Florida's governor is concerned about safety at home and around the world, a feeling shared by national and world leaders, over a plan by the head of a small church to burn copies of Islam's holiest text to mark the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday he would closely monitor what happens Saturday at the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville to try to ensure people are safe. U.S. embassies around the world will be doing the same after being ordered by the State Department to assess their security. Officials fear the burning could spark anti-American violence, including against soldiers, a concern shared by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
"In addition to being offensive, the Gainesville protest puts at risk those brave Americans who are fighting abroad for the freedoms and values that we believe in as Americans," said Crist, who is running as an independent for the U.S. Senate.
Bahrain's Foreign Ministry called the plan a "shameful act which is incompatible with the principles of tolerance and coexistence." The statement Thursday was among the first official denunciations in the Arab world against the plan.
Despite the mounting pressure to call off the bonfire, the Rev. Terry Jones said he has received much encouragement and was going through with his plan. Supporters have sent him copies of the Quran to burn, he said.
"As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing," said Jones, 58, who took no questions at a news conference Wednesday.
Jones was flanked by an armed escort and said he has received more than 100 death threats since announcing in July that he would stage "International Burn-a-Koran Day." The book, according to Jones, is evil because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.
Muslims consider the Quran the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect. At least one cleric in Afghanistan said it is the duty of Muslims to react and that could mean killing Americans.
At home, the Gainesville Police Department will be dealing with some 90,000 fans and even more tailgaters expected for the Florida-South Florida football game across the city. The game is at 12:20 and the Quran burning is set for 6 p.m.
No one from the department was available to immediately comment late Wednesday on security measures at the church where at least one counter-protest was planned by a University of Florida student group.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, e-mailed The Associated Press to say "images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence." It comes as an emotional debate continues over a proposed Islamic center near the ground zero site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
Petraeus spoke Wednesday with Afghan President Karzai about the matter, according to a military spokesman Col. Erik Gunhus.
"They both agreed that burning of a Quran would undermine our effort in Afghanistan, jeopardize the safety of coalition troopers and civilians," Gunhus said, and would "create problems for our Afghan partners ... as it likely would be Afghan police and soldiers who would have to deal with any large demonstrations."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the pastor's plans were outrageous, and along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urged Jones to cancel the event.
"It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world's attention, but that's the world we live in right now," Clinton said in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Not just the Democratic administration has weighed in. Ex-Alaska governor and former Republican candidate for vice president Sarah Palin said in a Facebook post that though people have the constitutional right to burn the Quran if they choose, doing so would be an "insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at ground zero."
"I would hope that Pastor Terry Jones and his supporters will consider the ramifications of their planned book-burning event," she wrote. "It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don't feed that fire."
Conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck wrote in an Internet blog that burning the Quran is like burning the flag or the Bible — something people can do in the United States, but shouldn't. Legal experts have said the burning would likely be protected by the First Amendment's right to free speech.
"Our good Muslim friends and neighbors will be saddened," Beck wrote. "It makes the battle that they face inside their own communities even harder."
In Afghanistan, the plan provoked outrage.
"It is the duty of Muslims to react," said Mohammad Mukhtar, a cleric and candidate for the Afghan parliament in the Sept. 18 election. "When their holy book Quran gets burned in public, then there is nothing left. If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed."
Jones' Dove Outreach Center is independent of any denomination. It follows the Pentecostal tradition, which teaches that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in the modern day. Pentecostals often view themselves as engaged in spiritual warfare against satanic forces.
The Vatican also denounced the protest and a religious watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said it would send a copy of the Quran to the Afghan National Army for every one that might be burned.
Jones' neighbors in Gainesville, a city of 125,000 anchored by the sprawling University of Florida campus, also have said they disapprove. At least two dozen Christian churches, Jewish temples and Muslim organizations in the city have mobilized to plan inclusive events — some will read from the Quran at their own weekend services.
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