Times Holds 'Fringe' Florida Preacher Responsible for Hypothetical Islamic Terrorist Attack

On Thursday morning the top of the paper's National section was dominated by Jerry Jones, a previously obscure pastor in Gainesville, Fla., who has attracted attention with his plans to undertake a mass burning of the Koran, Islam's holy book, on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks: "Far From Ground Zero, Obscure Pastor Is Ignored No Longer."

Cave admitted Jones is a "fringe figure," but still devoted a long, worrying article on the pastor of a Florida church with 50 members.

(During the 2008 presidential campaign, Cave accused Florida Republicans of racism for a campaign mailing that charged Obama with being (brace yourself!) "soft on crime.")

If building an Islamic center near ground zero amounts to the epitome of Muslim insensitivity, as critics of the project have claimed, what should the world make of Terry Jones, the evangelical pastor here who plans to memorialize the Sept. 11 attacks with a bonfire of Korans?

Mr. Jones, 58, a former hotel manager with a red face and a white handlebar mustache
, argues that as an American Christian he has a right to burn Islam's sacred book because "it's full of lies." And in another era, he might have been easily ignored, as he was last year when he posted a sign at his church declaring "Islam is of the devil."


An Islamic group in England has also incorporated his efforts into a YouTube video that encourages Muslims to "rise up and act," widening a concern that Mr. Jones - though clearly a fringe figure with only 50 members in his church - could spark riots or terrorism.

However distasteful Jones' plans are, why would a "fringe figure" be responsible for overseas terrorist acts instead of the terrorists themselves?

Cave painted Jones in unflattering fashion, picking details portraying him as a lonely crank ignorant of "the potential consequences [terrorism again] of his plans."

Mr. Jones who seems to spend much of his time inside a dank, dark office with a poster from the movie "Braveheart" and a picture of former President George W. Bush, appears to be largely oblivious to the potential consequences of his plans. Speaking in short sentences with a matter-of-fact drawl, he said that he could not understand why other Christians, including the nation's largest evangelical association, had called for him to cancel "International Burn a Koran Day."

The paper's cozy relationship with the Muslim interest group CAIR was again on display, as Cave quoted spokesman Ibrahim Hooper and relayed without question CAIR's allegations of anti-Islamic hate crimes.

Nonetheless, his position and variations on his tactics have become more common, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Florida in particular has had a rise in anti-Islamic activity. In May, an arsonist set off a pipe bomb at a mosque in Jacksonville in what authorities called an actof domestic terrorism. A mosque and Islamic school south of Miami was vandalized twice last year, the first time with a spray of 51 bullets.

Cave concluded by mawkishly contrasting Jones with a local Muslim saint:

For local Muslims like Saeed Khan, who came here in the 1970s to study for a Ph.D. in biology at the University of Florida, the collective rejection of Mr. Jones represents the America they want to believe in. In an interview at an Islamic center that used to be a Brown Derby restaurant, Dr. Khan said that "Mr. Jones is hijacking Christianity" just as "Al Qaeda hijacked Islam."

What saddens him most, he said, is the lasting effect on Muslim youth. He now has three grandchildren under age 3 growing up in Gainesville, and he shook his head at the story of a friend's daughter who woke up in the middle of the night and asked her mother, "Why don't they like us?"

Still, like many others, he rejected the moment's swirl of anger. Even if Muslims outside the United States respond to the planned Koran burning with protests, or worse, Mr. Khan said he would spend his Sept. 11 doing the same thing he did last year. He will be downtown, a few miles from Mr. Jones, feeding the homeless.