Thursday, February 23, 2012

Koran-Burning Incident

By now, you've heard on the news about the Koran-burning incident at Bagram.  It's been a hot topic of conversation around here, and we're all on a heightened state of alert.  The story, from what we've seen in the news, is that somebody in Bagram tried to burn a bunch of Korans.  Some Afghans saw what was happening, pulled them out, and told a bunch of their friends.  All hell broke loose,

Reality is a bit more complex than that.  These particular Korans came from the detention facility.  The prisoners used them to write messages to each other.  When this was discovered, all the Korans were confiscated and stored somewhere.  There they sat until somebody decided they had to go.  What we figure is that some major told some lieutenant, who told some sergeant, who told some private, to move all the books.  Somewhere along the line, somebody who knew what these Korans were, and how they were supposed to be handled, told somebody who didn't know, to "get rid of this stuff".  Here in Afghanistan, that usually means to burn it.  So, probably, some 18-year-old private just thought he was doing what he was told.

The rest you know.  As of last evening, about four were dead in rioting and lots of people injured.  US and ISAF units all over Afghanistan are pretty much on lockdown, including here in the south.  But down here, things have been much quieter, probably because news travels slowly.  The officials we've spoken to understand that accidents happen, but have all cautioned that this is taken very seriously by the general Afghan public.  We've sure seen that up north and hope it won't play out the same way down here.

Some people have been very dismissive of the the Afghan reaction.  After all, they're just a bunch of books, right?  No.  To Muslims, it's the Word.  It's not that they're symbols (which they are as well), but they are literally the word of God.  And here is an infidel destroying the word of God.  Blasphemous.  We in the west are not immune to this sort of thing.  Years ago, an artwork titled "Piss Christ" was shown in New York.  It was a photo of a Catholic crucifix submerged in a urine-filled toilet.  The country was scandalized, Rudy Giuliani tried to close it down, and the clamor lasted for months.  Nobody died, however; a key difference between there and here.  But the underlying sentiment was the same: somebody had deeply affronted somebody else's religion.  Here it was accidental; in New York, deliberate.

So it will be interesting to see what happens over the next week.  Will southern Afghanistan erupt the same way that the north did?  We don't know.  But we're ready.

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