As part of our ongoing web series examining the fear of Islam in the United States, Middle East Voices reporter Cecily Hilleary talked with Terry Jones, founder and president of Stand Up America Now! In early 2010, as pastor of the Florida-based Dove Outreach Church, he made headlines worldwide by proposing to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He never followed through, but his congregation is known to have burned one copy of the Quran on March 20, 2011 – an act widely condemned by numerous religious groups in the United States. Mr. Jones is author of the book “Islam is of the Devil.” Last October, he announced his candidacy for President of the United States in 2012.
We interviewed Mr. Jones at length to help shed light on the thinking of one individual and how he came to his viewpoints on Islam. Below is a transcript of the first of two parts of the interview.
Hilleary: You are the author of a book that warns against the “dangers” of Islam. How did you come to feel the way that you do?
Jones: Well, it was somewhat of a long process. As you may be aware, I lived in Europe for 30 years, where I was a pastor/missionary. And in Europe, in the course of the very first part of my ministry, I paid no attention to Islam other than, let’s say, the religious aspect, but the longer I was there, I began to see Islam getting a greater hold upon Europe, and it began to be very disturbing – not only disturbing because obviously I don’t agree with the religion, let’s say, being a pastor and being a Christian, but there are, of course, many religions in the world and in the West and in Europe, as well as the United States. We have freedom of religion. In other words, all religions are able to, welcome to practice their religion as they please. So as far as that goes, in that aspect, as an American, I didn’t have a problem with Islam.
My problem with Islam grew as I began to see that there was actually much more to Islam than just being, in my eyes, a false religion. I saw that it is very aggressive – at least, a certain percentage of the people are very aggressive, and that the desire to not integrate into a society that they have come to – plus, let’s say benefitting that society, but they desire to change it to the degree of instituting Sharia, changing the Constitution. We see right now in Europe, there are very many problems with Islam, actually in every European country. In Holland, they’re even trying to ban the Quran. There are a lot of problems there in Germany, where I lived for thirty years. Frau [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, the Bundeskanzler, came out here a while back and proclaimed that all Muslims who live in Germany would not be governed under Sharia. We already know France, there, with the banning of the burqa. We know about England, what has happened there, with [Islamic cleric and Sharia law advocate] Anjam Choudary, with them declaring certain areas of London as “no-go zones” or “Sharia zones” or “non-Muslim zones.” So, as I begin to see these things happen, then, of course, to me, it became very alarming, and when I came back to America in 2008, around that time or a little bit after that, we started trying to raise an awareness of the radical element of Islam.
Hilleary: You, yourself, a couple of times now, you’ve discussed the ‘radical element.’ To my ear, it sounds as if you do recognize that is an element, certainly not representative of an entire religious faith. Or, do you feel that the ‘radical element’ is that strong, that it should be of concern?
Jones: I definitely realize and hope very much anyway that a large majority of the Muslims, let’s say, who have immigrated to America or to the Western countries, that they desire to honor and obey the laws of the land. I certainly hope that that is the case.
I do, on the other hand, believe that there is an element of Islam that is indeed very radical and that is, I believe, much larger and possibly much more dangerous than people would like to admit. One, because I believe the percentages are larger. Two, we’re talking about a massive amount of people. I believe there’s about 1.5-1.6 billion Muslims in the world. So, if only 10% of them are radical, you’re still talking about 150-160 million people who literally hate America, hate Israel, hate democracy and want to destroy, actually, life as we know it. […]
Hilleary: You say that in Europe, in England for example, there have been some zones they have labeled as Sharia zones?
Hilleary: Has there, to your knowledge, been any attempt in any jurisdiction to impose Islamic law here in the United States?
Jones: Here in the United States, I don’t have the report in front of me. I actually have it here somewhere, I could look it up. But as far as I read in this particular report, anyway, that Sharia law has already been used in – I believe it was 50 different cases in 23 different states in America. I know that in England, I believe, there’s already – I think about over 50 Sharia courts. So I know definitely that that is taking place in Europe.
As far as the United States, that’s the information I have there. I know that there was, I believe, down in the Tampa [Florida] area, I believe there was there where a judge, instead of making a decision there, he referred the people there and told the Muslims… I believe there was a court case there concerning the finances of the mosque or some type of a court case, and instead of [the judge] settling that, he told them they should settle it themselves under Sharia.
So, I know that there are possibly cases, and there are definitely Muslims, even in the United States, in Europe for sure, but in the United States who are pushing for Sharia, that their problems be settled according to Sharia law and not according to our court system. I know there is a push for that, yes.
If you study the history of Islam, you see that when they first come into a country, they act very peaceful. But as they begin to grow, they begin to try and institute Sharia Law. Terry Jones, November 9, 2011
Hilleary: Are you talking, for example, family or social matters such as marriage, divorce, or I guess my question is, is this Sharia that would be imposed between Muslims in a dispute or imposed on non-Muslims, legally?
