On September 11, pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., will lead a ceremonial burning of Qurans at his church. Amid protests in Kabul, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, says the planned desecration of Islam's holy book "could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort."
In a statement, Petraeus said, "Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan—and around the world—to inflame public opinion and incite violence," according to the Washington Post. "Such images could, in fact, be used as were the photos from [Abu Ghraib]. And this would, again, put our troopers and civilians in jeopardy and undermine our efforts to accomplish the critical mission here in Afghanistan."
ABC News reports that protests, in which effigies of Jones have been burned, are taking place in Kabul. Protesters also chanted "death to America," and set American flags alight. Comments Jones has made, such as "Islam is an evil religion," as well as the title of his book, Islam Is of the Devil, are reportedly well known to the protesters through the Internet.
One of Petraeus's advisers, Gen. Jack Keane, told ABC that the planned burning was not just insulting to Muslims. "It's also insulting to our soldiers in terms of what they stand for and what their commitment is to this country and to the Muslims in this country," he said. A statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul also condemns the upcoming action, calling it an "offensive initiative by this small group in Florida."
The fervor that news of the planned burning has stoked will likely spread, Petraeus said. Jones's plan, and associated ripples of hatred, could cause problems "not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."
Reports from Muslim countries give credence to Petraeus's comments. Iran's foreign ministry, reports Agence France-Presse, has issued a warning over Jones's plans. "We advise Western countries," said spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, "to prevent the exploitation of freedom of expression to insult religious sanctities, otherwise the emotions of Muslim nations cannot be controlled." Late last month 100 or so Indonesian Muslims protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, and threatened holy war if the paradoxically named Dove World Outreach Center were to go through with its plans. Indonesian Christians say they fear reprisals.
Jones has been informed of Petraeus's warning. But he remains unmoved. He and his 50 congregants still plan to gather Saturday, he has said. "What we are doing," he told ABC, "is long overdue."