Kourosh Ziabari, Iran Review: Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve most probably heard of the Christian Pastor who set several copies of Quran, the holy book of Muslims, on fire in 2010 on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The eccentric pastor believes, or pretends to believe that Muslims were responsible for the killing of American citizens as the American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center North and South Towers respectively on September 11, 2001 and killed around 3,000 people.
Terry Jones is the name who sparked an international controversy in 2010 and 2011 when announced his plans for burning the copies of Holy Quran under the pretext that Islam is a religion of violence and extremism and should be held responsible for the wars that are ignited across the world.
Interview with Pastor Terry Jones who has caused the indignation and sorrow of millions of Muslims across the world in the past years with his contentious actions which are totally contrary to the benevolent spirit ruling the divine religions is both an interesting and a perturbing experience. It’s interesting in that it shows the erroneous insight of someone who has based his strategy on a limited, shallow and selective understanding of Islam and used his personal reading of Islam as the basis for his provocative approach without doing any research or deeply reviewing the opinions of proficient and trustworthy Islamic scholars. It’s perturbing because the behavior of such people shows that how easy the sectarian conflicts and hostilities originating from religion among the communities and the governments can grow and expand.
Unfortunately, the attitude of people like Mr. Jones which can be seen among the Muslim, Jewish or Christian extremists by no means helps the growth and dissemination of peace, equality, brotherhood and peaceful coexistence between people from different religious or national backgrounds, especially at the times when the flames of sectarian conflicts gradually encompasses the entire Middle East and, with the passage of time, the whole world.
The statements made by Pastor Jones underline another truth, that is the necessity for the pious and faithful Muslims to present and introduce the divine, peaceful and equitable aspects of Islam as a religion of equality and peace, which is a responsibility on the shoulders of Muslim scholars and theologians as well as all the Muslims living in the Islamic or non-Islamic countries. Finding the pure and true Islam and the message of its great prophet should be disencumbered from the pollutions of Salafism, Wahhabism or any other approach which opines that “I’m the only one who is righteous and everyone else is wrong.” We hope that all the extremists and fanatics who are opposed to moderation will learn that wisdom and moderation are beneficial both to their faith and for their earthly world.
In order to learn more about Terry Jones’ viewpoints, explore his logic for opposition to Islam and Muslims and find the roots of his conspicuous hostility toward the Muslims, Iran Review conducted a challenging interview with the American pastor. What follows is the text of Iran Review’s exclusive interview with Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center.
Q: The public attention was focused on you when you first announced your plan for burning the Holy Quran in 2010. Why did you embark on such a controversial venture? Why did you make such a decision while you surely knew that the Muslims are very sensitive about our religious beliefs and sanctities and that burning their holy book will spark a wave of international anger, even the non-Muslims?
A: Well, there are probably several reasons for it. We believe that, one, the Quran and the teachings of the Quran are responsible for millions and millions of deaths throughout the 1400 year history of Islam. We see in the forty-four Islam Quran dominated countries around the world, for example such as Saudi Arabia, we see that there is no freedom of speech there, no human rights, civil rights, women’s rights.
We decided to have that event in September of 2010 also as a type of protest against the radical element of Islam, in response to the 9/11 attacks. Also in protest to the, at that time anyway, the proposed so-called 9/11 mosque that was to be build there just a couple of blocks from 9/11. So basically in general it was a protest against Islam, against Islamic teachings and against Islamic oppression.
And it was also to send a warning to the radical element of Islam, or the element of Islam in America that would like to institute Sharia here in America, that we simply are not going to tolerate that. I lived thirty years in Europe and I saw the influence of Islam there in Europe, and how they are trying to push their agenda, and push Sharia into basically every European country where there is a large Muslim population.
Q: You said that you wanted to protest against the Islamic teachings. Do you think that burning the Holy Quran was a correct and moral way of protesting against Islam?
A: I think it is definitely a way. I don’t think it is the only way, but I think it is a very effective way as far as being able to draw attention, let’s say attention to the event, and perhaps even attention to the Quran.
