We are passing through tough days: the bitterness of winter, the increasing and omnipresent threat of terrorist attacks, and now the widespread violence that erupted in different parts of the country in response to the burning of the Quran in Bagram Base by American personnel. As a Muslim I too consider intentionally disrespecting Quran unacceptable and condemn it. Likewise, as an Afghan citizen, I condemn the violent demonstrations organised by particular groups in response to this incident. The very instigation of the violent riots, inter alia, demonstrate the political immaturity of certain political leaders, trigger-happiness of certain demonstrators, the volatility of security in Afghanistan, and the inability of considerable number of Afghans to learn lessons from more than 3 decades of conflict in their country.
Accidental or otherwise, the last week’s Quran burning case provided greater space for neighbouring countries and their intelligence services, Taliban, criminal groups and political opportunists to exploit the situation for their advantage. It has doubtlessly allowed neighbouring ill-wishers to strengthen their networks with terrorist groups in Afghanistan and induce anti-American sentiments in a bid to bring Afghans closer to Pakistani and/or Iranian interests. It has allowed Taliban to seek legitimacy base for their current insurgencies. And, it has allowed certain members of the Afghan Parliament (MPs) to show their ‘significance’ by exhibiting their ‘destructive’ potential to the Afghan government and international community, as well as to show their unwavering faith to their constituencies by playing the lead role in the current soap opera.
A mistake by one/more American personnel has resulted in the death and injury of more than 200 Afghans. The resultant situation serves the interests of neither those who seek greater respect for Islam and Quran in the mind and the heart of non-Muslims, nor those who want Afghanistan to become a peaceful and prosperous country. While among the demonstrators, there were innocent Afghans who staged it peacefully based on their pure Islamic feelings not knowing it would turn violent, the number of casualties and damages to public assets and country’s economy show they were greatly outnumbered by those with malicious intentions.
Hypocrisy of Demonstrators
The scope and violent nature of the demonstrations are arguably not because of Islam and Quran, but because it was done by Americans, therefore the political motive behind is not exclusively ‘the respect to Islam’. Taliban’s suicide and other terrorist attacks on mosques and schools in Afghanistan not just kill innocent Afghan civilians but also damage, burn and disrespect a large number of religious texts, Quran included. The explosions in Friday prayers, Eid prayers and other religious commemorations have killed and disabled permanently far more religious scholars, praying Muslims and other civilians and burned far greater number of Qurans. Such acts by Taliban does not justify burning or disrespecting Quran by non-Talibans, however the violent riots against only Americans does indicate the hypocrisy of certain riot-organisers in remaining silent against the Taliban atrocities.
The lack of demonstrations against Taliban is perhaps due to current demonstrators’ perception that Taliban are savages, leading to higher expectations from Americans who have greater respect for other religions. Or, they might find Americans an easier target due to their fear from the Taliban. However, when footages show that these demonstrators publically supported Taliban by raising their white flag in different parts of Afghanistan, it is hard to believe they are not Taliban sympathisers or not wedded to the idea of disrupting public order.
Opportunism of Politicians
The reactions of certain political leaders and MPs show but their opportunistic behaviour. Their call on religious leaders to proclaim holy war (Jihad) against Americans on one hand shows their utter indifference to national security, public order, burgeoning democracy and political stability in Afghanistan, and on the other undermines the legitimacy of Afghan State, which they as members of Parliament constitute an important pillar of. For an Afghan MP not to understand that constitutionally what body can proclaim war under what circumstances is in simple terms pathetic.
These violent riots show how some Afghan political elite are indulging in antisocial behaviour. Some MPs, with a complete disregard to Afghan interests, which in this case can include safety of ordinary Afghans, Afghan security forces and public assets, maintaining good relations with allied nations, preventing Taliban influence, have involved in demagogical sloganeering and acted like the spokespersons of insurgent groups. Completely ignoring the official apologies of the U.S. officials, and providing spiritual support to opportunist rioters, they paved the way for the death and injury of more than 200 Afghans and damages to public and private properties.
If we are genuinely concerned about winning international troops’ respect to Islam or securing Afghan national interests, we should adopt such approaches that are peaceful and can attain highest benefits with lowest costs for Afghanistan. The US President and Head of NATO’s apologies, insufficient as may seem in the eyes of rioters, are clear indications about the non-intentional nature of this incident. It should; however, by accompanied with a thorough investigation, in which not just NATO and Afghan government, but also members of Ulema Shura, other civil society groups and media should participate. The outcomes of this investigation shall be made public and the perpetrators should be dealt with according to the law.
Meanwhile, the troop contributing nations should work together with Afghans to devise culture and religion orientation programs for all their troops and staff. As most of these countries do have Muslim staff too, it shall not be a problem that they are given a lead role in religion-sensitive operations in the future.
It is ideal that no Muslim or non-Muslim treats Quran with disrespect, but it is equally important that Afghans are not deceived by a group who misuse their religious feelings for their political ends, and more important is that for such mistakes, more than 200 Afghan families are not forced to mourn for their loved ones. It is the legal and religious obligation of the MPs and other politicians to use the strength and feelings of Afghans for building Afghanistan and not for destroying it.
* This article was first published in Dari 8 Sobh Daily a few days ago. Here, I present its translated version with slight changes, for wider readership.