The White House is talking about it. So is the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Muslims in Kabul are protesting it. Major broadcast news networks, including ABC and CBS, led their Tuesday news reports with it. And it's all over Facebook.
Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center, the 50-member church in northwest Gainesville, plans to burn at least one Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Jones says Islam is a religion "of the devil" and lists on his website "10 reasons to burn the Koran," the Muslim holy book.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Dove World's plan a "disrespectful, disgraceful act." Attorney General Eric Holder called it idiotic and dangerous.
Also in Washington, D.C., a broad coalition of religious leaders from evangelical, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim organizations called Jones' plan a violation of American values.
But how did what most call a tiny, fringe religious group garner global attention?
"It's a case point of this guy using the traditional news to have something go viral," said Giovanni Gallucci, a social media consultant based in Dallas. "This is nothing more than a publicity stunt — someone waving their arms saying, ‘Hey, look at me! Look at me!' And guess what, we did."
When asked if the White House has any plans to reach out to Jones, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "I have not heard of any." He said he also has not heard President Obama personally comment on the issue.
Muslims consider the Quran to be sacred and demand that it be treated with respect. In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded during riots over false accusations that American troops had flushed a Quran down a toilet to get prisoners to talk.
Sarah Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of North America, said she heard about Dove World's plans through the media.
"From our perspective, regardless of how many attend, it's still unacceptable to burn the Quran, just as it would be disrespectful to burn a Bible," Thompson said. "Quite literally, it's a hate crime."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the plan to burn copies of the Quran "un-American," adding it does not represent the views of most people in the U.S.
"While it may well be within someone's rights to take this action, we hope cooler heads will prevail," Crowley said Tuesday.
This is not the first time Jones and Dove World have done something that has netted attention. Last year, Jones placed a series of signs in front of the church, which remain there today, that read "Islam is of the devil." Children of church members were given T-shirts with the saying to wear to school. Dove World is against an Islamic center being built two blocks from the World Trade Center site and posts a link on its website falsely accusing President Obama of being Muslim.
While the mainstream media picked up on Dove World's most recent story first, social websites also have a piece of the pie. Dove World's Facebook page dedicated to "International Burn a Koran Day" has 8,578 fans, although some people who have "liked" the site have posted comments protesting the planned burning. Another page, "Against International Burn a Koran Day," has more than 16,500 followers, while "Burn the Dove World Outreach Center" has four people who like the page.
"Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence," Petraeus wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Local leaders, including University of Florida President Bernard Machen and Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe (whom Dove World has targeted because he is gay), along with an interfaith group, have uniformly spoken out against Jones' plans. They say burning a Quran would put residents' lives in danger, including the 90,000 people expected to attend Saturday's football game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium between UF and the University of South Florida.
Area law enforcement agencies have reported death threats against Jones and the city.
At noon today, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church downtown, an Interfaith Prayer Service for Unity will feature readings from the Torah, Quran and Bible.
On Friday evening, Trinity United Methodist Church, located a few blocks away from Dove World, is hosting " A Gathering of Faith, Understanding and Hope," also an interfaith service. People of all faiths can drop in any time between 6 and 9 p.m. Parishioners are baking bread to share. In addition, there will be food from different cultures, activities for children, speakers from different faiths, an art gallery encouraging peace and readings from liturgy and/or prayers, along with time each half-hour for meditation.
Trinity Methodist's pastor, the Rev. Dan Johnson, who struggled with whether to openly oppose Jones, said he is heartened that media from all over the world are talking with him about the event so others will know that most Christians do not hate Muslims. He added that Jones is welcome to meet with him, welcome to attend Trinity and welcome at Friday night's gathering.
"I just wish he wouldn't do it," Johnson said of the Quran burning. "I think it's going to cause unintentional consequences — although I don't know what his intentions are."
Nationally, there are peaceful protests. Al-Furqaan Foundation plans to distribute 50 copies of the Quran for free for every one that Jones burns.
We "have called on all people of conscience globally, Muslims and non-Muslims, to support this," Wajahat Sayeed, president of Al-Furqaan Foundation, wrote on its website. "Let us react not with emotion over this act but use hikmah (wisdom) and in a most positive way enjoin what is right."
In his sermon Sunday at Dove World, Jones said prophets in the Bible put their lives on the line for their beliefs and he condemned area churches for reading from the Quran during Sunday services.
"We have to remember the church has always been called the army of God. So now, they say, is the time to stand and act like the army of God," he said in a sermon posted on Dove World's website. "How cowardly has our Christianity fallen from the truth and from the gospel? It is sad. I would probably cry if I were on camera."
At Dove World on Tuesday, a Gainesville police officer was stationed across the street from the church. The church's lighted roadside sign was damaged, although it was not clear when it was broken.
Jones did not respond to e-mailed questions, including how he would explain his actions to the parents of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.