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.”
How does Ambassador Haroon square his claim, that the Koran is all about such “respect” for other religions and about “peace,” with quotes such as these from the Koran itself:
• “O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.” 5: 51
• “Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the last Day and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low..” 9:29
The Hadith (the recorded deeds and sayings attributed to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, which Muslims consider supplemental to the Koran), called for the killing of all Jews in a passage which the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas liked so much that it is included in their Charter:
• “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”
However, rather than confront Ambassador Haroon with quotes such as these or engage in a theological debate with him, I decided to ask him some questions about intolerant Islamic practices today and whether he was willing to condemn them along with his condemnation of the Koran burning in Florida. For example, I asked him about the imposition of the death penalty under sharia law for a Muslim’s declared intention to leave the Islam faith, known as apostasy. He dodged the question.
I also asked him whether the OIC was prepared to call for the allowance of Christian and Jewish Bibles or the holy texts of other religions in all Muslim countries as well as the building of public places of worship for religions other than Islam, which are prohibited today in Saudi Arabia. And I asked him whether he was prepared to condemn the anti-blasphemy law in Pakistan, which includes a death penalty for criticizing Islam or the Prophet Muhammad – the law under which a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, has been sentenced to death and is currently languishing in jail.
Ambassador Haroon responded that he could only speak for the situation in Pakistan. He said “There are Gideon Bibles in most hotels in Pakistan. They are not burned.”
Ambassador Haroon is either ignorant of Bible burnings in Pakistan or is lying. Muslim fundamentalists have burnt Bibles in Pakistan for years before the unfortunate Koran burning in Florida. For example, in 2008 Muslim fundamentalists burned a Bible and other sacred texts in a Pakistani church, leaving a letter threatening Christians that they will “burn in the fire of hell” if they do not convert to Islam.
As bad as religious minorities have fared in Pakistan, at least churches are permitted there. In Saudi Arabia, the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Conference for which the Pakistani UN ambassador had purported to speak at the UN press conference, the Saudi government burns and desecrates hundreds of Bibles its security forces confiscate after raids on Christian expatriates worshiping privately or at border crossings. No comment was forthcoming from Ambassador Haroon, who limited himself to the situation in Pakistan in responding to my questions.
Ambassador Haroon noted that Pakistan’s anti- blasphemy law had been written originally by the British, only obliquely acknowledging that the death penalty had been added by Pakistan after it gained its independence. Two Pakistani government officials critical of the anti-blasphemy law and its death sentence – one of whom was a Christian – were murdered by Islamic fundamentalists. Ambassador Haroon said that his government was reviewing the anti-blasphemy law, including the death sentence imposed on Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who remains in jail. He said he would not “pre-judge the outcome of the ongoing discussions.”
Ambassador Haroon added that no one in Pakistan had yet received maximum punishment for blasphemy and, he said, many accused of blasphemy had been freed. The problem with his claim, according to Saroop Ijaz, a human rights attorney in Lahore, Pakistan, is that while no one has yet been executed by the government under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law, “at least 32 people have been killed while awaiting trial or after they have been acquitted of blasphemy charges.” Islamic mob justice does not depend on the outcome of a government trial.
Ambassador Haroon and the Organization of Islamic Conference for which he purported to speak need to look within their own faith before lecturing the West about respect and tolerance for the beliefs of others. They should encourage Muslims who truly believe their religion can embrace reason and modern-day humanistic values to openly challenge those many intolerant Islamist ideologues whom are the most vocal in defining Islam today. Until they do so, they are merely serving as the ideologues’ enablers.
Joseph Klein is the author of a recent book entitled Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations and Radical Islam.