In case you didn't catch the news Friday, a New Jersey car dealer awarded a new car to Terry Jones, the Gainesville preacher who threatened to burn thousands of Muslim holy books on September 11. The gift, a 2011 Hyundai from Brad Benson, was in fulfillment of his promise to give Jones a car in return for not burning the Qur'ans.
Jones passed along the generous offering, donating the car to a New Jersey women's shelter -- but why a women's shelter? And why such extreme (threatened but never fulfilled) measures in the first place? We caught up with Jones to find out what goes on inside his head.
Women Rising, a 105-year-old women's shelter with no religious affiliation, may seem like a random choice for the infamous outspoken Christian pastor's donation. And on Jones' end of the deal, the charity selection is exactly as random as it appears to be.
"I didn't choose them. I just found out about it this afternoon," Jones said Friday. He worked with the World Evangelical Alliance to choose a charity, and they originally settled on the WAFA House, a "support center" for victims of domestic violence that is "targeted towards -- but not limited to -- women of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent," according to the organization's website. When Jones arrived at the car dealership Friday, he found out that the car would be giften to Women Rising instead. "That wasn't too cool, but that's what happened," he says, so he decided to "just go ahead and flow with it."
His initial aim was to find an "organization that helps battered Muslim women... We definitely wanted it to go into the realm of people helping Muslims in their situation... Women are not treated very well in Islam... so I guess out of that idea and concern is where we came up with the idea..."
It may seem like a contradiction that a pastor who was recently adamant about burning Qur'ans is now looking to help Muslim women (whose plight he interprets through a narrowly focused lens). But, Jones says, "At no time did we say we were anti-Muslim... We tried to make it very clear that we were not against Muslims. We were aiming that action, which we said many times, towards the radical element of Islam... In that sense, we are not against Muslims."
Yet he does not think the proposed Park51 Islamic center should be built near Ground Zero. "Number one, the American people do not want that... I think [backing down on the plans] would be a very nice gesture on their part," he says.
And Jones knows about backing down. "As many people thought the burning of the Qur'an was in bad taste, I think building the mosque near Ground Zero is in bad taste, bad judgment."
Bad taste or not, Jones does not regret his actions in September. "We feel that it did what we wanted it to do. It drew attention to Islam." Regardless, it certainly drew attention to Jones. "I think it drew, of course, probably more attention came to the actual act of burning. But I think indeed, it drew a lot of attention to the radical element."
His continuing self-support raises questions as to whether he even realizes how many people he has offended. It turns out that thought has entered his mind before. "I think that it definitely would offend someone, yes of course... we took that into consideration."
So if he doesn't regret his actions, why didn't he follow through?
"Basically, there were two factors... there was a lot of people from the State Department who spoke out, of course. When those type of people speak out, we are forced to take that into consideration." Secondly, "we felt that God gave us the story of Abraham. We felt as though God told us not to do it, so we stopped. We definitely feel as though we accomplished our mission."
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If any part of his "mission" also included prompting concerns about national security and the safety of our troops, costing the city of Gainesville thousands in security, preoccupying government leaders, and giving ravenous reporters plenty of chum, then Jones is undeniably correct -- mission accomplished.
Jones senses that more attention is now focused on Islamic extremists than before his actions. "I think that we are somewhat responsible for that added attention, yes." In response to his mission to draw attention to Islamic extremists and his steps (missteps?) toward his goal, Jones has received at least hundreds of death threats in the past two months.
UPDATE: We just received a response from a representative of the World Evangelical Alliance, which we contacted on Friday. Here's what we heard:
On behalf of World Evangelical Alliance I want to assure you that we know nothing about this. Geoff Tunnicliffe and other leaders of WEA are not in communication with Terry Jones nor do we know this organization. Thanks.