Qur'an Burning Rage in Afghanistan

Will profuse American apologies stamp out jihadi flames of hate?

The United States embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan is on lockdown and violent protests are spreading throughout the nation. The impetus for the unrest was the burning of Muslim holy books at a NATO military base on Monday. The books, including Qur'ans, had been removed from a detention center library adjoining Bagram air base, 40 miles north of Kabul, because they were being used by Afghan detainees to disseminate "extremist" messages. While that fact is being left largely untold by the Obama administration and our mainstream media, Washington is now offering repeated apologies.

The number of apologies, along with their obsequious nature in some cases, is curious, to say the least. On Tuesday, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander Gen. John Allen offered his “sincere apologies for any offense this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan.” A day later, Allen ordered all 130,000 coalition troops in the country to “complete training in the proper handling of religious materials” by March 3rd. “I’m going to take steps inside these headquarters to issue an order today on how we will handle religious materials for the faith of Islam, henceforth, by ISAF, so that something like this just cannot happen again," Allen promised.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the reported incident "deeply unfortunate" and apologized for the "inappropriate treatment" of the material. White House spokesman Jay Carney called it "a deeply unfortunate incident that does not reflect the great respect our military has for the religious practices of the Afghan people." U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker joined Gen. Allen, and deputy defense secretary Ashton B. Carter, in a meeting Wednesday with Afghan president Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace. The officials apologized on behalf of President Obama. The White House released yet another apology quoted by the American embassy on Twitter. "We apologize to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms," it read. "This does not reflect the great respect our military has for the religious practices of the Afghan people." State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland upped the ante, characterizing the event as “horrific,” and further noting that the "desecration of religious articles is not in keeping with the standards of American tolerance, human rights practices, and freedom of religion.”

A Western military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information, contended that the Qur'ans and other Islamic readings in the library at Parwan Detention Facility were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees were using them to exchange extremist messages. He further noted that while several hundred Islamic publications were removed from the library because of their extremist content and the extremist messages written on their pages by detainees, none of the documents were destroyed, only "charred and burned." Other unnamed U.S. military officials said that soldiers had been directed to destroy the documents after they discovered prisoners' "clandestine communications" hidden inside.

This reality raises an interesting question: at what point do "religious documents" become facilitators of extremist communications and/or prisoner unrest during wartime? Either of these scenarios could endanger U.S. troops. Yet it is obviously apparent that cultural "sensitivity" trumps such considerations in our world today. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Gen. Allen continues to defer to such sensitivities. "It was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials," Allen told NATO TV on Wednesday. "It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it we immediately stopped and we intervened."

None of it mattered. More than 2,000 Afghans protested the incident outside the Bagram Air Base, shouting, "Die, die, foreigners!" Some fired rifles into the air. Others threw rocks at the gate of the base and set tires on fire. In Kabul, demonstrators tried to storm a fortified compound housing thousands of Western contractors. Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside Camp Phoenix, another U.S. military base. Rocks were hurled at the installation, and there were reports that shots were fired as well. Additional protests took place in Jalalabad, where demonstrators set 11 fuel tankers ablaze, burned U.S. President Barack Obama's effigy, and praised Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, shouting, “Long live Mullah Omar.” Demonstrations also took place in the western city of Herat.

The Afghan Interior Ministry reports that seven people have been killed in clashes between Afghan security forces and protesters, and the U.S. embassy has issued a statement warning Americans to be vigilant, reminding them that "past demonstrations in Afghanistan have escalated into violent attacks on Western targets of opportunity," and urging U.S. citizens "to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations, spontaneous or planned."

President Karzai is demanding that Parwan Detention Facility be turned over to Afghan control. "The sooner you do the transfer of the prison, the fewer problems and unfortunate incidents you will have," he reportedly told Crocker, Allen and Carter, during their meeting. Gen. Allen has promised a "swift investigation" of the incident, as has Mr. Karzai, who called the burning of the documents a "desecration." He called for cooperation from U.S. officials in order to "make sure that such incidents do not happen again in the future."

The mood of the Afghan people was succinctly revealed by a taxi driver protesting in Kabul. "We want violence," he said. "If they are insulting our Qur'an we don't want peaceful rallies." That sentiment was echoed by another protester named Mohammad Hakim. "They should leave Afghanistan rather than disrespecting our religion, our faith," he said. "They have to leave and if next time they disrespect our religion, we will defend our holy Qur'an, religion and faith until the last drop of blood has left in our body."

Ironically, Gen. Allen also referred to making the ultimate sacrifice as well during yet another apology quoted on Twitter. "These kinds of incidents, when they do occur, will be corrected in the fastest and most appropriate manner possible," Allen maintained. "We've been dying alongside the Afghans for a long time because we believe in them, and we want to give them a bright future."

Noted Muslim scholar and Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer puts the incident and the subsequent apologies in a different perspective. He notes: "[T]here can be no stable or prosperous society--and indeed, no self-government--with such a sense of entitlement to wreak havoc when insulted. Self-government depends on government of the self." As for the apologies? “General Allen clearly has no idea how weak and pusillanimous his repeated apologies...will make him appear to many, if not most, of ‘the noble people of Afghanistan,’” Spencer writes. “He should know enough about Islamic culture to know that it respects strength and sees apologizing and attempts at conciliation as weakness, only to be despised.”

Yet it might even be worse than that. If an investigation reveals that, in fact, these document were being used to enable "clandestine communications" among extremists, will American officials withdraw their apologies? Or will the same promoters of political correctness, who respect the "religious sensitivities" that make mosques non-attackable targets--even when they are de facto armories--prevail?

Those not afflicted by the virus of PC know that any "bright future" for the Afghan people must be tempered by the reality that the Obama administration has no plan to achieve anything resembling a victory there. In fact, they are negotiating with the Taliban, and may soon release several Taliban prisoners from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. That would be the same Taliban that routinely engages in torture and suicide bombings, burns down schools to prevent women from getting educated, and threatens all non-believers with either dhimmitude or death.

Furthermore, as any negotiations imply, how does one "split the difference" with such people? Where is the middle ground between religiously-inspired totalitarianism and freedom to worship as one pleases? Between respect for women and their relegation to permanent second-class status? Between those who believe in a pluralistic society and those who believe the entire world should be an Islamic caliphate? It would be truly illuminating for the Obama administration to provide the American people, especially those with relatives in harm's way throughout the Middle East, with answers to such questions.

Perhaps, in light of the obsequious manner in which this latest incident has been handled, they already have.

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