Florida minister Terry Jones’ association with a film critical of the Prophet Muhammad put him in the firestorm of Tuesday’s uprising in Libya and Egypt that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens in Benghazi. Although he was unable to air a trailer of the film at his International Judge Muhammad Day on Tuesday night, he burned the Quran and aired it live online.
This isn’t the first time the anti-Muslim minister has provoked unrest in the Middle East. His highly publicized plans to burn the Quran outside his small Gainesville church in 2010 prompted deadly riots in Afghanistan and a call from the White House to back down. Jones says he got a similar call from Gen. Martin Dempsey on Wednesday asking him to not promote or show the film.
Lynn Waddell sat down with Jones in his Gainesville church office and got the scoop about his connection to the provocative film and his feelings about the violence it may have provoked.
What is your involvement with the movie?
We were contacted by the producer/writer of this film a few weeks ago. He offered to fly down here to show us the film. Our involvement is he desired for us to promote the film and to broadcast the film because we are somewhat known especially in this area, although we speak out on many issues. He wanted us to put our stamp of approval on it and promote it in whatever way we could.
When did you start promoting it?
Just yesterday (Tuesday). We were just sort of taking it easy and then circumstances prompted a reaction because our name came in contact with the film. The trailer has been out there for a while. I have no idea how overseas got wind of it.
Did anyone in law enforcement contact you and ask you not to promote or show it?
No, other than this morning and I talked to General Dempsey. He asked us not to show or promote the film. He said he had seen the film himself and thought it was inappropriate and was concerned about the reaction overseas.
Are you going to comply?
I told him that for one, I have not seen the whole film. So, I will watch the whole film and I told him I would definitely consider it. I’m going to talk today to the producer/writer and just as soon as he can send us the movie we will watch it. So, we will make a decision right away. Our problem is how far and when do you back down. Once you start moving backwards it’s very easy to continue moving backwards. So, I don’t know.
You have been promoting the Judge Muhammad Day demonstration for a few months. Was there significance to holding it on 9/11?
Yes, of course. To raise awareness of radical Islam and to examine Muhammad’s life.
Do you feel any responsibility for the attacks on the U.S. embassies and the death of U.S. Ambassador Stevens?
Absolutely not. We are here 1,000 miles away. Our actions pose absolutely no danger to their lifestyle, to their families. What it does, of course, is insult them, but that’s what freedom of speech does. Not all the time, but that is actually the only time we need freedom of speech. Being insulted does not give you the right to break into someone’s home, kill them, steal their property. It is simply not an excuse because I have been insulted.
Knowing, though, the sensitivity of the subject and then portraying Muhammad as a philanderer or gay, child molester, blood-thirsty, a thug, you had to know that that’s going to cause some unpleasant reaction.
Yeah, there’s definitely that possibility. But number one, our 41 points are true. They were taken from the Quran. They are Islamic historical facts of Muhammad’s life. I think we have to be willing to stay by the truth. Even though we know it may possibly cause some type of reaction; then there’s always the question how far do we pull back. We could say, ‘OK. We cannot do it. We cannot burn the Quran. We cannot show the movie.’ But where do we stop? Because actually everything you do against Islam is an insult. If you just speak out against Islam that’s an insult. You can’t speak out against Muhammad, Sharia, or Islam, so how do we back off?
But you had to know that something like this could happen.
It definitely could happen, yes, of course. It’s happened before, and it’s happened all through their history. But if we had stood up further, say 1,400 years ago or in Egypt, maybe we wouldn’t have this problem now.
What if the ambassador’s family feels that the death is a result of this movie. Is there anything you would say to them?
Yes, I think that it is devastating. I’m very, very sorry that that has happened. I feel for them. My first wife died at the very young age of 41 after 25 years of marriage. So, I understand what is to lose someone suddenly. But I think it should make us even more want to stand up for truth, for righteousness, and want to exercise our freedom of speech. Everybody is always so concerned about the troops being in danger, and that’s one reason that troops are there so we can do what we do in America. At any price we should not allow freedom of speech to be defined like it is everywhere in the world except for here. We can’t allow that to happen.
Doesn’t some responsibility come with free speech? In this case it resulted in acts of extreme violence and death. Do you have concerns about that?
No, and I’m not sure that’s correct. I don’t think speech can be limited, to say OK, if I say this, then this could happen. I believe we absolutely don’t have that responsibility. I believe we have the responsibility to speak our mind. If we ever lose that, then we are going to lose our foundation. Of course, with actions sometime come results that are positive and negative.
Aren’t there less antagonistic ways to get your message across?
Absolutely. I’ve said this many times, I think the number one way is diplomacy. One way is to talk and sit down and try to logically come to some type of agreement. I think that’s the best way. I think our way is not the best way, but I think it is a way. I think once something has gotten so far that a radical movement or statement is necessary. I always think it is odd that people bring us up in relation to people getting harmed and killed. If we remember our American history of the civil rights movement, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and what he did caused many people to die. Many people were killed. Many people were beaten because he stood up. No one would ever say that he was wrong. No one would ever say that he caused people’s death and actually he did exactly the same thing. He stood up and he paid the price and unfortunately other people had to pay the price.
But Martin Luther King, Jr. called for peaceful protest.
Our protests are peaceful. The reaction to them and sometimes what people do is not peaceful, but we are by no means promoting any type of violence against Muslims, against their religion. We respect their right to be here. Their rights are protected under the First Amendment the same as ours. They can build mosques. They can evangelize. We just demand that they honor and obey the Constitution of the United States.
Why haven’t you used diplomacy, or have you tried that in the past?
No, we have not tried it. It is not that we have not had any contact with Muslims. I spent 30 years in Europe and we had lots of contact with Muslims. But there are already a lot of people doing that, and nobody does what we do. So, in other words, there already are people who are more qualified than us, that are better educated than us, smarter than us who can do the apologetics on Islam. So, there’s no need for that. Also, to a certain degree we didn’t really plan this. Not to sound mystical, but we fell into it and felt like this was a calling that God was giving us not only concerning Islam but to wake up America. When I came back to America (in 2008) after 30 years overseas, I was absolutely horrified at the condition of America. It is terrible. The moral condition, the spiritual condition. The economical condition. We simply are trying to raise that awareness.
Do you think that Jesus would do what you are doing?
Absolutely. Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. He had no problem getting angry and mad and throwing them out. He did not ask them to leave. He threw them out. In the book of Acts 17, they had a book-burning. People converted to Christianity and they brought their books of wizardry, books they felt were dangerous, and burned them.
Have you gotten threats?
Oh, yes. Since our 9/11 to burn the Quran, our first one in 2010, we have received several hundred death threats. Since this action, I think we have received around a half a dozen.
Have you taken any security precautions?
Yes. Our doors here are locked. I am armed. Most of the people here are armed and we are very cautious in where we go. We watch for people following us. If I go into a hotel room, I make sure that room is checked. If I leave and go back in, it is checked again.
What do you hope to accomplish with your demonstrations?
Our end game with everything we do—we speak out not only about Islam, we speak out against Obama, abortion, the illegals, same sex marriage—everything we do has only one goal, to make the American people think. The American people are totally mesmerized. They are in a total state of hypnotism by sports, by Hollywood. Look what’s in the Internet. Look what’s on AOL’s front page: who was in rehab last; who committed adultery; who just got married; who just lost 50 pounds; who is wearing a bathing suit? Our country is dying and going to hell. Our economy is an absolute disaster. Our country is bankrupt. We are keeping our heads stuck in the sand. What we want Americans to do is simply look up and think; what is going on, examine Islam, examine the economy, examine these issues for yourself before it is too late.