A protester was shot dead and at least 11 others were injured in Afghanistan yesterday as rallies against the plan by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Koran – apparently now abandoned – turned violent.
The bloodshed in Afghanistan followed protests outside Nato bases in Badakshan and Farah provinces. Afghan policemen were also hurt after a demonstration in Faizabad, the capital of Badakshan, turned into a violent attack by hundreds of young men on a German Nato base.
The violence is the latest grim result of Pastor Terry Jones's scheme to make a bonfire of hundreds of Korans to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11. Having declared his intention to abandon the Koran-burning, Mr Jones last night said he had set a deadline for the imam behind a proposed mosque near ground zero to accept that he would move it a new site far from lower Manhattan.
President Barack Obama made a plea for calm. "We have to make sure we don't start turning on each other," he told reporters. "It is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of American people to hang on to that thing that is best in us; that is our belief in religious tolerance, our clarity about who our enemies are."
The rituals of remembrance for 9/11, timed to coincide with the moments when two hijacked planes struck the Twin Towers in 2001 and killed nearly 3,000, will proceed as usual, led by the President at the Pentagon. But all may be drowned out by the squabbles around the Koran-burnings and the mosque. When the commemoration services are over, two competing rallies are planned for lower Manhattan, one held by opponents of the proposed new Islamic centre and mosque and one by those who support it. New York police last night appealed that the opposing rallies should not lead to violence.
Mr Jones had said he would fly to New York to meet the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is promoting the lower Manhattan mosque, accompanied by the director of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Imam Muhammad Musri. But the meeting seemed tentative at best.
While it seems the torching of the books is off – Mr Jones has been opaque on whether it is postponed or cancelled and, as the saga has progressed, he has been increasingly prone to sudden reversals in his position – the violence in Afghanistan suggested that his actions have already done fresh damage to relations between religions.
"The holy book is implanted in the hearts and minds of all the Muslims," the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, said last night. "Humiliation of the holy book represents the humiliation of our people."
In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, the senior cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshippers attending Friday morning prayers that whether or not he burns the Koran, Mr Jones had already "hurt the heart of the Muslim world". He added: "If he'd gone through with it, it would have been tantamount to war, a war that would have rallied Muslims all over the world."
And all those converging on ground zero this morning will notice something unfamiliar: ground zero is at last a real building site. After years of seeming stasis, the effort to rebuild the area with office towers, a subterranean museum and an eight-acre memorial have suddenly gained momentum.
Most visible is the stump of what will be the 1,776ft skyscraper to be called One World Trade Centre. Rising steadily, it now stands at 34 storeys and should be ready for occupancy in 2012. The two voids marking the footprints of the demolished Twin Towers are now in place ahead of schedule for the opening of the entire memorial complex this time next year for the 10th anniversary of the atrocity.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies