Quran Burning Sets Back 'Years' of Interfaith Work, says Leader

Last month's burning of the Quran by a Florida pastor, which sparked violence in Afghanistan yesterday, has set back "years of interreligious cooperation" according to the head of Religions for Peace (RFP), one of the largest multi-religious organization in the world.

"This reprehensible act has inflamed tensions, set back the progress of years of interreligious cooperation, and, most regrettably, led others in Afghanistan to take innocent lives in retaliation," said William F. Vendley, Secretary General for RFP, in an April 1 statement. "Both the disrespectful act of desecration and the deplorable violent responses are wrong."

Pastor Terry Jones, head of the 60-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., held a mock trial for the Quran at his church on March 20, during which he "executed" the book after finding it "guilty" of "causing murder, rape and terrorism."

Jones had previously planned to burn hundreds of copies of the Quran during last year's September 11 anniversary but bowed to pressure from the federal government and the international and faith communities.

His decision to go ahead with the book burning this year sparked riots in Kabul on Friday, where some 2,000 Afghan protestors stormed a UN compound, resulting in the deaths of at least seven UN staff and five others. Mass protests in Pakistan, where American flags and Bibles were burned, were also held on Friday and earlier in March.

Notably, in a statement released after the riots, Jones demanded action from the US government and the UN to stop radical Islam, while taking no responsibility for inciting the violence.

"We…find this a very tragic and criminal action. The United States government and the United Nations itself, must take immediate action," Jones said. "We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities. The time has come to hold Islam accountable."

Meanwhile, Vendley tried to distance both Jones' and the protestors' actions as being true representations of the Christian and Muslim faiths.

"The overwhelming majority of Christians and Muslims firmly reject and feel deeply grieved and grossly manipulated by these vulgar actions," he said. "The members of Religions for Peace…condemn the desecration of sacred texts and abhor the use of violence as a form of reaction to it."

"More principled multi-religious dialogue, cooperation, and solidarity are the necessary responses in the present situation," he said. "They are the only effective antidote to extremism."

Established in 1970 during a world conference in Kyoto, Japan, RFP is one of the longest standing interfaith organizations independent from a particular faith group or denomination.

The group's primary work is devoted to transforming violent conflict, advancing human development, promoting just and harmonious societies, protecting the earth, and advocating on behalf of women, children and the youth.

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