Citing his own faith, PM condemns plan to burn Qur'an
Published Wednesday, September 8, 2010 9:43PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 2:38AM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a rare glimpse into his own religious beliefs Wednesday when he spoke out against a church in Florida that plans to burn 200 copies of the Qur'an on Sept. 11.
"I don't speak very often about my own religion but let me be very clear: My God and my Christ is a tolerant God, and that's what we want to see in this world," he said.
The prime minister's comments are the latest in a growing international backlash against a firebrand preacher in Florida who plans to burn copies of the Muslim holy book in a bonfire on Saturday, nine years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I unequivocally condemn it," Harper said. "We all enjoy freedom of religion and that freedom of religion comes from a tolerant spirit."
"I don't think that's the way you treat other faiths, as different as those faiths may be from your own."
The controversial plan put forward by Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, a small church with 50 parishioners located in Gainesville, Fla., has been widely condemned by both Christians and Muslims.
Harper's condemnation came hours after Defence Minister Peter MacKay joined the growing chorus of those in opposition to the preacher's plan.
In a note sent to The Canadian Press on Wednesday, MacKay said the very idea of such a demonstration is "insulting to Muslims and Canadians of all faiths," and that Canada calling on Jones to "bring people together, not break them apart."
He also said Canada's soldiers in Afghanistan are not fighting against Islam or Islamic beliefs; rather the war they are fighting is against "an extremist and brutal enemy."
Jones, author of a book called "Islam is of The Devil," has stood firm and remains unapologetic about the planned "International Burn a Koran Day."
Jones held a news conference Wednesday afternoon in which he said he intends to carry on with his plan, despite pressure to call off the event.
"As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing," Jones told reporters in a brief statement.
On Tuesday, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, warned that the initiative will only harm efforts by American soldiers to build bridges and win hearts and minds in Afghanistan.
Petraeus warned that "images of the burning of the Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan -- and around the world -- to inflame public opinion and incite violence."
Petraeus spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the issue on Wednesday, said military spokesperson Col. Erik Gunhus.
"They both agreed that burning of a Qur'an would undermine our effort in Afghanistan, jeopardize the safety of coalition troopers and civilians," Gunhus said, and would "create problems for our Afghan partners ... as it likely would be Afghan police and soldiers who would have to deal with any large demonstrations."
On Wednesday, Brig.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, a Canadian member of the International Security Assistance Force, offered a similar warning.
"The insurgents here, the Taliban, use anything at their hands for propaganda, misinformation, and we're worried if this carries on we could see a spike in violence."
Already, news of the plan has triggered protests in Afghanistan. On Monday demonstrators in Kabul burned an effigy of Jones and threw stones at a passing U.S. convoy.
Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the book-burning comes at a time when relations between Islam and the West are already tense.
"This act appears to be a deliberate provocation at a time where mutual distrust... still prevails and there's a sense among many in the Muslim world that there is a war on Islam," Gardee told Canada AM.
"What this incident does is add fuel to the fire and most certainly will be used by extremists to give credence to that perception."
The planned protest has been slammed by the White House, NATO, and the FBI, to name a few.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates both condemned Jones's plans.
During a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Clinton called the plan "outrageous" and "aberrational" and said it does not represent American values.
"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 said. "It is unfortunate; it is not who we are."
Speaking through Pentagon spokesperson Col. David Lapan, Gates said officials are not questioning Jones's right to his beliefs.
"We are questioning whether that's advisable considering the consequences that could occur," Lapan said. "Gen. Petraeus has been very vocal and very public on this, and his position reflects the secretary's as well."
Craig Lowe, mayor of Gainesville, Fla., said the church is a "tiny, fringe group and is an embarrassment to our community."
With files from The Canadian Press