LONDON — The controversial Florida pastor who threatened to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is facing backlash as he gears up for a February trip to the U.K. to take part in a rally organized by a far-right activist group.
Lawmakers and rights groups in Britain are calling for Pastor Terry Jones to be denied entry into the country.
The English Defense League announced Jones's planned appearance on Facebook last week, calling the event "The Big One" and saying Jones will join the February rally in Luton "to speak out against the evils of Islam."
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Jon Cruddas, a lawmaker who represents Dagenham in east London, said he'd pursue action in Parliament demanding that the pastor be banned from visiting the country.
"We have seen how Pastor Jones, with a very small congregation in Florida, created a firestorm by urging the Quran to be burned," Cruddas told Britain's Guardian newspaper. "We should not allow racial hatred to be whipped up in this manner in our country."
The Guardian noted that the last time the EDL held a rally in Luton, 250 supporters showed up and left smashed store windows and overturned cars in their wake. Police arrested 35 in connection with that rally, the report said, and 11 others at another rally in a different town on Saturday.
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On its website, anti-extremism organization Hope not Hate asked supporters to "stop the preacher of hate" by signing a petition asking the Home Secretary Theresa May to block Jones's entry to the U.K.
'Only extremists will benefit'
In an open letter to May posted to its site, the organization's director Nick Lowles said Jones's presence at the rally "will be incendiary and highly dangerous," encourage supporters of an anti-Islam cause to take to the streets and "cause concern and fear among Muslims across the country." The letter also deems the EDL to be the "single biggest threat to social cohesion in this country today."
"Only extremists will benefit from his visit and, as we know, extremism breeds hatred and hatred breeds violence," the letter concluded. "For these reasons we are asking you to prevent Pastor Terry Jones from entering the UK."
May said in a Sunday interview on Britain's Sky News that Jones "has been on my radar for a few months now."
"It wasn't clear that he was definitely coming to the U.K., but if it is now clear that he's definitely coming to the U.K., then of course this is a case that I will be actively looking at," she added.
May also pointed out that in her position, she "has the right to exclude people who are not conducive to public good or on national security grounds."
British media reports noted that May denied entry to a controversial Indian Muslim preacher in June, saying entry to the U.K. is "a privilege, not a right.," the BBC reported at the time.
But Jones told the BBC that he has "no intention" of burning copies of the Quran in the U.K., and that his speech at the rally would be "on harmony, on the subject that Muslims are welcome in our country."
'They call for Sharia law'
Jones backed down from a threat to burn the Quran on Sept. 11, but has continued to speak out against radical Islam.
Last month, he led a few dozen protesters to the site of a proposed mosque near ground zero; he expressed sympathy for 9/11 victims' families, but also spoke out against the radical Islam he said was the cause of their deaths.Video: Pastor cancels Quran burning (on this page)
Jones also told the BBC that he and his small church, the Dove World Outreach Center, "have no problem with Muslims — we have freedom of speech and religion — Muslims who want to make our country their country, obey our laws and constitution.
"We have a problem with them, which I believe you all have also, when they go on the street ... and they call for the death of the U.K., for the death of Israel, for the death of America. They call for Sharia law.
"They say they are going to turn Buckingham Palace into a mosque and the Queen must convert to Islam or leave the country."
But the controversial pastor also admitted to the BBC that he only had "somewhat limited" knowledge of the EDL, and that he "would describe them as a group who, I believe, in their words they want England to stay English."
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