By: John Hampton
Violence continues to escalate in Afghanistan after NATO troops under U.S. command inadvertently burned an unknown number of Korans last week. The incident came about after the Korans, along with other religious materials, were sent to a disposal site at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul. The material ended up in a pit and was burned. Afghan workers later discovered the Korans. The protests began from that point, as the Afghans alleged the burning was a deliberate act meant to offend them.
According to CBS News, a military official with knowledge of the incident said it appeared that the Korans and other material were being used to fuel extremism, as detainees at Parwan Detention Facility (adjacent to Bagram Air Base) were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages. Muslims are permitted to dispose of Korans that have been damaged or corrupted to prevent God’s word from being defiled. Approved disposal methods include burning or burying. However there is one caveat; anyone who touches a Koran must be in a state of ritual purity.
If, as the CBS article suggests, the detainees had entered hand written extremist notes in these sacred Muslim books, would that not have rendered them damaged or corrupted? As the article also suggests, under these conditions burning would be one of the acceptable means of disposal. But let’s not forget the caveat – only those in a state of ritual purity may touch a Koran. Muslim detainees handled the books. If they were writing extremist notes in them, it’s hard to imagine that such behavior could elevate them to a state of ritual purity.
Upon learning of the incident, President Obama wrote an apology letter to Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The letter was forwarded to U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker who personally delivered it to Karzai. In the letter, Mr Obama expressed “deep regret” over the incident that he said was unintentional and pledged that those responsible would be held accountable.
Peter Lavoy, acting assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and Pacific Security Affairs, delivered an apology to a group at a mosque in Washington D.C. During the mea culpa, Mr Lavoy said that the military was investigating the incident and all troops would be retrained in the handling of religious materials. He further related that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized and pledged to personally review results of an investigation into the incident. Lavoy offered another apology to a group gathered at the ADAMS Center in Sterling VA.
General John Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, apologized to the Afghan people and told them that the books were inadvertently designated for burning.The general said that all coalition forces in Afghanistan would be given training in how to handle religious material. Topics to be covered in the training will include: identification of religious material, significance attached to it and how to properly handle and store such material.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little added his apology by saying “This is an issue we know is of concern, not only to Afghans, but to other Muslims around the world, including in the United States. We want to send a strong signal to the American Muslim community that we deplore what happened and apologize for it.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney put forth his apology as well and posited that the incident was not intentional. Carney said President Obama’s primary concern was “the safety of American men and women in Afghanistan, of our military and civilian personnel there.”
Why has President Obama mandated such an inordinate number of apologies? Does he feel that this will quell the violence? U.S. officials have said the Koran burning was unintentional. So why is it necessary to prostrate ourselves before the Afghan people? And if the detainees had indeed written extremist messages in the Korans, would it not have been the duty of those in charge to remove and dispose of them?
Unfortunately, none of these efforts prevented a gunman from executing two U.S. military advisers inside the heavily guarded Interior Ministry Building in Kabul on Saturday. Both men were found dead in their offices. The Taliban has since claimed responsibility for the killings, citing revenge for the burning of the Korans as the motive. In total, 4 U.S. service men and 30-40 Afghans have been killed since the incident took place.
I believe that a single apology along with the assurance of an investigation from General Allen would have been sufficient. President Obama himself said the Koran burning was unintentional. If he believes this, why is he so adamant about holding someone accountable? There are many examples of sectarian violence in the Middle East. In some cases, Korans are burned and mosques are destroyed. And these actions are anything but unintentional!
There seems to be a conception that any affront to a person of the Muslim faith (even if unintentional) committed by a non-Muslim, is somehow more egregious than if it were committed by another Muslim. Is not a burnt Koran a burnt Koran regardless of who strikes the match? President Obama is concerned over this incident and he should be. All Americans should be concerned about religious freedom and tolerance. However, he should not be conditioning those elements of the Muslim world that are hostile to the United States, to believe that their religious tenets and practices are more holy, more sacred, more divine and more worthy of respect, than those of any group that believe differently.
John Hampton lives in Tehachapi CA and is quite concerned about the policies and motives of the current Administration. He believes in a system that holds our freedoms sacred, promotes personal responsibility, prudence and high moral standards.