When an unhinged U.S. soldier gunned down 16 Afghan civilians – including women and children – in a pre-dawn massacre a couple of weeks ago, Americans immediately recoiled in horror and dismay. But to Afghans, this atrocity was far less outrageous than the accidental Koran burning at a U.S. military base a few weeks earlier. And while the Koran burning sparked violent protests in Afghanistan, the local response to the senseless murders was much more restrained.
The Associated Press reports on how religious leaders have justified the discrepancy:
When mullah Abdul Rahim Shah Ghaa thinks back to the day in February when a couple of Afghan employees at a U.S.-run detention center outside of Kabul yanked five partially burned Korans out of a trash incinerator, he shudders with anger and revulsion. “It is like a knife to my heart,” says the head of the provincial religious council. The March 11 slaying of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone U.S Army staff sergeant named Robert Bales in Kandahar province, however, has left less of a scar. “Of course we condemn that act,” he says. “But it was only 16 people. Even if it were 1,000 people, it wouldn’t compare to harming one word of the Koran. If someone insults our holy book, it means that they insult our faith, our religion and everything that we have.”
The protests over the Koran burnings appear to be over in Afghanistan–knock on wood. The violence directed against American personnel by insurgents, some of whom have managed to infiltrate the Afghan Security Forces (or been turned by the Taliban after joining in good faith, or simply become deranged), is, sadly, not over. But as emotions calm down it is worth taking a closer look at the protests and “friendly fire” killings and what they mean. That is just what two analysts at the Institute for the Study of War–Isaac Hock and Paraag Shukla–have done. They have produced a valuable backgrounder on the protests whose first paragraph is worth reproducing here:
Protests emerged in stages across small regions of Afghanistan following the accidental burning of Islamic religious texts at Bagram Airfield on February 20, 2012. Most of the protests are not spontaneous or self- organizing outbursts of anti-Americanism, but rather organized violence orchestrated by insurgent groups, Iran, and Afghan political factions aiming to harm their local rivals. Neighboring Iran has utilized its media outlets, especially radio, to influence Afghan demonstrators to be destructive during their protests. The Taliban have issued multiple statements encouraging violent actions. President Karzai and his administration, in contrast, have actively tried to quell violence.
President Obama has received a storm of criticism for apologizing for the accidental Koran burning in Afghanistan, and some of it has been unfair. Mistakes were made at the Bagram Air Base, Afghans were offended, and the president wasn’t necessarily wrong at the time to acknowledge the error.
But it’s quite another thing for Obama to insist his apology worked to quell anti-American violence — and in a sense downplay the horrific way Afghan extremists have used the Koran burning incident to justify attacks on our troops — which he did last night during an interview with ABC:
While Republican presidential candidates and others have criticized Obama’s action, the president told ABC that his letter to [President] Karzai has “calmed things down.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Obama said. “But my criteria in any decision I make, getting recommendations from folks who are actually on the ground, is what is going to best protect our folks and make sure that they can accomplish their mission.”
The latest attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan put the ongoing debate about the many apologies made by President Obama and members of our government over the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. personnel in new perspective. While I completely agree with the points that Max Boot made on Thursday about the president being right to apologize, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter how many times Obama or Secretary of State Clinton or any American general utter contrite statements. The incident has merely served as the latest excuse for Islamist violence and riots whose purpose is to vent hatred against the West and perhaps also to serve the interests of our al Qaeda and Taliban foes in Afghanistan.
As Max said, the United States is not in Afghanistan as a favor to President Hamid Karzai but to buttress our security needs. Yet as much as Obama is obligated to say what he can to lessen the chances of attacks on U.S. soldiers there, the spectacle of continual apologies from members of the administration does grate on the sensibilities of many Americans. As with previous incidents in which Muslims sensibilities are said to be offended, whatever sympathy we might have for those who are angry about the incident is overwhelmed by disgust at their resort to violence and murder in the name of their faith. The problem here is not so much what Obama said in this instance but a willingness by this administration and much of the mainstream press to buy into a false narrative in which the history of interactions between the United States and the Muslim world is a one-sided story of Western insults to Islam. As Charles Krauthammer said on FOX News, Americans are sick of seeing their government grovel. It is high time to point out that Muslim violence against non-believers far outweighs the few isolated incidents for which a Western apology to Muslims is in order.