned, heightening fears that Americans could be attacked.
- Gen. David Petraeus, who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Wednesday to discuss the controversy, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that extremists would use images of the Koran being burned "to inflame public opinion and incite violence."
- Declaring "shame on you," evangelical Richard Cizik lectured Christians who openly reject Muslims because of their religious faith. "As an evangelical, I say, to those who do this, I say, 'You bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love our neighbor," Cizik said at a National Press Club event.
- The nations of Pakistan and Bahrain issued official denunciations of the planned burning of the Koran.
- The president of Indonesia sent a letter to Obama, asking that the book-burning be halted.
Several U.S. leaders and organizations, including New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, have condemned the Koran burning while at the same time defending the church's First Amendment right to express its views.
"We defend his right to the speech," said Brandon Hensler, a spokesman for the Florida ACLU. "And we absolutely, simultaneously condemn the things that he's saying, because they're not tolerant of different religious viewpoints. The reverend himself has admittedly not read the Koran, and he's simply using this as a jumping stone to get on the world stage, which he's clearly achieved."
The Koran-burning protest comes in the context of the controversial decision to build a Muslim community center and mosque a few blocks from ground zero in New York. The debates over the appropriate exercise of First Amendment rights, in both the case of the mosque and the burning of the Koran, appears to be triggering a broader discussion of the uneasy relationship between Islam and Christianity in America.
The imam behind the Park51 facility, formerly known as the Cordoba initiative, warned Thursday that relocating the facility also could ignite Muslim violence against Americans.
"The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack," said Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf in an exclusive CNN interview, adding that, "if you don't do this right, anger will explode in the Muslim world."
Rauf also suggested that, if he had it all to do over again, he would have selected a different location.
"If I knew this would happen, if it would cause this kind of pain, I wouldn't have done it," he said.
The recent controversies over the co-existence of Islam and Christianity appear to be creating cultural ripples nationwide.
Muslim, Christian, and Jewish groups are planning rallies to celebrate unity and tolerance on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Saturday. It is not known whether any of those observances will take place in Hartford, Conn., where the town council is embroiled in controversy after city leaders announced they would allow imams, as well as rabbis and Christian pastors, to provide the invocation before council meetings.
"If they check their history, we're a Christian nation," Pat McEwen of the evangelical group Operation Save America told Fox News. "For years, prayers just referred to God. I think breaking with that tradition is a bad idea."
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