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Blair condemns plans to burn Koran

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 09 September 2010

Exclusive: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair tells Channel 4 News that plans by a radical Christian pastor to burn copies of the Koran in the US do not represent the West, as President Barack Obama warns it could be used as a recruitment tool for al-Qaida.

A radical Christian pastor is vowing to press ahead with plans to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks despite condemnation from President Obama and other world leaders.

Obama urged Pastor Terry Jones to reconsider his decision, saying it could endanger US troops.

"This is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida.

"You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities," he said.

Interpol has warned governments worldwide that Terry Jones's plans to burn the Koran would increase the risk of terror attacks.

In a written statement, Interpol said: "If the proposed Koran burning by a pastor in the US goes ahead as planned, there is a strong likelihood that violent attacks on innocent people would follow."

Former prime minister Tony Blair who set up a Faith Foundation told Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon, the Koran burning threat in the US is not representative of the Western world.

He said: "This will undoubtedly be used by people who want to exploit these issues to say 'this shows what the West thinks of Islam; what Christians think of Muslims', and of course it's completely wrong, but this is why it's such a stupid and disgraceful and disrespectful thing to do.

“There is fragility and what is important is for Muslims to hear from people like me and to know that the pastor does not represent us any more than extremists represent the truth about Islam.

"There are extremes and people who act in an extreme manner in every religious faith, but it doesn't make them represent the faith."

Talal Rajab from Muslim think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation, told Channel 4 News burning copies of the Koran would greatly distress Britain's Muslim community.

"If you compare it to other acts against Muslims like the Danish cartoons for example, the reaction from the British community has been a lot more sophisticated and nuanced than in years before. But it could certainly incite racial tensions if it carries on. The Koran is the most holy book for Muslims and to burn it is to attacking a central aspect of the faith.

"It would hurt a lot of Muslims. Some people who are on the fringe and harbour anti-Western sentiments could be pushed over the edge," Mr Rajab said.

He also warned that American Muslims are becoming quite scared by the growing Islamophobia.

"The consensus used to be that the American attitude to Islam was better than in the UK. But with several recent protests against mosques across the country, American Muslims are becoming quite worried about their place in American society," he said.

The FBI has issued a warning of possible retaliatory attacks if the burning goes ahead.

"As with past incidents perceived as acts of desecration against Islam, extremist actors will continue to threaten or attempt to harm the leaders, organizers, or attendees of the event.... and may inspire retaliatory attacks against US facilities overseas," a spokesman said.

Former head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, told Channel 4 News the Muslim community has been "very dignified" in its response to this "disturbing" act.

"The Muslim media have strongly condemned the action, while at the same time urging restraint. It is important to convey the powerful message that while copies of Koran can be burnt, no one can obliterate the message of Islam.

It is quite clear that the main perpetrators behind this irresponsible action was to create hatred against Islam and the Muslim community but we hope and pray that people around the world will react responsibly and not fall into the trap of these bigots and extremists," he said.

Sir Sacranie has attributed the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment to various government actions, including the banning of veils in France.

"There has been a huge increase in the rise of Islamophobia both in Europe and the US. The recent examples of banning minarets in Switzerland and the banning of veils in France clearly shows that the entire Muslim community has been demonised.

"The most recent example of the German chancellor awarding a national honour to the cartoonist who caused a huge disturbance of public peace was as an irresponsible act which promotes people to incite religious and racial hatred," he said.

Pastor standing firm
Local Muslims visited the Florida church yesterday to plead with Pastor Terry Jones to cancel the 'International Burn a Koran Day'.

But Mr Jones is refusing to budge on the issue, instead accusing his web hosting company of violating freedom of speech by shutting down his website.

"This will not affect the event going forward but this is devastating to us," he said.  

The Ramadhan Foundation is calling on the US government to "take urgent action" to stop the stunt.

"The ever increasing attacks on Islam and Muslims is worrying for our communities and we would urge people to reflect on the acceptance of such attacks as justified. I urge a peaceful, tolerant response to his actions,” Chief Executive, Mohammed Shafiq, said.

The story has dominated the Muslim media, with the Al Arabiya News Channel saying it represents the "archaic and indoctrinated hatred to Islam" in the United States.

The Jakarta Post describes the protests sparked by the "religious intolerance", while Iran's al-Alam television report referred to the "deeply-rooted hatred" of Islam by "Zionist Christians".

While the Muslim website, Ikhwan, descibed the "diehard bigots and hypocrite racists who want to burn Quran and smear Islam" as the "real terrorists".

Meanwhile some members of Terry Jones' parish have turned against him, saying he forced them to work at his furniture business without pay.

The controversy comes as a new poll shows most Americans think the mosque near Ground Zero should not go ahead because of the sensitivity of the area.

Two thirds of those polled in The Washington Post objected to the mosque being built near the site of the former twin towers, including a slim majority who expressed strongly negative views.


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