Monday, October 26, 2009

Burning Holy Books

I previously asked why we are losing the war in Afghanistan. This story sheds some light. On Sunday, a group of Afghans burnt an effigy of President Obama during angry protests in the capital city of Kabul. The inciting incident? Rampant rumors that American forces had desecrated the Qur'an.

Per Laura King of the Los Angeles Times:

"Muslims were disrespected!" said Zabiullah Khalil, an engineering student. "The foreigners shot the Koran, and then they burned it. They should be tried for this."

This was not the first time Afghans have gone to the streets over Qur'an desecration rumors. In 2005, Newsweek reported that American soldiers flushed a Qur'an down the toilet in Guantanamo. Shortly thereafter, the magazine recanted the story as false. The real story, in fact, derived from an incident when an inmate had dropped the holy book in the vicinity of a toilet. No matter. Furious protests in Afghanistan were only abruptly ended when police shot into the crowd, leaving four people dead and one burnt Bush effigy lying in the street.

Nor is this the first time holy book burning has caused a scandal inside Afghanistan. Earlier this year, al-Jazeera acquired exclusive footage of U.S. soldiers purportedly discussing how to proselytize Afghans and distribute native-language Bibles. In response to the ensuing scandal, the U.S. military confiscated the bibles and incinerated them. You can see the raw footage of the meeting here, but this clip below sums up the scandal pretty well.

I wonder what the protesters in Kabul think about American "crusaders" burning their own Bibles - or even if they know about the incident at all. In the end, it doesn't matter whether rumors about burning the Qur'an are true or not, or whether proselytizing Christianity is official U.S. policy. Extremists who want to hate the United States will find their reasons. There is nothing we can do about that.

The troubling thing is that the protesters in Kabul were not the Taliban ideologues. They were students. The question is how do we win their trust? How do we convince them to not so readily consume Taliban propaganda? We can begin by not giving the extremists any excuse to fan the flames. But ultimately, only by improving the facts on the ground, whether through legitimate government or economic opportunity, can we regain the Afghan trust we have squandered over eight years of failed policies and neglect.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps our idea of a student differs from the reality. Ideally, students are curious and inquisitive. If the education process promotes blind acceptance and memorization of concepts, how do students learn to formulate their own thoughts? If they don't have practice asking questions, how do they learn to do so as adults? At what point does our natural curiosity get squashed? Just a thought.....

Jason Stern said...

Sounds like the wisdom of a school board member.

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