United States pastor is showing no regrets about an act of hatred that provoked a massacre of United Nations staff amid deadly riots.
Dressed in black robes, the white-haired Pastor Terry Jones looked down from his position in the “judge’s chair” set up in the mock courtroom of his tiny church.
Judgement had been reached. A verdict had been given and now it was time for the sentence to be carried out. The “guilty” party—the Qur’an—was set in a black metal fire-proof tray.
“Give them a few minutes. Those who desire to leave. That is not a problem,” Jones intoned in his gravelly monotone as his assistant pastor Wayne Sapp stood next to the book, looking solemn with his hands placed behind his back.
Despite being mostly ignored at the time by the mainstream media, what came next has sent shockwaves around the world, setting off a wave of violence in Afghanistan that on Friday rocked the United Nations mission there and on Saturday led to more fatal riots.
In the age of the internet and social media, the absence of mainstream coverage was not a problem for Jones and his tiny Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida. After it took place on March 20, the pastor’s fiery punishment for the Qur’an would be streamed live over the internet and preserved via YouTube. An online poll of whether to shoot, burn, shred or drown the book had already been held.
Pictures of the event would be posted on the Facebook page of Jones’ new organisation, Stand Up America, which aims to promote his anti-Muslin actions. With the power of the world wide web at his hands, he did not need coverage from newspapers or television media to help him create a global crisis. He could do it all by himself.
As Sapp stood by the Qur’an, which had been soaked in kerosene, Jones made his final pronouncements. “I do not believe wrong intentions or motives. This is, as you could put it, the desire of the people,” he said. “This is their chosen form of punishment and the Qur’an was found guilty. Thus we are obligated to fulfil this punishment.”
Then he turned for a brief moment to look at Sapp. “If we are ready, then go ahead,” he told the younger man. Sapp then turned to the Qur’an and put an oven lighter to its pages. The book instantly caught fire. As it burned, the click and whir of cameras could be heard.
That act—which has provoked anger and revulsion across the world—came at the end of the latest surreal stunt by Jones in his mission to garner headlines and attention for his anti-Islamic beliefs. His vehicle of choice: the trial of the Muslim holy book inside his church.
Over more than four hours, Jones sat and presided over the strange scene. The jury was made up mostly of his church members or curious volunteers. One woman, Jobeth Gerrard, had travelled down to Florida from Atlanta, Georgia. She described the trial to the Atlanta Journal newspaper and said she had no problem with the proceedings. “We are told that Muslims are peaceful and we don’t have a Muslim problem. Why are they all freaking out about this? Don’t we have free speech?” Gerrard told the newspaper.
Gerrard and the other jurors heard the prosecution outline a long series of charges against the book. They included the promotion of terrorist acts, crimes against humanity, rape and torture of people of other faiths and the persecution of minorities and women.
Jones outlined to the court the consequences of guilt in a curious mix of quasi-legal language and folksy down home wisdom. “If you are found guilty, if you are convicted of murder, you don’t get to go home. It does not matter if we love you, if your mommy loves you, if your daddy loves you—you do not get to go home, because you have killed someone. And because of that you will face punishment. You will go to jail, you will possibly someday be electrocuted, or you will be shot up with poison and you will die,” he said, and added: “That is what justice is.”
Of course, this was hardly a fair trial. Jones’ church promotes its anti-Islamic beliefs fervently. Nor has he been put off by the wave of negative publicity stoked by the horrific scenes in Afghanistan. In a statement released after news of the killings of the United Nations workers broke, Jones expressed no remorse or regret.
He said the problem lay with Islam itself, not his actions in burning the Qur’an. “We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities. The time has come to hold Islam accountable,” Jones said.
Nor does it seem Jones is going to be put off from further activities. When he backed down from his Qur’an burning last year, Jones was put off by appeals from some of the most powerful people in the world, including the Pope, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General David Petraeus.
In January, the home office announced Jones had been barred from entering the UK “for the public good”. A planned visit in order to address the English Defence League, revealed by the Observer in December, was shelved after the far-right group withdrew its invitation.
Jones subsequently lambasted the British government for its “unfair” decision.
Now he seems determined to continue with more actions, despite the murders they have helped spark.
On Good Friday, Jones and a local group calling itself The Order of the Dragon will protest outside the Islamic Centre of America in Dearborn, Michigan. Local Muslim and Christian church leaders want Jones to stay away.
So far, even in the light of recent events, Jones shows no signs he will do so. In his statement he voiced not a hint of backing down and a staggering lack of self-awareness. “Muslim dominated countries can no longer be allowed to spread their hate against Christians and minorities,” Jones stated.
Yet, as the local Gainesville newspaper reported, on the lawn in front of Jones’ church three signs have been put up which together read simply: “Islam is of the Devil”. Thankfully, a passing do-gooder appears to have vandalised them, scrawling over the hate speech a new message that stated more helpfully: “Love all men.” - guardian.co.uk