The new U.S. envoy for international religious freedom has highlighted the incident of controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones, who proposed a “Burn a Quran Day,” to call on government, political, religious and business leaders to stand united in their condemnation of hateful ideologies.
Suzan Johnson Cook was speaking during a three-day visit this week to Geneva, Switzerland, to meet the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Cook, a New York pastor, recently fought an intense nomination battle for her new position, where critics questioned her credentials for the post. However, she has looked to make an immediate impact and has made a vocal start to her tenure.
The incident of Florida pastor Terry Jones was cited, with Cook explaining that his views and proposals to have a mass burning of the Muslim holy book was so strongly opposed that his congregation has dwindled down to virtually nothing.
She said, “His behavior is publicly reviled and rebuked by virtually the entire society. The result has been that you can count on your fingers the number of supporters Pastor Terry Jones has in our country.”
“Leaders who remain silent are contributing to the problem and should be held politically accountable,” Cook added.
In particular, Cook explained that the U.S. Justice Department has set preventing “backlash crimes” as a high priority. “Backlash crimes” are those committed against people perceived to be Arab, Muslim, Sikh, or South Asian following the 9/11 terrorist atrocities.
“President Obama has made clear that it is in the interest of security and stability worldwide to ensure fundamental freedoms for people of all backgrounds and all faiths to understand that religious freedom is a universal human right,” she said.
Cook urged leaders from all walks of life to help create a climate whereby violence and discrimination could be averted, rather than relying upon legislation that sought to prosecute such behavior after an offense had already been committed.
Former President George W. Bush was also mentioned in Cook’s address. She praised him for visiting a mosque in the days following the 9/11 attacks. He did this, she said, to take the lead in promoting tolerance, and to “counter efforts to blame all adherents of Islam for the actions of a violent extremist group.”