A grassroots movement in Gainesville, Florida, is gathering pace against a local pastor’s plan to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
“This dispute has bought the city and its religious communities together,” says Rev. Larry Reimer of Gainesville’s United Church. “We are coming to realise that we have much more in common with each other than we thought.”
Rev. Reimer insists the overwhelming majority of the Florida city’s population stands against the Islamophobic antics of the fringe pastor who wants to burn the Koran on Saturday’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Terry Jones – whose “Dove World Outreach Center” congregation musters barely 50 members – has caused international uproar after announcing plans to burn the Muslim holy text as a “stand” against the spread of radical Islam.
But despite the international attention, Rev. Reimer insists that Jones, an evangelical pastor who is also a second-hand furniture salesman, remains what he has always been – a fringe figure who does not represent the feelings of the local community.
‘We tried to ignore him’
Rev. Reimer said that until the story exploded the town’s various religious groups had hoped it was enough simply to ignore the bellicose Pastor Jones, who campaigned unsuccessfully against the election of an openly gay mayor last year.
“It’s a quirk of the modern media that his message has gone around the world,” he told FRANCE 24. “We tried to ignore him but he has just got so much attention.”
Rev. Reimer said some 25 clergy from the city’s Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities have come together for a series of inter-faith services and events ahead of Saturday’s 9/11 anniversary. These have included visits to the mosque, where his group will be attending Friday prays.
On Saturday, hundreds of people are expected to attend a candlelit vigil organised by the group in downtown Gainesville.
The national voice
The people of Gainesville are not the only ones to have expressed their dismay at the pastor's plans. Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the US National Council of Churches, rejected the idea that the majority of Americans were fearful of the presence of the Islamic faith in the country.
“It’s wrong to assume there is a wave of Islamophobia sweeping across the United States,” he told FRANCE 24. “And we feel it is important that the government speaks out and expresses the moral disgust felt by the majority of the population [at Pastor Jones’s planned burning of the Koran].
“We believe religious tolerance can be strengthened through this tragedy in Florida.”
FRANCE 24 was unable to contact Pastor Jones at the time this article was published.
Date created : 2010-09-08