Tampa, Florida - A Gainesville church plans to burn the Muslim holy book to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The State Department calls it '"un-American." The White House and generals in Afghanistan say it endangers the troops. Local Muslims say the pastor's actions will only empower radical Islamists.
"I think the pastor is empowering extremists over there on that side of the world. We have nuts there too. They'll use this as a message on 9/11 to attack American troops who are trying to preserve democracy in the region," says Ramzy Ellic of the Council on American-Islamic Relations..
In May, a mosque in Jacksonville was bombed and three months later a New York cab driver is stabbed several times by a passenger for being Muslim. Ellic says the church's plans to burn 100 Qurans on the anniversary of September 11 send the message that all of Islam and Muslims are responsible for the terrorist attacks that day.
"There are people who hate Islam, take opportunity to attack us also those that are misinformed by the actions of this pastor," says Ellic.
"Our 9/11 demonstration, 9/11 protest is a clear message to radical elements of Islam that we will not tolerate that in America," explain Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach Center. Jones adds, "I am offended when they burn the flag or burn the Bible. We feel the message in the end is more important than people being offended. We believe we can't back off the truth of the dangers of Islam the dangers of radical Islam, just because people are going to be offended. Overseas we see they have no problem burning our flags, no problem calling for the death of America or our president. We feel it's time to stand up."
United States generals in Afghanistan say Jones' timing to take a stand is all wrong. Lt. General William Cardwell says, "We are here defending the rights of U.S. citizens. We are not debating first amendment rights people have. What we are here to tell you, their very actions jeopardize the safety of the young men and women serving in uniform over here and also undermines the very mission we are trying to accomplish."
CAIR officials say this fear of Islam is now being carried out in acts of hate. The Tampa office says so far this year, they've received 95 cases, which they say is more than right after 9/11.
Ellic says he worries about his family's future and the future of Muslims in the United States.
"Are my kids going to be safe five to 10 years down the road? I am concerned. I look over my shoulder when I walk down the street," says Ellic.
St. Pete for Peace prepares to quietly protest the Quran burning in Gainesville this Saturday. "There's a wave of Muslim hysteria sweeping the nation. We want to be part of the other side where we spread love, peace and understanding," says Chris Ernesto, a volunteer with St. Pete for Peace.
The Gainesville pastor says he welcomes Muslims who live in peace. "We have freedom of religion, we have freedom of speech. They are more than welcome to be here welcome to worship, welcome to build mosques," says Jones.
Ellic says it will be up to the Muslim community to change radical views about their religion. "We have a voice in this country, a freedom like nowhere else. We need to turn around this issue, like what's happening in Gainesville and other issues down the road. Do proactive education in the community and share Quran with others."
CAIR is giving out free Qurans in an effort to clear up any misinformation about the Muslim religion and to help bridge understanding between the faiths.