On March 31, 2011, Pakistan’s United Nations ambassador, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, spoke to reporters at UN headquarters on behalf of the 56 member state Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ambassadorial Group, condemning the recent burning of a copy of the Koran by the pastors of a small Baptist Church in Gainesville, Florida. He highlighted the OIC’s “grave concern that the despicable act had severely hurt the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world” and warned reporters that it could lead to “incidents that are uncontrollable.”
The very next day Ambassador Haroon’s warning turned into a tragic, self-fulfilling prophesy. A large mob of demonstrators in Afghanistan, angry at the Koran burning and apparently responding to calls for revenge by three mullahs who had addressed worshipers at Friday prayer in one of Afghanistan’s holiest mosques, stormed a United Nations compound in the northern region of the country and killed a number of innocent people, including at least seven UN staff members – two reportedly by beheading. It was one of the worst attacks on UN personnel in Afghanistan since the war there began in 2001. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters, while in Nairobi, Kenya, that the attack was “outrageous and cowardly.”
This violence had been foreshadowed two days before Ambassador Haroon spoke in New York to the UN journalists. In Ambassador Haroon’s own country, Pakistan, two Christians had been killed, and dozens of Bibles were burned, when an Islamist mob attacked a church in Hyderbad, Pakistan. Yet Ambassador Haroon did not condemn this violence specifically when addressing the press conference. It seems that as far as he was concerned, such violence was to be expected as the inevitable reaction to the “affront” of the Koran burning – an “uncontrollable” incident, which was followed by an even worse “uncontrollable” incident against UN personnel in Afghanistan the day after he spoke.
Ambassador Haroon chose to turn up the heat on his Western audience and inflate the isolated act of a few extremists in one small church in Florida into a high profile global issue at the United Nations. He said that the international community needed to create the necessary conditions for ending such acts of bigotry and hatred. He also noted that the OIC had raised the Koran burning incident in Washington, D.C., and encouraged the United States Government to keep a close eye on such incidents “towards ensuring the exercise of restraint.” He added that “the present structure” of the OIC’s UN delegation has not yet proposed court action against the church or its pastors but said that could change.
Instead of doing the hard work of addressing his fellow Muslims in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and urging them to remain calm and peaceful, Ambassador Haroon unwittingly helped to sow the seeds of the violent acts against UN personnel by perpetrating the myth of a unique causal link between the Koran burning and “uncontrollable” reactions in the Muslim world, as if there were no killings of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. by Muslims for other manufactured reasons for many years before this incident.
Islamists don’t need an excuse to murder those they consider to be ‘infidels’ or ‘non-believers.’ It is in the DNA of Islamic ideology. In fact, Muslims also kill each other, as part of their own sectarian battles. When asked by a UN correspondent about the uptick in Sunni-Shiite violence, Ambassador Haroon said simply that “this is a very important point that should be raised and discussed.”
The burning of the Koran by a couple of small time pastors, while certainly a crude and reprehensible act, was not the ultimate cause of the killing by Islamists of UN staff in Afghanistan or Christians praying in a church in Pakistan. Responsible Muslims, such as presumably Ambassador Haroon himself, have failed to lead efforts to reform their own religion and to marginalize the clerics and other Islamists who use the Koran and other Islamic teachings to incite hatred and violence against ‘non-believers.’
Ambassador Haroon’s suave presentation to the UN press corps, the day before the tragic killing of UN staff members in Afghanistan, called for “interfaith harmony,” which he said “must be about all religions.” But he refused to acknowledge the intolerant, violence-prone strains in Islam which have caused disharmony around the world. Ambassador Haroon claimed that the Koran “advocates peace among all peoples and religions,” while brushing over the fact that the Koran has been used as the direct source material by Islamic clerics and jihadists to justify violence, intolerance and misogyny in the name of Islam. And this is not new in our times, attributable to recent acts of hatred in the West such as the burning of the Koran in the Florida church, as Ambassador Haroon implied.
Winston Churchill, for example, wrote about Islamic intolerance and tendency to violence in a book entitled The Story of the Malakand Field Force, published in 1897:
“The Mahommedan religion increases, instead of lessening, the fury of intolerance. It was originally propagated by the sword, and ever since, its votaries have been subject, above the people of all other creeds, to this form of madness…… civilisation is confronted with militant Mahommedanism. The forces of progress clash with those of reaction. The religion of blood and war is face to face with that of peace.”
Ambassador Haroon described the Koran as a book of “peace,” “mercy,” and “forgiveness.” He said the Koran incorporated the scriptures of “all faiths, including Christianity and Judaism. So we believe that the three monotheistic religions should have respect for each other.”