Koran burning by Florida pastor initially went unnoticed

Wearing a judicial robe and doling out a punishment selected through an online poll, the pastor of a tiny Florida church on March 20 declared Islam’s holy book “guilty of crimes against humanity” and ordered it set ablaze in a portable fire pit.

In a video later posted on the Dove World Outreach Center’s Web site, the pastor can be heard saying that the Koran smoldered “very good” and that the flame would work well for burgers or marshmallows.

Compared with last September, when the world was riveted by the Rev. Terry Jones’s threat to burn the Koran, the bizarre mock “trial” last month of the Muslim scripture went largely unnoticed in the United States.

Two days later, however, Pakistan’s president called it a “serious setback” for the civilized world, and the U.S. ambassador agreed that it was “abhorrent.” On March 24, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for Jones’s prosecution. But among U.S. faith and government leaders as well as the hordes of reporters who covered Jones last fall, there was largely silence.

“We tried to really downplay it. We didn’t want to escalate it. It didn’t seem to be getting traction in the media, and we certainly didn’t want to bring attention,” said Geoff Tunicliffe, head of the World Evangelical Alliance, one of the world’s largest faith organizations.

But after an angry mob killed seven people at a United Nations office in northern Afghanistan, faith leaders rushed Friday to condemn the killings and Jones’s actions, which could reverberate throughout the Muslim world.

Tunicliffe, whose group represents hundreds of millions of evangelicals, said he was having emergency meetings with Muslim and Christian leaders to organize a summit in Pakistan or Afghanistan about religious violence.

Representatives of several major Muslim American organizations held a joint conference in Washington to denounce the killings. Among them were the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Jones has been on the receiving end of condemnations before. In September, he and his obscure church commanded media attention from around the world by threatening to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

After being pressured by everyone from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Gen. David H. Petraeus, he abandoned that plan. But in the months since, the church has repeatedly sought the limelight, with a Web site and press releases every few days announcing everything from Jones’s views on Egyptian politics to his plans to protest Islam in Britain (his visa was denied).

In January, Dove announced that it would “put the Koran on trial” in March and asked readers to vote whether to burn, shred or drown it.

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
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