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Rev. Jones speaks in Lansing as community holds counter-event

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Rev. Terry Jones is the controversial pastor who burned a Quran last March. He spoke at a rally at the Michigan state Capitol Wednesday. Photo:Kevin Lavery/WKAR

By Kevin Lavery, WKAR News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wkar/local-wkar-985228.mp3

Lansing, MI – A small group of people gathered at the state Capitol Wednesday night to hear a controversial and polarizing speaker. In March, the Reverend Terry Jones made headlines around the world by burning a copy of the Quran, Islam's holy text. While the Capitol rally was underway, a second group gathered a couple of miles away to hear a different message at an interfaith event emphasizing diversity and tolerance.

A cultural lightning rod

The news of the impending visit of Florida pastor Terry Jones had Lansing civic leaders bracing for trouble. Jones first gained national notoriety a year ago when he threatened to burn a Quran; he followed through with his threat six months later. Since then, Jones has become something of a cultural lightning rod.

Flanked by an array of uniformed and plainclothes police, a few dozen people stood in a light drizzle at the Capitol to hear Jones voice his thoughts on Islam.

"Islam is not a religion of peace," said Jones. "As we look around the world, we do not see Islam portraying peace, human rights or civil rights."

Jones' rhetoric didn't sit well with a small crowd of protestors, including Kyle Hickman, who held a sign that read "Bigots Out Now:"

"I think it's pretty ignorant; it's disgusting," Hickman said. "All he's doing is offending another religion. That's like, his main goal. He's got his points he's trying to make but it just kind of blows it to pieces by doing that; it's obviously just a hate message. That's what it is to me."

Jones speaks about sharia

Later, as other speakers took their turns, Jones tried to clarify his position.

"We are definitely not against Muslims, we are not against in that sense, let's say, the Quran; the building of mosques; that is not our goal, that is not our target," said Jones. "Our target is the radical element and of course the instituting of sharia."

Sharia is Islamic law and a code of conduct for all Muslims. Jones said some Muslim leaders have a hidden agenda to institute sharia in some judicial cases. But he added he accepts sharia as a traditional practice, as long as it does not conflict with the U.S. Constitution.

Though most who carried signs came to protest, Jones did have his supporters. Eugene, a Lansing man who chose not to give his last name, brandished a banner that read "Stop Burning Christians."

"And most people don't know that around the world, there's lots of Muslims turned Christian that are burned to death daily," he said. "Beat to death; they're mutilated, they're tortured, they're jailed, their families are allowed to starve. And this all happens to Christians on a daily basis around the world."

Community holds counter event

Meanwhile, a few miles east, about 150 people adorned with white ribbons gathered at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The event was organized specifically as an interfaith celebration to counter Jones' visit. Lansing mayor Virg Bernero said the region is proud of its tolerant attitudes.

"I really think it's ingrained in the Lansing-East Lansing culture, and it's an excellent thing that we want to build upon; it's a strength," noted Bernero. "We celebrate our differences; we celebrate the cultural differences and want to get to know them and not stomp any one group down."

Bernero and East Lansing mayor Vic Loomis used the occasion to present checks totaling $17,000 dollars to two area food banks. The money had been raised at their jointly sponsored Ramadan unity dinner on August 26.

The atmosphere at the church inspired Okemos resident Reza Tavakoli, a Muslim man who came to meet people of other faiths.

"It's awesome," Tavakoli said. "Seeing people from all different faiths here, practically. And not pushing their religion onto each other and all that, respecting each other for whatever their beliefs are and all that. And looking at each other as human beings, brothers and sisters...that's great. That's great."

Trouble averted

By 8 p.m., both events had ended. The potential conflict some in the community had feared might take place at the Capitol never materialized. Aside from a hot exchange of words among a few attendees, the rally ended peacefully.

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