Pastor Terry Jones wants his 15 minutes of fame in Gainesville. Jones has created an international incident by planning a public burning of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on Saturday. The Christian leader of the Dove World Outreach Center doesn't care that broadcasting images of burning holy books will be deeply insulting to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims and to all people of goodwill, endanger American troops abroad and encourage bigotry instead of understanding at home. This does not reflect the values of Floridians, and he should reconsider the consequences.
Jones' book burning is apparently legal but undeniably reprehensible. His so-called "International Burn the Koran Day" targets the religion of people who live in some of the world's most volatile regions ‑— Afghanistan and the Middle East. It fuels intolerance and hatred against Muslims in this country and exploits tension over the proposed New York mosque and community center near ground zero. The 9/11 attacks were conducted by a group of terrorists, not by Islam. An entire faith should not be condemned due to the heinous acts of some of its adherents.
Jones writes on his church's Web site that "the world is in bondage to the massive grip of the lies of Islam," and that burning the Koran will bring awareness and warning of the dangers of Islam. Undoubtedly the publicity stunt will also help sales of his book Islam Is of the Devil, a title that is also emblazoned on T-shirts and coffee mugs. But it is too late to write him off as a publicity seeking bigot on the fringe of society and ignore him.
Demonstrations against the Koran-burning have broken out in Indonesia and Kabul. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus have bluntly warned about the negative consequences to America's troops and international standing.
Of course, Jones has the constitutional right to engage in these offensive theatrics. America has always had its share of hate-mongers who thrive on spreading intolerance, and a hallmark of our country's commitment to free speech is that we let them. What is different now in this Internet age is that provocative acts of hate can be seen instantly worldwide. More than ever it is imperative that such acts are forcefully denounced by political leaders, civic groups and the pluralistic religious community. Muslims should not be alone in expressing outrage, and the broader Gainesville religious community is denouncing the book burning along with interdenominational bodies throughout the world.
Just as the 9/11 terrorists did not represent the world's Muslims, Jones does not represent the views of most Americans. The war against terror is not a war against Islam, and one bigot's public display of hatred does not represent the values of this country and its constitutional commitment to freedom of religion.