Despite denunciations from religious leaders, angry Muslim protests, the pleas of top U.S. generals and White House disapproval, a fiery, unrepentant Christian minister vows to burn stacks of Korans to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Centre, a tiny, controversial church with only 50 followers in Florida, says he won't bow to threats or entreaties but might listen to divine guidance.
"We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely praying about it," said Mr. Jones, who wears a pistol on his hip and says he has received more than 100 death threats related to his plans for an "International Burn a Koran Day."
"How long are we going to bow down?" Mr. Jones asked in a television interview. "How long are we going to be controlled by the terrorists, by radical Islam?"
General David Petraeus, America's combat commander where more than 100,000 Western, mostly Christian, soldiers are battling a raging radical Islamic insurgency and trying to win the hearts and minds in Afghanistan, warned that "images of the burning of the Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan - and around the world - to inflame public opinion and incite violence."
Canada's Defence Minister Peter MacKay joined the condemnation Wednesday, saying the idea is "insulting to Muslims and Canadians of all faiths."
In a statement sent to The Canadian Press, Mr. MacKay says Canada is calling on the pastor to "bring people together, not break them apart."
MacKay also says Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are not fighting Islam or Islamic beliefs. He says they are fighting "an extremist and brutal enemy" - one that wants to rule by fear, intimidation and violence.
He adds that Canadians take pride in the country's fundamental values of freedom of religion and thought.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added her disapproval at a dinner in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths," Ms. Clinton said.
David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Barack Obama told CNN Wednesday morning: "The reverend may have the right to do what he's doing but it's not right. It's not consistent with our values... I hope that his conscience and his good sense will take hold."
President Barack Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said the planned bonfire of Islam's holy book "puts our troops in harm's way."
Although Mr. Jones has only a tiny congregation, and a bank is seeking foreclosure because of non-payment on the church mortgage, his inflammatory views have sparked a firestorm of anger and denunciations. The 58-year-old preacher wrote a book titled Islam is of The Devil. Last summer, one of his followers sent her children to school wearing T-shirts with the same slogan. They were sent home.
Muslims, Jews and Christians gathered in Washington to decry the planned book burning.
"You bring dishonour to the name of Jesus Christ," said Richard Cizik, founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
The State Department called the book burning "un-American" and around the world U.S. diplomats were coping with angry protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia.
In Kabul, protesters burned an effigy of Mr. Jones and stoned a passing U.S. convoy. Some of the protesters chanted "Death to America!" and "Death to Obama!"
Tehran's ruling mullahs warned of an "uncontrollable response" if the Koran burning went ahead.
An internal FBI memo, published yesterday on an Internet site, warned of radical Islamic retaliation. It said extremist websites included postings from suicide bombers threatening to detonate bombs at the Dove World Outreach Center.
In Gainesville, Fla., Mayor Craig Lowe repudiated the book burning, saying the "Dove World Outreach Center is a tiny, fringe group and an embarrassment to our community."
NATO's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, at the White House for a meeting with Mr. Obama, called the book burning "disrespectful," and a "contradiction with all the values we stand for and fight for."
The outcry over a tiny sect's book-burning event is only the latest in a series of incendiary Muslim-related issues. Plans to build a mosque and community centre close to the New York site where the World Trade Center's twin towers collapsed, killing more than 3,000 people, have created an divisive debate while allegations that the President is a Muslim have resurfaced on radio talks shows and in grocery-store tabloids.
Anti-Muslim tensions may be rising in the United States.
"Many Muslim Americans say they have never felt this anxious or this insecure in America since directly after Sept. 11," said Ingrid Mattson, head of the Islamic Society of North America.
The interfaith group of religious leaders called on the Obama administration to make a clear statement of the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and to condemn hate crimes.
"We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans," Rabbi Nancy Kreimer said.
However, book burning, like flag burning, may also be a form of free speech, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
With files from AP and CPReport Typo/Error
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