By Tara Bahrampour and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 8, 2010; 11:04 PM
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin added her voice Wednesday to the chorus of critics condemning the plan by a tiny Florida church group to burn Korans on Sept. 11, urging organizers to reconsider such a "provocation."
"People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation - much like building a mosque at Ground Zero," Palin wrote on her Facebook page.
The protest, Palin wrote, "will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don't feed that fire."
In urging the protest to be canceled, Palin lined up with religious leaders and top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said Wednesday that the planned burning of the holy book of Islam does not reflect "who we are" as Americans.
"It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world's attention, but that's the world we live in right now," Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations. "It is unfortunate, it is not who we are."
And conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck compared the burning of Korans with "burning the flag or the Bible."
"You can do it," he wrote Monday on his Web site, "but whose heart will you change by doing it?"
But the Rev. Terry Jones, who leads the Dove World Outreach Center, a 50-member evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, said Wednesday, "As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing."
Jones said at a news conference that he has received much encouragement, with supporters mailing copies of the Quran to his church. He took no questions from reporters.
Later, he sent a statement to the Orlando Sentinel in which Jones said that he had met with Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, to discuss the protest.
"Our meeting with the imam was pleasant," the statement read. "He was very respectful towards us. He was in agreement with us that it is necessary that both Muslims and Christians condemn acts of terrorism by radical Islam."
Musri told the newspaper that he was hopeful that Jones would call off the Koran-burning.
"I think the man wants to do the right thing, wants to properly represent his faith and does not want to be called 'bigot' or 'racist' or 'anti-'anything," Musri said. "He's anti-terrorist, as we are all."
The planned burning comes at a time of rising expression of anti-Muslim sentiment nationwide, as well as public debate about a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
Gen. David H. Petraeus warned Tuesday that such a protest could endanger U.S. troops in the Muslim world.
Already, repercussions have begun. On Monday in Kabul, protesters burned Jones in effigy and chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Obama."
In Washington, two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders from across the country gathered Tuesday for an Emergency Faith Leaders Summit on anti-Muslim sentiment.
In an op-ed piece published Wednesday in the New York Times, Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim prayer leader in Lower Manhattan and chairman of a project to build an Islamic community center near the "Ground Zero" site of the destroyed World Trade Center, called on Americans to set an example of religious tolerance as they mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Let us commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 by pausing to reflect and meditate and tone down the vitriol and rhetoric that serves only to strengthen the radicals and weaken our friends' belief in our values," Abdul Rauf wrote. He did not mention the controversy over the planned Koran burning in Florida but said his group would go ahead with the Lower Manhattan community center as part of its mission to "strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds" and help counter radical Islamist ideology.
In a news conference Tuesday on the plan to burn Korans, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, said, "Religious leaders cannot stand by in silence when things like this are happening." Burning the Koran, he warned, could be "taken by some as the real story of America, and it is not."
Actions and hate speech against Muslims "bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals.
Said the Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta: "From a Christian perspective, this is not what we stand for. This is a fringe group of individuals."
The circle of condemnation widened Tuesday to include White House spokesman Robert Gibbs; Clinton; her spokesman P.J. Crowley, who called the planned burning "un-American"; and Petraeus, who compared the action to the behavior of the Taliban and said it could undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul" on Monday, said Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. "Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy, and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult."
Clinton added her disapproval at a dinner Tuesday evening in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths," she said.
Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, said the faith leaders' meeting was set up two weeks ago, "when it started to become clear to us that things were getting out of control." Although the recent controversy has been "whipped up by a few people," she said, "I don't think it's going to go away quickly."
More than 9,000 people have joined a Facebook page called International Burn a Koran Day, which includes support for and criticism of the action.
Religious leaders and Muslim organizations met with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday to urge him to speak out against recent anti-Muslim incidents, such as the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in New York, and to prosecute some suspects on a federal level.
Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said that Holder "reiterated the department's strong commitment to prosecuting hate crimes."
Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization, said such actions are necessary to counteract a growing feeling of unease among Muslims in the United States.
"There is an increasing sense of fear and anxiety, even more than after 9/11," she said, adding that hostility that seemed to stay below the surface in recent years now "seems to have gone mainstream."
Gainesville, a city of 100,000, is bracing for a media onslaught this weekend because of the planned burning. Last year, when the Dove church posted a sign saying that "Islam is of the devil," faith leaders there largely ignored Jones and his small congregation.
This year, interfaith gatherings are planned for Wednesday and Friday at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, and some religious communities will read from the Jewish, Islamic and Christian scriptures on Saturday and Sunday.
Ramzy Kilic, regional director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa, said that he will participate in the interfaith events but that he thinks the best approach is to ignore Jones. "He just wants to provoke the Muslim community," he said. "Why give him attention? No one pays attention to the drunkard walking down the street."
Kilic said that although he appreciates the interfaith efforts, he wants to see more widespread condemnation of the planned event. "Let's say this was a Muslim burning a copy of the Bible - the country would be turned inside out," he said.
A request by Dove for an unspecific bonfire permit was denied because it went against city code, said Deputy Chief Tim Hayes of Gainesville Fire Rescue.
The outcry over the planned burning is similar to the Muhammad cartoon scandal that led to international protests in 2006, but there are some important differences, Muslim leaders said.
At that time, Khera said, "you had even Danish public officials who were defending the cartoonist. Here, I haven't seen any public official . . . come out in support of the Koran burning."
Correspondent David Nakamura and special correspondent Javed Hamdard, both in Kabul, contributed to this report.