Since September 11, 2001, most of the civilized world has understood that some people holding extreme views of their religion can commit violent acts believing they’re on a mission from God. We want to hold them accountable, but they don’t answer to the code of conduct universally known as the “Golden Rule.”

Somehow, this all got distorted in the mind of Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who announced to the world that his small church would observe September 11 this year, the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history, by burning copies of the Quran. And since making that intention public, Jones has been getting international attention pulling military, political, civil and religious leaders together in an urgent campaign to prevent something that hasn’t happened yet, but will possibly prove deadly if it does.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, took the rare step of a military leader taking a position on a domestic matter when he warned in an e-mail to the Associated Press that “images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence.”

Petraeus spoke Wednesday with Afghan President Karzai about the matter, according to a military spokesman Col. Erik Gunhus.

“They both agreed that burning of a Quran would undermine our effort in Afghanistan, jeopardize the safety of coalition troopers and civilians,” Gunhus said, and would “create problems for our Afghan partners … as it likely would be Afghan police and soldiers who would have to deal with any large demonstrations.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the pastor’s plans were outrageous and urged Jones to cancel the event.

“It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Fla., with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world’s attention, but that’s the world we live in right now,” Clinton said in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations. “It is unfortunate, it is not who we are.”

With all this power and influence against such an inflammatory action by Jones, all they can do is appeal to his sensibilities, because what he plans to do is not illegal. It’s just stunningly ill-conceived.

The Vatican expressed “great concern” over commemorating the anniversary of a tragic terrorist attack like this.

“These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.

“The reflection which necessarily should be fostered on the occasion of the remembrance of 11 September would be, first of all, to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorist attacks. To this feeling of solidarity we join our prayers for them and their loved ones who lost their lives.

“Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed: ‘Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions’…

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI similarly expressed, ‘violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion’…

Pastor Terry Jones says he’s still “praying over it,” that his church is “prepared to do what we’re called to do.” If he follows Christian principles, that mission is clear.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....