Saturday, February 25, 2012

Qur’an Burning: What’s Next for American Soldiers in Afghanistan?

American soldiers have done it again! It was not too long ago that they were found urinating on the dead bodies of Afghans. This time they have burned the Qur’an, the Muslim Scripture. At least two dozen Afghans have died protesting the sacrilegious act. When will these invading forces learn not to commit bastardly acts that are inexcusable and considered profane by other cultures? Will they ever?

It is simply absurd to think that those American military personnel serving in Afghanistan did not know any better. A decade has passed since the Americans had invaded this highly conservative and religious country. It is inconceivable that they did not have sensitivity training to acquaint them with the do’s and the don’ts in Afghanistan. They ought to have known that Muslims consider destruction of the holy book blasphemous.

Yet American soldiers last week started to incinerate a truckload of Islamic religious items, including copies of the Qur’an, taken from detainees at Bagram Air Base. As expected, this incident has triggered the week-long protests not only in Afghanistan but also in the next-door Pakistan. Armed with rocks, bricks and wooden sticks, protesters in Afghanistan took to the streets in demonstrations in a half-dozen provinces. Afghan security forces have fired on the demonstrating crowd to prevent assaults on the NATO bases by angry mobs, and on Thursday two American soldiers were shot to death by a member of the Afghan army at a base in eastern Afghanistan. On Saturday (Feb. 25), two other American military advisers were killed inside the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul by a gunman, apparently linked to the Taliban.

Mindful of the angry mood of the Afghans, American diplomats and military officials, including Gen. John Allen -- the top American commander in Afghanistan who heads the NATO forces, met with President Hamid Karzai and spoke to senior Afghan government and religious figures in an attempt to cool down their anger. They apologized and offered to cooperate fully with the Afghan government in its investigation into what led to the burning of the copies of the Qur’an.

However, the fury is not likely to abate soon. Some members of the Parliament have called on Afghans to take up arms against the American military. Mr. Karzai has been demanding since last December that the Afghan government should take over the American-run detention center in Parwan, where more than 3,000 suspected insurgents are housed. The United States has declined, citing legal reasons and saying that the Afghans are not prepared to run the maximum security site. But there is little doubt that with the latest episode of the Qur’an burning the American occupation forces are running out of bargaining chips to rebuff Mr. Karzai’s argument.

The behavior of the American soldiers in the Muslim world has been shockingly insensitive. It is a blood-soaked history of incessant morally repugnant, culturally despicable and utterly horrifying incidents one after another. Countless horrors have accompanied the conflicts both in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is so comical that the same people who had earlier shed crocodile tears for the demolished statues in Bahmian had no moral qualms about the looting and destruction of Iraq’s (actually humanity’s) ancient heritage! They had no problem dropping tons of bombs on museums, mountains and caves containing Afghanistan’s ancient heritage either.

As to the human lives in Iraq and Afghanistan the least said the better! As noted during the testimony of U.S. soldiers committing war crimes, those civilians were not even thought of as humans. So rape, killing, destruction and plunder were all easy to commit without any bite of moral conscience! So Abu Ghraib was not the only venue to exhibit American “exceptionalism” in savagery! It was just one such site amongst countless others - Fallujah, Tal Afar, Samarra, Al-Qa’im, Haditha, Ramadi, Husaybah and Mahmoudia inside Iraq, and dozens of other horrendous and notorious sites like the Bagram Air Base inside Afghanistan, let alone Guantanamo Bay.

More than a million unarmed civilians have been mercilessly pulverized simply for being either Iraqis or Afghans in asymmetric wars. Millions of others have been made homeless. With puppet governments in power, the lives of ordinary Iraqis and Afghans have not become any better.

Last Thursday, President Obama sent a letter of apology to President Karzai stating that “the error was inadvertent,” and promised to take “the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.” General Allen has ordered coalition soldiers in Afghanistan to undergo training in “the proper handling of religious materials.”

Those are good gestures aimed at curbing the massive tide of anti-Americanism sweeping the region and stabilizing Afghanistan as the NATO forces are preparing to withdraw by the end of 2014. But those measures, even if implemented, may be insufficient to override the overwhelming negative perception held by most Afghans that the Americans are hypocritical. They see a repeat offender who disrespects everything that the Afghans venerate and honor. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand their anger and frustration at the latest episode. As reported in the New York Times, one protester said, “This is not just about dishonoring the Koran (Qur’an), it is about disrespecting our dead and killing our children,” referring to an episode in Helmand Province when American Marines urinated on the dead bodies of men they described as insurgents and to a recent erroneous airstrike on civilians in Kapisa Province that killed eight young Afghans. “They always admit their mistakes,” he said. “They burn our Koran (Qur’an) and then they apologize. You can’t just disrespect our holy book and kill our innocent children and make a small apology.” Another protester said, “Just by saying ‘I am sorry,’ nothing can be solved. We want an open trial for those infidels who have burned our Holy Koran (Qur’an).”

Will American warlords listen, respect other religions and their holy books, and modify their behaviors accordingly? President Obama's apology to President Karzai Thursday was seized on by the president's Republican rivals (minus Congressman Ron Paul) as a sign of American weakness. Presidential primary candidate Newt Gingrich said it was the Afghans who should be apologizing. To obsessed bigots like him, America can never do anything wrong, not even in places like Abu Ghraib that has soiled America’s image worldwide. He proudly calls it American exceptionalism!

Well, one cannot teach morality to an evil person who epitomizes immorality. However, the problem is: guys like Gingrich (including Santorum and Romney) enjoy huge popularity amongst many Republican voters, who also listen to equally obnoxious hatemongering provocateurs like Rush Limbaugh that poison the airwaves. This explains why they are ahead of the other Republican candidate - Dr. Ron Paul – the last best hope for American sanity these days. Being brainwashed, many men and women in the U.S. military, naturally see our world the way Newt and other junkies of the Armageddon paint for them, and thus, entertain unfathomable hatred towards Muslims and their faith. It is this hatred which often comes out starkly naked in the harm’s way in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unless, America learns to reject the voices of the hateful provocateurs and works towards nurturing a worldview that is respectful of ‘other’ cultures and traditions, her soldiers will continue to commit despicable crimes in the occupied territories.

Interestingly, central to the U.S.-led international coalition’s strategy for countering the Taliban insurgency is the idea of building up Afghan security capacity by working closely with the Afghan army and police. That requires a measure of trust, which is undermined when the coalition forces commit crimes against humanity and are insensitive and disrespectful of local conservative customs, let alone of Islam and its Holy Book. Such acts can provoke U.S.-trained Afghans to turn their guns on their foreign partners. It is hateful provocations like this, the daily harassments, the nightly raids and, of course, the indefatigable determination to defeat the invaders, which, even before the Qur’an burning and the unrest it unleashed across Afghanistan, has had led the Afghan “partners” to kill the U.S. and allied troops in increasing numbers. Saturday’s shooting of American military advisers is one more reminder of this failed experiment with trust-building.

In its bloated sense of pride and arrogance, if American military refuses to learn from its own misadventures, it will continue to repeat them and as such, whether it likes it or not, will self-defeat its own strategy. Something to ponder about for the American warlords!

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