The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Monday that a Florida church's plan to burn Qurans on Sept. 11 could be detrimental to American troops overseas.
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," said Gen. David Petraeus in a statement. "It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."
There are about 140,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan.
A small, non-denominational church in Florida called Dove World Outreach Center announced several months ago its plan to burn copies of Islam's holy book on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The church, which has a history of controversial opposition to Islam and homosexuality, said it organized the "International Burn A Quran Day" to warn America about the dangers of Islam.
"We only did it because we felt there needed to be an outcry against Islam, because Islam is presenting itself as a religion of peace," explained Dr. Terry Jones, senior pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, to The Christian Post in July.
But Christian leaders – liberal and conservative – have strongly criticized the plan as disrespectful to Muslims and contradictory to the mission of the church to reveal Christ's love.
The National Association of Evangelicals in July urged the church to cancel the burning, saying that such an act "would exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims throughout the world." And the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of churches, called the leaders of Dove World Outreach Center "misguided" in their understanding of the Christian teaching to love thy neighbor.
Already news of the planned Quran burning have sparked protests in the Muslim world. Hundreds of Afghans protested outside of a Kabul mosque Monday, burning American flags and chanting "Death to America" and "Long live Islam." Demonstrators also burned an effigy of the Dove World Outreach Center's pastor, Terry Jones, according to The Associated Press.
In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, thousands of Muslims rallied Saturday outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta against the church's plan. The Quran burning day also reportedly sparked a smaller protest of 100 Indonesian Muslims in Jakarta on Aug. 30.
Open Doors, a ministry that works with persecuted churches, warned that the Quran burning could have huge implications for Christians living in Muslim countries.
"The burning of Qurans will only confirm what many Muslims believe – that Christians hate Muslims," said Dr. Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA. "That is exactly the opposite message we as Christians want to send. We want to reach out in love to them."
In a Muslim country such as Pakistan, Christians are often falsely accused of desecrating the Quran by Muslims and sent to jail. Under the countries blasphemy law, a Muslim can accuse a Christian of insulting Islam's holy book without evidence. Such accusations usually occur after a mundane dispute between Pakistani Muslims and Christians, such as over land or wage.
With such an international affront, Moeller warned that some Muslims in Islamic countries will take their revenge on local Christians because they cannot reach those in America. The ministry leader pointed to the Danish cartoons several years ago as an example, highlighting that it sparked international riots and Muslims to attack local Christians.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul also condemned the church's plan, saying Washington was "deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups."
Abdul Shakoor, an 18-year-old high school student who said he joined the Kabul protest after hearing neighbors talk about the Quran burning, commented, "We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States," as reported by The Associated Press.