Remember Christian pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida? He caused an international uproar last year by threatening to burn 200 copies of the Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Scripture, on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Among others, the overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, had warned at that time that such an action could provoke violence in Afghanistan and could endanger American troops. Jones subsequently promised not to burn the Qur’an.
Last month, on March 20, however, with only 30 worshipers attending, Terry Jones held a self-styled mock trial of the Qur’an in which he presided from the pulpit as a judge. Sitting in judgment was a jury of 12 members of his church. Punishment was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Jones said voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings. So the Qur’an was burned.
The hateful act drew little publicity inside the USA, but provoked angry condemnation in the Af-Pak region, where it was reported in the local media and where anti-American sentiment already runs high. Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan condemned the burning in an address before the Parliament, and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Thursday called on the United States to bring those responsible for the Qur’an burning to justice. A prominent Afghan cleric, Mullah Qyamudin Kashaf, the acting head of the influential Ulema Council of Afghanistan and a Karzai appointee, also called for American authorities to arrest and try Terry Jones in the Qur’an burning.
Obviously, the U.S. government will not take any action against the Christian pastor. There is absolute freedom in this country to trash a religion, its founder and its holy book, although Tomahawks may be fired and bombs dropped to kill anyone considered hostile to the USA. The U.S. government doesn’t have to put the suspect into a lengthy trial process; it is easier this way to simply vaporize him, his family and tribe, and the neighborhood he lived!
I am sure many westerners would see no problem with such a politically secular and chauvinistic attitude, considered so outlandish, one-sided or hypocritical by so many in the East. They forget that every freedom that we enjoy has its limitations. When the rights of others are violated, it is no longer deemed freedom but can be an abuse or a crime. Many of these bigots and self-righteous nuts like Jones forget that we live in a highly connected world in which information flies instantly. So the provocation here can trigger a political-diplomatic tsunami elsewhere. And we have witnessed plenty of such occurrences in recent years.
Consider for instance, the reaction to the demolition of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan. In the days following the Taliban insanity, scores of Muslim houses of worship were burned down in many Buddhist majority countries in south and south-east Asia. The same was the consequence in Nepal during the height of Iraqi occupation when thousands of Nepalese Hindus burned at least two mosques including the "Jamaa" mosque, the largest mosque in the capital Katmandu, in protest against the killing of 12 Nepalese who had been working as cooks and cleaners for the occupation forces by an Iraqi insurgent group in August 31, 2004. In Nepalgunj, Nepal's western capital, nine houses inhabited by Muslims were burnt down. At least three Muslims were killed; several Muslim shops and businesses were also destroyed by the angry mob.
And who can forget the post-9/11 backlash in the USA — the steady stream of more than 800 cases of violence and discrimination suffered by American Muslims at the hands of know-nothing abusers? (It is worth nothing that while Muslims make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population, they are victims in 14 percent of religious discrimination cases. These range from homicides and mosque burnings to job, school and zoning law abuses, according to the Justice Department.)
Afghanistan is not impervious to information either. Its people had more than its share of troubles since the 1970s with foreign occupation forces and their stooges. Deeply religious and reflexively volatile, it has long been highly reactive to perceived insults against Islam. Thus the provocative desecration of the Qur’an in Gainesville was not lost in its information radar screen. Last Friday some 20,000 protesters overran the compound of the United Nations in Mazar-i-Sharif, the northern Afghan city, during which 12 people died. The dead included at least seven United Nations workers, and five Afghans. The top U.N. official in Afghanistan blamed Taliban infiltrators for the killings. Violent protests against the burning continued on Saturday in Kandahar where 9 people got killed and 81 injured.
The attack once again underscored the latent hostility toward the nine-year foreign presence here, even in a city long considered to be among the safest in Afghanistan. The indiscriminate NATO bombing campaigns and drone attacks that have killed thousands of civilians have only reinforced the perception amongst most Afghans, including the western-back government of Karzai, that these western forces and their mercenaries have no respect for Afghan lives. They want them out.
Terry Jones, the provocateur responsible for triggering this latest episode, was well aware of the consequences of his sacrilegious action. He remains unrepentant and says that given the chance he would do it all over again. He audaciously demanded that the United States and United Nations take “immediate action” against Muslim nations in retaliation for the deaths. “The time has come to hold Islam accountable,” he said.
Such deranged talks from a bigoted Christian pastor should not surprise us. In the post-9/11 era these Christian zealots have been trying everything possible to expand the West’s war against the Muslim world. Knowing very well that they are protected by laws, these provocateurs have abused the notion of freedom of speech to incite violence, thereby endangering the lives of too many innocent people. And one death is too many!
It is high time for the U.S. government to understand that their nonchalant attitude against these ‘terrorists’ sends out a very incoherent message to the rest of the world when they see the same government justifying their bombing campaigns against hideouts of a radical Muslim cleric for inciting violence against occupation forces in a Muslim land. They call it the pinnacle of hypocrisy! It is simply inexcusable.