(ADDS COMMENTS PRESIDENT OBAMA, PHONE CALL SECRETARY GATES)
By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
WASHINGTON/KABUL/JAKARTA/JERUSALEM (Worthy News)– Minority Christians in strict Islamic countries remained anxious about their safety Friday, September 10, amid deadly protests against plans by an American pastor to burn copies of the Koran, although it remained uncertain whether the bonfire would go-ahead.
A man was reportedly shot dead and at least 11 injured in northern Afghanistan Friday, September 10, in one of the latest skirmishes prompted by plans by Pentecostal Pastor Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center church to burn Korans on the 9th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks against the United States.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul said ISAF was aware of protests in Faizabad and were investigating.
Elsewhere, an Indonesian Islamic religious leader warned of war if Jones would burn the Koran, seen as a holy book by Muslims. Cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshipers attending Friday morning prayers in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, that whether or not he burns the Kuran, Jones had already “hurt the heart of the Muslim world.”
WAR AGAINST CHRISTIANS
“If he’d gone through with it, it would have been tantamount to war,” media quoted the cleric as saying in the coastal town of Lhokseumawe. “A war that would have rallied Muslims all over the world.”
It came as Pastor Jones told the American network NBC that he wouldn’t burn the Koran if he could meet with the imam in New York. It wasn’t clear if he meant the burning would be halted indefinitely or just for Saturday, September 11.
Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, told reporters he had a commitment for Jones and himself to meet in New York with the imam there.
City officials in Gainesville, where Jones’ tiny 50-member Pentecostal congregation is based, said they planned to increase security, whatever the outcome of these discussions. Earlier, Jones and Musri had disagreed on the terms of their agreement.
Jones told media Thursday, September 9, he would call off the planned burning of Korans based on a deal negotiated with Musri that he would help cancel plans to build a mosque near New York’s ‘ground zero’ as the site of the deadly terror attacks is now known.
PASTOR IS “SHOCKED”
Musri said he told Jones that he could only set up a meeting with planners of the New York City mosque. Jones responded by suggesting that he would go forward with his plan on Saturday after all. “We are just really shocked,” Jones said of Musri, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported. “He clearly, clearly lied to us.”
The pastor and other opponents argue it is insensitive to families and memories of September 11 victims to build a mosque so close to where Islamic extremists flew planes into the World Trade Center and killed nearly 2,800 people. Supporters say the project reflects religious freedom and diversity and that hatred of Muslims is fueling the opposition.
In Washington, at his first formal session with reporters since May, U.S. President Barack Obama appealed to Americans to stand by the nation’s long heritage of religious tolerance. Obama said he hopes Jones “prays on it and refrains” from burning the Koran. Without mentioning Jones’ name, Obama referred to him as “the individual down in Florida.” Earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates went out of his way to call Jones this week, saying his action could endanger American troops in countries such as Afghanistan.
Additionally, Barnabas Fund, an advocacy and aid group supporting Christians in especially Islamic nations, called the possible Koran burning “an unnecessary, offensive and dangerous gesture,” and a threat to Christian minorities.
“The effect of the proposed action on Christians in Muslim-majority contexts is likely to be extremely serious. Already Muslim militants in Indonesia have promised to kill Indonesian Christians if Korans are burned in Florida, and the history of anti-Christian violence in the country suggests that this is not an idle threat,” the group told Worthy News and its news partner BosNewsLife.
Additionally, Barnabas partners in Iraq expressed concern “at the probable Muslim backlash” against an already “beleaguered” Iraqi Church. “And Christians in numerous other places who live in daily fear of potentially deadly attacks will at once be placed in much greater danger,” Barnabas Fund added. “It cannot be right to exercise our freedom to protest in a way that puts at risk the lives of our brothers and sisters, for whom Christ died [and rose from the death].”
OTHER RISKS INCREASING
The group said there is a further risk that Christian minorities “may be divided among themselves as churches with links to the West come to be unfairly associated with the action taken in Florida and its destructive consequences.”
“It is important for Christians under pressure to be united, as their division serves only to weaken the Church and increase its vulnerability to Muslim attacks,” Barnabas Fund said. It is therefore wholly inappropriate to undermine that unity for the sake of an unnecessary, offensive and dangerous gesture.
In statements Christians from the Middle East said were praying that the burning would not take place, but also that Christians throughout the region “will [use this] for opportunities to express the love of Jesus,” according to advocacy group Middle East Concern.
Open Doors, another aid group supporting reportedly persecuted Christians, also expressed its concerns about the impact of Jones proposed ‘International Burn The Koran Day’ “The reality is that Christians already are under extreme scrutiny with little or no religious freedom… over 100 million around the globe,” said Carl Moeller, who leads Open Doors USA. “We need to continue to be fervent in our prayers for those suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ and vigilant in being the voice for the voiceless.”