I am sure there are many Muslims who do not realize that there are teachings in the Quran, especially in the one, the edition Mohammad wrote during his time in Medina, that are very often used and quoted by the radical element of Islam. So it is a way to protest the Quran, protest the teachings, and, like I said, protest the abuses against minorities in Quran dominated countries. In countries where the Quran or Sharia is the law of the land, there is no doubt minorities there, Christians, non-Christians are definitely in the clear disadvantage.
Q: Well, I have personally spoken to several Western journalists who have seen the same discrimination against Muslims in Western countries, where Muslims aren’t allowed to actually observe and follow their special dressing codes and rules and they are not even allowed to practice their daily prayers and many mosques have been destroyed in recent years. So there is the same discrimination against the Muslims but the Muslims have never decided to burn the Talmud or the Bible.
A: Well I think that is, of course, totally absurd and incorrect. For example, in Saudi Arabia, Christians at Christmas or Easter are not allowed to practice their religion. They are forced to practice Ramadan, eat Halal meats. Civil violations in Saudi Arabia are innumerable. Women are not allowed to drive, not allowed to vote.
In Western countries, or in countries that are dominated, say, by Western thinking, let’s say by Christian legal principles, for example, here in the United States, or in Europe, or in any other country, Muslims are allowed, when they are here, they are allowed to become citizens. There are thousands of mosques here in America. They can practice their religion every day. Those accusations are totally, totally incorrect.
They are allowed to dress as they please. There might be some restrictions in some countries concerning security, because the Muslim dress, especially for the women, that is a head to toe dress. So of course you cannot see behind that mask, behind the clothes, and you do not know what is there. So it does pose some type of security risk.
So there might be some limitations placed on that type of dress, perhaps when pictures are taken for identification, or in some European countries like in France or perhaps Belgium or some other countries. But that is not to be compared to in Muslim countries where people are beheaded for leaving Islam, where Christians are killed, Coptics are killed, churches are burned down.
That is just, I believe, a very inaccurate and unfair comparison.
Q: I don’t agree with you. Islamophobia is a rampant phenomenon in the West. Besides, I have personally spoken to several Western Christian leaders who believe that insulting the beliefs of a divine religion is a despicable and immoral action. You are a Christian Pastor. Didn’t you find it contradictory to the tenets and principles of Christianity to burn the Holy Quran?
A: No, definitely not. Definitely not, and I don’t know how any Christian could ever say that.
Of course, in the United States of America all religions are protected and can be practiced. Of course, we in Christianity believe that Jesus Christ and the Bible is the only way. We believe that any other religion that leads people in a different direction is of course a false religion. So the burning of the text book of a false religion I would not consider that to be in any way immoral, incorrect. Not at all.
It is insulting to the people who believe that book, but even if they are insulted by that, it does not give them the right to respond with violence. If my neighbor here next door to me insults me in some way, that does not give me the right to break in to his house and kill him because he has insulted my wife, myself, my children, my beliefs. Insulting someone, an insult, is not a threat to your life.
Q: What would be your reaction if a group of Muslims, a group of Muslim clerics decide to burn the Bible in protest at what the Western governments are doing in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and other countries that have resisted against the United States and its European allies?
A: We have actually had that happened here, not from Muslims, I am not saying that. We have had a Bible burned on our property. People came here on to our property and threw a Bible here that was burning. Of course, if Muslims want to do that to protest the U.S. involvement in places like Afghanistan, then of course they would have a perfect right to do that under our Constitution and under our freedoms here.
How it would make a person feel, of course I would not like to see a Bible burned. I consider the Bible to be the Word of God, to be a Holy book, of course, but at the same time it is a book. If they burn a Bible I can go down to the store and buy another Bible. I would not believe that it is a reason for me to attack those people or perform some type of act of violence concerning them or their family, or put out a hit or reward on their life. I would not think that would be the proper response. As Christians, the proper response would obviously be simply just to forgive them.
Q: On March 20, 2011 you had the trial of the Quran and found the scripture guilty of crimes against humanity. What I want to ask you is, how don’t you find the U.S. government or its client states in the Middle East, like Israel, guilty of crimes against humanity, in cases such as the U.S.-led war on Iraq which has cost more than one million Iraqi lives, or when Israel massacred 1,800 Palestinians in the Operation Cast Lead back in 2008-2009? Aren’t these ruthless killings a crime against humanity?
