The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel alert warning American citizens abroad of potential violence from anti-U.S. demonstrators reacting to plans by a Florida pastor to publicly burn Islam’s holy book, the Quran.
“Demonstrations, some violent, have already taken place in several countries, including Afghanistan and Indonesia, in response to media reports of the church’s plans,” the alert states. “The potential for further protests and demonstrations, some of which may turn violent, remains high.”
The “International Burn a Quran Day” announced by Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center of Gainesville, Fla., has stirred up an international hornet’s nest of government response.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Quran burning “disgraceful;” America’s top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, warned it could “endanger troops;” Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged the U.S. to prevent the burning; India’s home minister condemned it; Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. called upon radio host Glenn Beck to denounce it; an FBI intelligence bulletin warned of retaliation; and even the Vatican declared the Sept. 11 Quran-burning plan to be an “outrageous and grave gesture.”
President Obama also chimed in, telling George Stephanopoulos on ABC that the Quran burning “is completely contrary to our values as Americans” and that “this stunt that [Jones] is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform.” Obama also labeled the event a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida.”
Despite the travel alert, however, and despite a media firestorm of controversy and opposition to the Quran burning, a number of other churches and organizations have announced plans to burn the Islamic holy book on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Duncan Philp, founder of the Wyoming Tyranny Response Team, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle his protest group – which he describes as defenders of the Bill of Rights – plans to burn a copy of the Quran on the steps of the State Capitol tomorrow to protest Obama’s defense of plans to build a proposed mosque and Islamic Center near Ground Zero in New York City.
“I feel Obama is being disingenuous when he pretends he supports religious liberties,” Philp told the paper. “‘[The Muslims] are not building that mosque out of love for my culture or love of the victims of 9/11 but for political reasons.”
Former Pastor Bob Old of Springfield, Tenn., has also announced plans to burn the Quran tomorrow, but he told WTVF-TV in Nashville that his action is unrelated to Jones’ agenda.
“To the Muslim church I would say the reason I am doing [this is] because I believe they worship a false god,” Old told the station. “They have a false text, a false prophet and a false scripture.”
Old also dismissed charges that burning the Quran is necessarily hateful, as some have argued.
“How can it be an act of hate when what I am doing is trying to save their souls?” he asked.
There also were several others who suggested they might stage such a stunt.
Earlier this week, however, Jones announced he agreed to cancel the burning upon receiving word the organizers of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque had agreed to move their proposed cultural center’s location.
But when Jones’ alleged deal was refuted publicly, the pastor then announced the Quran burning wasn’t canceled, but only suspended.
Reuters reports that anti-U.S. protests over the proposed Quran burnings have already begun in Afghanistan, where state officials estimated 10,000 people in the Badakhshan province today poured out of mosques shouting anti-American slogans.
“The Quran is in the hearts and minds of all [Muslims]” Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters, “but the affront against the holy book is a humiliation to the people.”
Of Jones, Karzai said, “We are hopeful that he gives up this affront and should not even think about it.”
Other holy book blazes
In 2007, Muslim crowds in the Middle East also took up the issue of burning holy books, but in this case, with incendiaries in hand.
Father Manuel Musallem, head of Gaza’s Latin church, told the Associated Press that crowds had burned and looted a school and convent that were part of the Gaza Strip’s small Roman Catholic community. He told the Jerusalem Post that Muslim gunmen used rocket-propeled grenades to blast open the church and school before burning Bibles and destroying every cross in sight.
CNN also reported American troops last year engaged in burning Bibles confiscated in Afghanistan.
Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Wright told the news network the Bibles, printed in the two most common Afghan languages, were confiscated because military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while deployed there.
Ultimately, they were discarded, Wright said “because if they did get out, it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims.”
Wright also explained that troops in war zones are required to torch their trash, hence the burning of the Bibles.
Because of the current Mideast tensions over burning the Quran, the State Department travel alert encourages U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad to register with the nearest American embassy or consulate.
“By registering, U.S. citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency,” the alert states.