“This is a recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda,” Obama said in an ABC television interview. “You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities.”
Terry Jones, leader of a Protestant church of about 30 members in Gainesville, Florida, is planning to burn copies of the Islamic holy book Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
His threat has caused alarm around the world and raised tensions over the 9/11 anniversary, which this year coincides with the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival ending the fasting month of Ramadan. The United States is also gripped by debate over plans for an Islamic centre near the attack site in Manhattan.
India, prone to sectarian strife, called on the U.S. government Thursday to stop Jones from carrying out his plan. The president of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, urged Obama to step in personally.
“We hope that the U.S. authorities will take strong action to prevent such an outrage being committed,” Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a statement. He asked the media to refrain from showing pictures of the burning.
In Jakarta, an aide to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he had written to Obama asking him to intervene.
“President Yudhoyono thinks that if this was allowed to happen, it will disturb world peace,” Heru Lelono told Reuters.
But Obama said there was little that could be done under U.S. law to confront the minister, other than citing him under local bylaws against public burning.
RISK TO U.S. TROOPS
Jones has said he sees Koran-burning as a way of confronting Islamist terrorism. But his plans have been widely condemned by U.S. religious, political and military leaders, who say it is jeopardizing the security of U.S. military personnel abroad.
“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,” Obama said on “Good Morning America.”
“We’re already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat that he’s making,” the president said, urging Jones to listen to “those better angels.”
Two top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have said the plan by Jones’s Dove World Outreach Centre risked undermining Obama’s efforts to reach out to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the act could endanger his troops.
The Convocation of American Churches in Europe also said Christians living in majority Muslim countries would be at risk of reprisals.
In the United States, an FBI intelligence bulletin dated August 19 said the Koran-burning “might inspire retaliatory attacks against U.S. facilities overseas.”
The World Council of Churches, representing 349 branches of Christianity, added its voice to condemnations of Jones’ plans.
“This call has been firmly rejected and condemned by the WCC and its member churches, ecumenical partners, including in the United States as well as by people of faith and good will elsewhere,” the umbrella group said in a statement.
Jewish leaders have also condemned the action, saying it recalled the Nazi German burning of books in the 1930s, a prelude to the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were killed.
“The burning of the book holy to the world’s Muslims is morally repugnant,” said the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights organisation founded by a famous hunter of Nazi war criminals.
Streets were quiet in the Afghan capital Thursday as Eid al-Fitr celebrations approached. But police have been put on alert after angry demonstrations earlier this week when hundreds of Afghans, mostly students from religious schools, gathered outside a Kabul mosque chanting “Death to America.”
Such protests have turned violent in Afghanistan several times in the past few years, with dozens of people killed as security forces fought to regain control.
One such outburst was sparked when a Danish newspaper published a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended an award ceremony Wednesday for the Dane whose caricature provoked protests that led to 50 deaths. Her tribute to freedom of speech drew criticism from some Muslims in Germany.
President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, a country that has been repeatedly scarred by Muslim-Christian violence, urged U.S. authorities and “men and women of good will” around the world to prevail on Jones to abandon his plan.
“This action can not be justified at anytime and certainly is doubly unjustified coming at the holy month of Ramadan. I would urge Pastor Jones to be mindful of the Golden Rule taught by Jesus Christ: Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you,” Jonathan said on his Facebook page.
Pakistan “urged the international community to discourage this fanatic approach and take steps to stop these fundamentalists,” a Foreign Office spokesman said in an Associated Press of Pakistan report. Reuters