A: I believe that any kind of crime against humanity should be not tolerated or should be punished. I am not by any means, let’s say, calling out just simply the Muslim or the Muslim community. There is no doubt that Islam has a severe problem. No matter how much they proclaim it is a religion of peace, it does have a severe problem with a radical element within Islam. It has a severe problem dealing with women, minorities, homosexuals. There is no doubt that there is a serious problem there and they should address that.
But I do not excuse any acts of violence or attacks against civilians or individuals that may be perpetrated by Israel or by America. I think that all of those acts should be condemned.
It is also my opinion that we should not be in Afghanistan. We should not be involved over there. We should not be involved in Muslim countries. I do not believe our armies should be there. I believe that we should leave those countries and come back to the United States. We have of course here problems of our own, to take care of here without being involved someplace else.
Q: Don’t you think your decision to burn the Quran and your new plan for burning the Holy Quran this year will spark anger and will endanger the lives of Americans across the world and will also spark sectarian conflict, segregation between the followers of divine religions, a kind of hostility and animosity between the Muslims and the Christians? Because you are a Christian pastor and the Muslims consider you as a symbol of Christianity in the United States? Don’t you think this decision is not prudent and expedient?
A: Well, I think the decision is actually proper. Actually, I think there has to be something done in order to draw attention to the problem that we have in Muslim dominated countries. I lived in Europe for thirty years; I saw the growth of Islam there. I have visited Muslim countries, I have been in Egypt twice, I have known many many Muslims who converted to Christianity, and many many Coptics, and there is a severe problem that has been there for many generations in those countries.
What we are doing is burning a book to draw attention to the plight of Christians and other non-Muslims in Muslim dominated countries. What actually happens over there is that Christians are killed or have houses burned down, or churches are burned down, or they are not allowed at all to build churches, or practice their faith freely. So I think in that sense our actions are actually proper, and to a certain extent very very necessary to draw attention to a problem that has been going on since the Islamic Crusade started 1400 years ago with Muhammad when on his deathbed he gave the command to cleanse the Arabian Peninsular of all unbelievers. And that is exactly what Islam has been doing the whole 1400 years.
Q: I have read somewhere that you have never read the Quran completely. You have taken out certain verses of the Quran from its original context and based your arguments on them. This is why many critics of Islam don’t know too much about Islam and are ignorant of the fact that Islam has always preached peace and friendship and respect for women, children, orphans and the poor. Don’t you think that you should have first gathered some complete information about Islam and then decide to burn the Quran or protest against Islam and hold a trial for Islam?
A: Well the trial we had, of course, was conducted by experts. We had an Imam here. He defended the Quran. And we had a Coptic Christian who was the prosecuting attorney. So if you are talking about the trial, we definitely had qualified people here during that trial. Of course testimonies were given.
If you are talking about me, personally, I do not think to a certain degree it matters. Because what I am going by, I am not going by doctrine. I am not stressing doctrine. That discussion usually goes like this: I quote verses in the Quran that seem to be very violent, then you explain to me why that is not true. That is usually how theological discussions go. And that is not really what I am interested in.
I am interested in what the Quran does practically. In other words, I am interested in the actual fruits of the tree. And no matter how many peaceful verses you bring out of the edition that Mohammad wrote in Mecca, how many violent verses I bring out in the edition there in Medina, the facts are, in Saudi Arabia and in every Muslim dominated country, there, it is not pretty. I am going by the fruits. I am not going by what we can discuss back and forth. I am going by the fruits.
When Saudi Arabia allows churches to be built there and Christians to preach on the street, to practice their religion, or in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, when they stop killing Christians, when they actually practicing some of those peaceful verses, then that will be something different.
But if you understand my drift, I am not interested in theology. I am interested in the actual practicing of Islam, and I do not see, in the practical aspect, I do not see a peaceful religion.