Jones: Yes. As far as what I’ve heard so far, it would be the first of what you said. That’s the way I understood it. I understood what they are pushing for now – but we have to understand that it’s only the first foot in the door. They are pushing right now for those disputes, yes, to be settled by Sharia under Muslims. But for me, that’s totally unacceptable because, number one, it’s only the first foot in the door. Number two, anyone who is here in the United States, I mean, we must be governed as a country equally, by the same set of rules and regulations. Number three, that it’s totally unacceptable when it has to do with women’s rights. Islam is totally one of the biggest violators of women’s rights to have ever existed, so a Muslim woman in the United States of America who is being governed under Sharia, her word being at least [worth] half of a man’s – she would basically have no chance whatsoever. There are even under Muslims, as far as that goes, even the beating of your wife is allowed. If we look at – of course, this doesn’t happen in America – but if we look at Saudi Arabia, that’s the home of Islam, that’s the birthplace of Islam. I mean, women there have no rights whatsoever. I mean, they’re not allowed to drive a car, get a driver’s license, they’re not allowed to vote, run for public office, they’re not allowed to travel or go on a vacation, get an education without the permission of their husband or a male guardian. So I think here in the United States that would be totally unacceptable.
Hilleary: I wonder if you’ve done any reading, how much of that is cultural and how much of that is attributed to the religion?
Jones: To me, it all ties together. And, I mean, if a person is being stoned to death, if you are receiving great disadvantages, I guess it doesn’t really matter that much if the origin of that is, let’s say, directly out of the Quran or out of tradition. It simply is wrong, and I think that the best way for us to avoid that in America is to have a nationwide ban of Sharia. And as we have tried to say many, many times – I know we have been labeled at times as absolute haters of Islam or Muslims, which is definitely not true. I’ve tried to, in every interview I’ve done and in our speeches, for example there in Dearborn [Michigan], I’ve tried to make it very clear that Muslims who are here in America, they are definitely welcome here if they are here legally. They are protected under the first amendment. They can evangelize, preach the Quran, build mosques – that is not our problem. But we do definitely expect for them to honor and obey and submit to the Constitution of the United States, and if that is not what they desire to do, then, of course, we do not want that and they are not welcome.
Plus, actually, Sharia, according to our own Constitution, is not even a subject that would be allowed, because the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” and to institute Sharia, which is obviously not directly connected to the Bible or Christianity, but directly connected to Islam, actually, the way I interpret it, according to our own First Amendment, Sharia would not be allowed, because that would be the respecting of an established religion.
Hilleary: You make a very interesting point: Our Constitution—and we know how tough it is to change our Constitution or put an amendment to it – our Constitution wouldn’t allow it [Sharia]. Therefore, why would anyone feel that could be a threat?
Jones: I think just because, as we see in Europe, what is going on there. And I think, I mean, actually, it shouldn’t, of course, be a threat because of the Constitution, but I think many people, including myself – and when we see history and when we see what happened – I mean, Egypt was also not a Muslim country 1,400 years ago.
And I think, as we see what happens around the world, and as people do have a definite fear that’s related to Islam, related to Sharia, even though the way I believe, the way I interpret the First Amendment, Sharia would not be allowed and accepted, I believe that it would be a very, very good gesture from the Muslim community just to go ahead and say, “That’s fine. Ban Sharia or any other type of foreign law here in America. We want to be governed by the Constitution.” I think it would be a very peaceful, good gesture from them, and it would put a lot of people’s minds at ease, who are somewhat fearful of a type of Sharia.
Even though I don’t know much about trees, if I go out and see a tree with apples on it, I know that’s an apple tree…Look at the fruits. The tree of Islam produces death. Terry Jones, November 9, 2011
Hilleary: You know, you’ve talked about Europe a couple of times and talked about what’s happening over there, what’s happening over there. Is there an instance of Sharia being imposed on non-Muslims [in Europe]?
Jones: I’m not aware of that. No. I’m not aware of to the extent that Sharia is operating there in the courts. I believe the main place that it does operate in the courts is in England, but I have no definite details on that. I just know from my experience. Like I said, I lived in Europe for many years and I do know of Anjam Choudury, who was also coming over here to Washington, D.C., to proclaim Sharia over America, and we were coming there to do a counter-protest against his intentions. But he canceled. I do know that in Europe they are definitely having problems there, but do I know of any direct, direct Sharia being imposed on non-Muslims? No, I don’t.
We would have to inspect to a certain extent the literature they distribute and somehow monitor the message they are preaching … It would be very difficult. Terry Jones, November 9, 2011
Hilleary: You know, there are some who would hear and say that it sounds more like fear than any actual threat.
Jones: Well, I wouldn’t consider it so much fear. I mean, I would consider it great, great concern – just because of the activities that we do see around Europe. We do know that the radical element, Islam, is very real. I mean, I, myself, have received three or four hundred death threats, and an Islamic terrorist organization out of Afghanistan has put a reward on my head for $2.4 million.
Hilleary: And that would be for what? In reaction to the burning of the Quran?
Jones: Yeah, I think that was a reaction to September the 11th and then, of course, in reaction to March the 20th, where we actually put the Quran on trial and burned it. And then, of course, in reaction because those threats have not stopped. In reaction to the fact that we continue. We did not do one or two activities. We have continued to travel around America, going to different places like we did there in Irvine [California], in Dearborn, in Detroit, in Washington, D.C. I do out here in California a Coptic Television program. We have continued to warn against the radical element, Islam. So, of course, these death threats have continued. Even the last time I was here [California], two people were arrested in relation to death threats against me. So, I think that it’s not just fear. I think it’s a great concern based upon, you know, based upon reality, based upon Islam-dominated countries – or not -beaming the light of democracy. I mean, that’s not a revelation. That’s just the way it is.
Please check out our other reports on Fear of Islam in America.
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.