As Muslims in the US find themselves increasingly under attack,
The leader of a small church in the US state of Florida says he is determined to go through with his plan to burn copies of the Quran on September 11, despite an international outcry against it.
Terry Jones, the pastor, said on Wednesday that he has received encouragement for his protest, with supporters mailing copies of the Islamic holy text to his church in Gainesville.
The plan is to incinerate the Qurans in a bonfire on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
“As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing,” Jones said.
Jones said he has received more than 100 death threats and has started wearing a gun since announcing his plan to burn the book that Muslims consider the word of God.
The US Justice Department is investigating incidents where Muslim places of worship have been targeted in July and August in areas across the country.
A Muslim cab driver in New York City had his face and throat slashed in August, in a suspected hate crime.
A fire broke out at the site of a future mosque in the state of Tennessee, in July, where local residents gained permission to build a new mosque after outgrowing their rented space.
A brick nearly smashed a window at the Madera Islamic Centre in central California, in August, where signs were left behind that read: “Wake up America, the enemy is here.”
Authorities suspect arson when a fire broke out at the Dar El-Eman Islamic Centre in Arlington, Texas last month.
The 58-year-old pastor proclaimed in July that he would stage ‘International Burn-a-Quran Day.’
The plan has already sparked protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia and US officials are worried that it will put Americans at risk.
General David Petraeus, the US and Nato commander in the Afghan capital, Kabul, warned that “images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by the Taliban in Afghanistan, to inflame public opinion and incite violence”.
Petraeus spoke on Wednesday with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, about the matter, according to Colonel Erik Gunhus, a military spokesman.
“They both agreed that burning of a Quran would undermine our effort in Afghanistan, jeopardise the safety of coalition troopers and civilians,” Gunhus said.
David Axelrod, senior adviser to Barack Obama, the US president, told CNN on 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.”
The Vatican also denounced the planned Quran burning as “outrageous and grave”.
Right to free speech
Jones gained some local notoriety last year when he posted signs in front of his church declaring “Islam is of the Devil”.
But his Quran-burning idea attracted wider attention. It drew rebukes from Muslim nations and at home as an emotional debate was taking shape over the proposed Islamic centre near the so-called Ground Zero site of the 2001 attacks in New York.
His actions likely would be protected by the US constitution’s right to free speech.
The US Supreme Court has made clear that speech deemed offensive to many people, even the majority of people, cannot be suppressed by the government unless it is clearly directed to intimidate someone or amounts to an incitement to violence, legal experts have said.