Q: You spoke of Saudi Arabia as a Muslim country. The fact that two holy sites of Islam are located in Saudi Arabia is undeniable. But Saudi Arabia is not the perfect example of a Muslim country. You know that Saudi Arabia is a close ally of Washington and the backyard of Washington in the Middle East. So why doesn’t the United States condemn the violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia itself? Why should the Christian Pastors rise up and protest against the violation of human rights which is not sanctioned by Islam, which is not compliant with the teachings of Islam?
A: Well, I don’t know if I understood you correctly, but for one thing, it is in compliance with the teachings of Islam. Saudi Arabia is ruled by Sharia and by the Quran. I know Egypt is too.
As to why the United States does not condemn it, that is because the United States and most politicians are simply cowards. Our government is a coward. We sell out for the oil, for whatever reason, for oil, for money.
Otherwise, indeed, we should be condemning the conditions that are in Saudi Arabia, as I have mentioned before: the fact that women cannot vote, they cannot obtain a driver’s license, they cannot get an education, travel, without express permission of a male adult, that a woman’s word is worth half of a man’s. Indeed we should be protesting these things, but the United States government and the politicians just simply do not have the guts to do it.
Q: But we should not forget that not all of the Arab countries are run by Sharia Law. Saudi Arabia is administered by a group of extremist Wahabbis who are actually a subsidiary of the U.S. and American Wahhabism and they are not real Muslims who run the affairs through the pure teachings of Islam. Even the Muslims in Iran and many other Muslim countries are opposed to Wahhabism and the way that Saudi Arabia treats its citizens. You can look at Malaysia, Turkey, even Iran and many other Muslim countries where the women enjoy equal rights to the men and have a high social prestige and high status so I don’t think that Saudi Arabia is a good example of how Islam rules a country politically.
A: OK, do you want me to respond to that?
Q: My remark, actually, responds to your claim. Many independent journalists, scholars and authors feel that it is not Islam but fanatic Zionism that is the root of the problems in our times; however, the Muslims have never desecrated the Talmud or the Torah. Simply because they think Israel promotes war and aggression in the world, they have never insulted the Talmud or the Torah. So Islam has taught the Muslims to respect the religious beliefs of even their worst enemies. How can you accuse the Muslims of promoting violence and belligerence?
A: I don’t believe they actually teach the respect of other religions. I don’t really see that. Like I said, in all Muslim dominated countries… I mean, your explanation I understand. I realize there are different variations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey and other Muslim dominated countries. There are different severities to their rules and regulations, but still, it all boils down to the fact that there is not the same type of respect for other religions, there is not the same type of freedom as there is, let’s say, here in the United States.
Our First Amendment guarantees us freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not a practiced, guaranteed, welcomed element in Muslim countries. In Muslim countries you cannot criticize the Quran, you cannot criticize Muhammad, you can not even criticize Sharia.
So I think definitely just those aspects is a way of Islam insulting, of course, the Jewish religion, insulting the Christian religion. Even the Muslims say Jesus was not the Son of God which is what we believe. That is of course a tremendous insult to Christianity. They do not believe that he died upon the Cross and died for our sins. That is a tremendous insult to Christianity. They believe that he was just a man, or perhaps a prophet. That is lowering what we consider his deity, as being the Son of God.
So I don’t think you can really say that Islam does not insult other religions. Their very teaching insults Christianity, for sure.
A: I think you are mostly influenced by how the Muslim countries are portrayed by the mainstream media in the West. Many Western citizens have come to Iran and traveled to Iran in recent years, and many other Muslim countries, and changed their minds after visiting these countries, especially Iran which is portrayed by the mainstream media as a terrorist country, as a violent country, as a country with uncivilized people.
So I think the better solution for you is to travel to Iran or other Muslim countries and see for yourself how things are going on and how the religious minorities are cooperating with and collaborating with the Muslim majority. And you can come to Iran and see that the religious minorities, the Zoroastrians, the Christians, the Jews, have representatives in the parliament while their population is very low. And we have had several Christian players in our national football team in the recent year. I don’t think the United States will allow any Muslim football player to play in its national football team. Do you have a response to that?
