Obama urges Fla. pastor to call off plan to burn Korans on Sept. 11

By William Branigin and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 9:40 AM

President Obama urged a Florida pastor Thursday to call off a plan to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11, warning that such a "stunt" would amount to a "recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda" and would endanger Americans.

Obama added his voice to a chorus of criticism of the proposed Koran-burning in an interview broadcast Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America" program. He urged Terry Jones, pastor of a small evangelical church in Gainesville, Fla., to listen to his "better angels" and cancel his plan to burn copies of the Muslim holy book on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"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 added: "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."

The president said he hopes Jones "listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in."

By weighing in on the controversy, Obama joined critics from across the political and religious spectrum in condemning Jones's plan.

Obama's comments came as American religious leaders lobbied behind the scenes, reaching out to Jones personally in efforts to persuade him to change his mind.

Among them was Geoff Tunnicliffe, who heads one of the world's largest faith organizations, the World Evangelical Alliance. For weeks, Tunnicliffe had remained silent about the intention of the tiny Gainesville church to publicly torch Islam's holy book, not wanting to lend legitimacy to Jones or his Dove World Outreach Center.

But after hearing from Pentecostal leaders around the globe about their fears that the scripture-burning could spark sectarian violence, he decided he needed to appeal to Jones as a fellow Christian.

The planned Koran-burning already has been condemned by everyone from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Gen. David H. Petraeus to conservative commentator Glenn Beck to actress Angelina Jolie. Even Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and an outspoken critic of Islam, tried twice without a success to reach Jones on Wednesday to express his disapproval of defacing or destroying the sacred texts or writings of other religions, a spokesman said.

During a 10-minute cellphone conversation, Tunnicliffe described himself as "pleading" with the man whose plans have already sparked angry protests in Jakarta and Kabul and that some fear could put the lives of U.S. troops in Muslim countries at risk.

"I tried to talk about the impact this would have on his own stated goals of taking the gospel to the world," said Tunnicliffe, whose group represents hundreds of millions of evangelicals, including those who live in Muslim countries.

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