- (Photo: AP Images / Mustafa Najafizada)
Evangelicals expressed dismay over the deaths of United Nations workers in Afghanistan, who were killed in retaliation for last month’s burning of a Quran by a fringe Florida pastor.
“No matter how much we disagree and find abhorrent the actions of [Terry] Jones, responding in violence can never be justified,” said Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, chief executive officer and secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance.
Representing 600 million evangelicals, the WEA asked Muslim leaders on its website to call upon their communities to end the violence and “explain … that the actions of this tiny extremist group who have burnt the Quran are absolutely condemned by Christians globally.”
These sentiments have largely been echoed by evangelical leaders elsewhere.
“The actions of one church in Florida do not represent the vast majority of Christians, who desire to live in peace with their neighbors,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “But violence against other human beings is never an appropriate response.”
Violent demonstrations in Afghanistan were sparked by a March 20 burning of Islam’s holy book. Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., oversaw the Quran burning, with the assistance of preacher Wayne Sapp, after staging a mock trial that found the Muslim holy book “guilty of causing murder, rape and terrorism.” Jones said a jury of “individuals mainly from around Florida” determined the verdict, according to ABC News.
Jones first grabbed international attention last year after threatening to burn the Quran to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Amid calls for restraint, including from U.S. President Barack Obama, the Florida pastor relented.
But as he explained to ABC, Jones “still wanted to make an awareness of the radical element of Islam.” For him and a small group of individuals, placing the Quran on trial – to give Islam “a fair shake” – was the way to do it. If the holy book was found not guilty, Jones said he would have issued a public apology for “our accusations and insults against the Quran.”
Evangelical leaders have continually distanced themselves from Jones ever since his emergence into worldwide notoriety last year. They have called for respect for all religions. However, this has not stopped unrest from occurring in predominantly Muslim nations.
Last week, a Catholic church in Pakistan was torched by a mob protesting the recent Quran burning. Then on Friday, hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered at the Blue Mosque after Friday prayers and marched toward the headquarters of the UN mission in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. A small group reportedly broke away from the crowd and overwhelmed security personnel at the compound, seizing weapons from the guards and firing on the embassy. The building was set on fire. Five demonstrators and seven U.N. employees were killed.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attack “outrageous and cowardly” during a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
The situation remains tense as Afghan authorities block roads leading in and out of the city.
Meanwhile, deadly protests have spread to the country’s southern region on Saturday. So far, nine additional people have been reported dead.
An unrepentant Jones said he was "not responsible" for the killings in Afghanistan during an interview broadcast live on BBC. "They [Afghan demonstrators] used the Quran burning as an excuse to promote their violent activities," he said.
Also, he boldly wrote on Friday in a press release that “Islam is not a religion of peace. It is time that we call these people to accountability.”
“Our United States government and our President must take a close, realistic look at the radical element Islam.”
Jones also accused Islam of having a “stranglehold of political correctness” on westernized nations in reference to Sapp being banned from the U.K. this week. Jones was also banned from entering Britain in January.
This week’s attack is not the first time that a Quran-related controversy ignited violence among Afghanistan's devout Muslim followers.
In January last year, Afghan security forces shot and killed seven civilians after protesters attempted to overrun NATO bases and police facilities. The demonstrations were sparked by an alleged burning of the Quran by U.S. soldiers in the country's southern province of Helmand, which is at the center of the insurgency.
Subsequent NATO and Afghan investigations found that no Quran had been burned by soldiers in any of the international military contingency in the region.
A previous protest in May 2008 turned deadly after one foreign soldier serving under NATO command was killed. Two Afghan protesters were also killed in the demonstration against the shooting of a Quran by a U.S. soldier in Iraq.