A: Well for one thing, I have a reward, a bounty on my life for $6.4 million, plus I am on the hit list there. I am the number two person on the hit list in the world, the only American that is on the [Al Qaeda in Yemen, Inspire Magazine] hit list, so I think if I was to enter a Muslim country I would not live very long.
We have protested for Pastor Youcef Nadarkani there in Iran, who was a Muslim at one time and converted to Christianity. He was locked up, put into prison, and was supposed to be executed. So I don’t think even though there might be some things a person can pull up and say, OK, this is what we are doing there. I think still, freedom in Islam dominated countries is just simply basically non-existent because Muslims do not believe in “all men are created equal.” Muslims are the better people, that is what the Quran says. Muslims will always believe, not just in Muslim countries, Muslims will never consider Christians, non-believers, women, homosexuals, they will never be considered as equal.
Even though I may not agree with their practice, I do not agree with homosexuality, but I don’t agree with killing them either. So I think that definitely there is just simply no comparison between our freedoms and freedom in a Muslim society, freedom in an Islam dominated country.
Being yourself a journalist you know you cannot criticize Muslim dominated governments. That is just not going to go well for you. If you want to criticize, be able to speak your opinions, speak your mind, speak out against Sharia, Islam, then that is of course going to bear very, very severe consequences.
In America, if you want to speak out and criticize the Bible you can; you can criticize Jesus if you want to, those types of freedom or critical thinking. Critical thinking is part of Western society. Critical thinking, of course, is not allowed or accepted in Islam.
So I think those are very weak examples and comparisons.
Q: So with all that you have said so far, do you consider the Muslims and Islam enemies of Americans and the United States?
A: I wouldn’t really say that. I think you would have to define that a little bit. Let’s say just Muslims themselves, I would not consider them to be my enemy. I would not consider them to be enemies of America, by no means. If, though, if their desire is to institute Sharia law in America, to subvert or change the Constitution in some way, then of course I would consider them an enemy.
If they desire just to live in America and practice their religion, then they are of course protected under the First Amendment. They are allowed to do that. If they have, which Muslims usually always have, if they have an actual hidden agenda of promoting Sharia, instituting Islamic law or some other type of thing like that. If they try to force society into an Islamic type of government, then of course I would be against that, yes.
Q: What is your view point about this statement from the Gospel of Matthew: “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” What do you think about it? Don’t you think that you should follow this statement about all of those who are around you including the Muslims?
A: Yes, I definitely believe that statement. I definitely think that every Christian should follow that, yes. And I definitely try to do that as much as I can. I definitely do not hate Muslims. I do not hate Muslims, in that sense. I love Muslims as far as I would like to see them get converted to Christianity which I believe is the true way. I have no bitterness against Muslims. I have no anger against Muslims. So definitely I try to follow that as much as possible.
What I see that I am doing, to a certain extent, is giving a prophetic warning to the world, let’s say. There is also that example. There is also the example of warning people if they are going in the wrong direction, giving a warning to society. So I think that is more of what I am doing.
I am giving a prophetic warning and saying, “Watch out! Be careful. There is a part of the Quran that is very dangerous, there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and oppressive. Do not be fooled by all of the peace talk, because behind the peace talk we do not see the fruits.”
But yes, I think that verse should be followed. I definitely have no hatred or animosity towards Muslims whatsoever, no.
Q: Great. And at the final stage of the interview I just want to suggest you, because I think you are someone who reflects on what you do and what you decide. I think it is a very good recommendation to you that you read the Holy Quran from alpha to omega and actually consider all of it as a divine text because we the Muslims don’t believe that it was written by the Prophet Muhammad. We believe it was inspired to him and it was sent down from the Almighty God to him. We categorically believe that it has never been distorted, modified or changed from 1400 years ago up to now.
So that would be a great change in your mind if you read the Holy Quran utterly before you decide to burn it once again which will inspire a controversy all around the world. I am sure about that. And that maybe the people won’t accuse you of being a publicity stunt again.
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Fran Ingram and Stephanie Sapp of the Stand Up America Now for kindly helping me with transcribing the text of our phone interview with Mr. Terry Jones.