U.S. pastor burns Quran, Prophet image; gets fine for ‘book burning’ hazard
This time, U.S. pastor Terry Jones received a $271 fine and a slap on the hand by a local fire department.
Indeed, Pastor Jones had stuck to his promise: to burn copies of the Quran and images depicting Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) by Saturday April 28 at 5 p.m. if an Iranian Christian cleric on death row was not released by then.
And sure enough, the clock struck 5 and Jones began to give a speech to about 20 people that had gathered in front of his church in Florida for the planned burning.
From afar, “a few people watched the scene, but there were no protesters,” the Florida-based Ocala website reported, adding that the event was streamed online.
The pastor was joined by another clergyman who also gave a speech at a podium, demanding the release of the Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from an Iranian prison.
Nadarkhani has been charged with apostasy and sentenced to death for leaving Islam and converting to Christianity.
Moments later, Jones began to burn copies of Islam’s holy book and an image supposedly depicting Prophet Mohammed in front of his church, as seen in a 38 minute-long video on the website of Jones’ organization, Stand Up America Now.
But the pastor was soon interrupted by officers from both the local police and fire departments.
The Gainesville Fire Rescue department issued the church a citation for violating the city’s fire ordinances. According to a fire department official, Jones “had approval for a burn but did not have the required authorization to burn books,” Ocala reported.
Jones was then handed a $271 fine, which included court costs.
He was fined because the Florida city of Gainesville has “restrictive fire ordinances,” which dictate that “books cannot be burned without authorization because of environmental concerns over the burning of glue and bindings in books,” the local fire chief said.
Now, this was a spanner thrown in the works that perhaps Jones wasn’t even expecting. He could not even retort back with a “constitutional right to protest” argument; the environmental safety regulations had spoken.
Last week, the pastor’s threats had reached the Pentagon, after which a spokesman came out and essentially pleaded with Jones not to carry through with his threats, reminding the world of last year’s uproar when he had first burned copies of the Quran.
“The last time Pastor Jones burned a Quran, back in March of 2011, more than 16 people died and more than 90 people were injured from the resulting protests. We hope Pastor Jones will take into account the safety and welfare of deployed U.S. military personnel before engaging in such an activity again,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Speaks told the Guardian.
The other fear was that Jones’ behavior could be used as insurgent propaganda, inspiring an Islamist militant backlash.
Last year, Jones burned a Quran also on the grounds of his church in Florida which prompted attacks on a U.N. compound in Afghanistan where seven people died.
When he threatened to burn the books again this time round, he was asked about the cost in terms of the lives lost in his previous escapade; Jones told the Guardian that the impact of his Quran burning was not his responsibility.
“What happened last time and what could happen this time is not our responsibility. All we did was burn a book. It posed no threat to anyone else, yet riots broke out several thousand miles away – which just proves how extreme Islam is,” he said.
He had also threatened to burn more books on last year’s anniversary of the September 11 attacks but after international outrage, the burnings never took place. Jones had told authorities he received numerous death threats because of the planned protest, which he called off amid the increasing pressure from world leaders.
Interestingly, this time there was no widespread rioting and reports of condemnation from around the world both leading up to and after the burning. In fact, Saturday’s Quran burning was scarcely reported and the local Florida news website was one of the few reports available online.
A few Facebook pages were launched in recent weeks with the titles: “We Protest Against Burn the Quran Day (by Pastor Terry Jones)” and “Pastor Terry Jones is back” but no major Islamic body or rights organization has spoken out against the burning as of yet.
Could this be the quiet before the storm? Had the world grown tired with Pastor Jones’ threats? Or could many have been relying on America to stop him in his tracks?
“It is the job of the Americans to stop this person, otherwise the militants, the insurgents will use this opportunity and the people will help them,” Jamshed Hashimi, a 45-year-old teacher at one of the private universities of Kabul, told the Guardian.
“Islam doesn’t allow us to dishonor the Christian holy book, so it is the job of Christians to respect the holy Quran as well,” he added.
Indeed these arguments are rich with religious magnitudes that should always be discussed, but perhaps the intervention of a local fire department effectually dumbed down Jones’ statement as a self-professed scourge of Islam this time round.
After all, one could always ask, just where were Gainesville Fire Department’s “restrictive fire ordinances” last year, when Jones burned copies of the Quran on the same Florida church grounds in 2011?