President Obama appealed to a Florida pastor Thursday not to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, arguing that the action could endanger American troops abroad and serve as a recruitment tool for Al Qaeda.
The statement, made in an interview with ABC News broadcast Thursday morning, demonstrates how serious the concern is worldwide that the actions of a tiny evangelical church in Gainesville, Fla., could have global repercussions. Religious and government leaders from around the world, including Britain, Pakistan, the Vatican, NATO, and Indonesia, have called on Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., to halt what Mr. Obama called a “stunt.”
"If he's listening, I hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans, that this country has been built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance," Obama said. "And as a very practical matter, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform."
Obama continued: "Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda. You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities."
In a press conference Wednesday, Pastor Jones said he intends to go through with his plan to burn copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam, on Saturday, but that he would pray about it.
In response, Obama said that he hopes Jones "listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in."
A letter from the president of Indonesia, where Obama spent four years as a child – and the largest Muslim country in the world – called on the US president to halt the burning. That request suggests a danger for Obama: that much of the world does not understand that, beyond moral suasion, he has no power to stop Jones from burning Korans. Legal experts say the action would likely be protected by the First Amendment.
Political and faith leaders know that by calling attention to Jones’s plan, they are giving him the publicity he seeks. But with the story getting widespread play in the US and internationally, they feel they have no choice but to speak out. At a “clergy summit” held in Washington on Tuesday, leaders spoke of an “anti-Muslim frenzy” across the US, including the uproar over a plan for an Islamic center near ground zero in Manhattan.