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Can global leaders' outcry minimize fallout from Koran burning plan?

The planned Florida Koran burning has compelled outcry from President Obama, Pakistani President Zardari, and others. Those messages appear to be muting wider Muslim reaction to the planned Koran burning.

By Staff writer / September 9, 2010

An Muslim protester shouts slogans while attending a rally in Islamabad September 9. Dozens of protesters gathered in Pakistan's capital on Thursday to protest against plans by Pastor Terry Jones, a Florida church leader, to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

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Leaders from across the globe who had never heard of the Rev. Terry Jones before last week are speaking out against the small-time Florida pastor creating a big stir with his plan to burn Korans on Sept. 11.

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The torrent of publicity washing over Reverend Jones and his self-declared "International Burn a Koran Day," with a 200-Koran bonfire outside his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., is the latest reminder of how the Internet and the gaping maw of the 24-hour news cycle can turn minor events into global issues.

President Obama, Afghanistan war chief Gen. David Petraeus, and Pope Benedict XVI have all spoken out against Jones, who was expelled from an evangelical congregation he founded in Cologne, Germany, by parishioners angry over his hate-filled sermons and what some have told reporters were his demands for "blind obedience."

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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday took time out from efforts to improve the country's emergency response to devastating floods to lash out at Jones.

"Anyone who even thought of such a despicable act must be suffering from a diseased mind and a sickly soul,” he said in a statement. The planned Koran burning will "cause irreparable damage to interfaith harmony and also to world peace."

On President Zardari's last point, there's a growing body of evidence to suggest he may be wrong.

Part of the reason Jones has gotten so much attention is because of the violent reaction to a Danish newspaper publishing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005. Little noticed on the day of publication, a storm of international publicity and vituperation led to violent protests and deaths in some Muslim countries months later.

The question of desecrating the Koran is, religiously, more offensive to Muslims than depictions of the prophet. So it's not surprising that world leaders are trying to get out ahead of the Jones story to forestall a narrative that feeds into the "clash of civilizations" mindset, which is dear to extremists in both the Muslim and Christian worlds.

Interpol head Ronald Noble warned of possible violence if Jones goes forward, cautioning as well against engaging "in provocative acts that will give terrorists propaganda."

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