Because Afghans have nothing more important to fret about

Because Afghanistan is so peaceful and safe and prosperous, such a paradise of equality and freedom and happiness, people there have leisure to get wildly upset and furious when some books are accidentally sent to the incinerator in a consignment of waste paper.

US and Nato forces have rushed  to apologise for discarding and possibly burning copies of the Qur’an, as thousands of furious Afghans gathered to protest outside Bagram military airbase.

Some carried ancient hunting rifles and others used slingshots to pelt the outer walls of the airbase with stones for several hours, despite the bitter cold, shouting “down with America” and other slogans.

The crowd swelled to as much as three thousand, and police stationed on roads leading to the base turned back other would-be protesters from further away, according to General Mohammad Akram Bekzad, Parwan province’s police chief.

Because that’s the biggest problem Afghanistan has – a few copies of a printed book being accidentally destroyed.


  1. Alverant says

    The destruction of any book is a tradegy. Books are the best way to convey information to people over time. Now having riots and calling for death over an accident is definitely over the top. Whoever is responsible should pay for replacing the books and be more careful in the future. But that’s it.

  2. Insightful Ape says

    Of course that is something to object to. Because it unnecessarily releases heat-trapping gases and tips the planet toward further climate change. On the other hand I doubt this was what the protesters had in mind.

  3. David Hart says

    And given that this is a book that just about every Afghan, literate or not, probably already has a copy of…

  4. says

    We have to distinguish between such things as the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the Nazi’s book-burning on the one hand and disposing of surplus copies of a book on the other.

  5. Steve says

    Hardly the first time something like this happened. These people allow themselves to be whipped into violent mobs based on the flimsiest of rumors

  6. Steve says

    Btw, the reason Muslims go crazy of this is because they consider the book itself holy. Not the content and not what it represents, but the book itself. They also won’t just place a Koran on the ground for example. You can compare it to the crazy way some Americans treat their flag.

  7. says

    One of the memoirs by ex-Muslims in Ibn Warraq’s collection Leaving Islam includes a discussion of this the-Koran-as-sacred-object thing: as a child the writer used to put his family’s Koran on the floor and step on it before putting it back on the shelf. I found that heart-warming.

  8. machintelligence says

    Bernard @11

    I guess that since the Muslims are not allowed images, they make idols of the books.

  9. says

    Gee, that’s a thought. Maybe it’s like Dawkins and “the slaveowner gene” – maybe all books have a whiff of Koran in them so they’re all holy. Like homeopathy – it still works even though it’s so diluted that not a single molecule of the active ingredient remains.

    Every sperm is sacred, every egg is holy, everyone is Special. Lalalalala.

  10. stonyground says

    “Does the paper remain holy?”
    I believe that some Muslims have a problem with using recycled paper for this very reason.

    Does the Koran contain warnings about the “crime” of idolatry? I did attempt to read it but it is so tedious and repetative that I gave up, but I would be willing to bet that idolotry is pretty bloody haram. So, how likely is it that Allah has lots of boiling water simmering on his mighty Aga to pour over the heads of anyone found worshipping a book?

  11. maureen.brian says

    You have to admit it, though. However daft the relgiodots may be, the US army has a habit of shooting itself in the foot, usually at the most inappropriate moment.

    I fully expect Secretary Panetta to find a fundamentalist Christian involved in at least one of the “decisions” here. Whether he will admit it is another matter.

  12. says

    Dumb move, certainly. If Christians are behind it – so it’s not an accident but on purpose – way worse than dumb.

    But Panetta said something very bad.

    Mr Panetta said the US military respected the religious practices of the Afghan people “without exception”.

    I certainly hope not.

  13. says

    I don’t like the “there are worse things to worry about” argument because it’s so often used in an attempt to shut down valid criticism and activism (e.g. why are you worried about x, when there’s so much y going on. Let’s stop talking about x until y is taken care of). I think Afghans could protest the burning of the Quran while also being upset about the lack of women’s rights, militancy, and general poor state of their country.

    But yes, religious fundamentalists often get their priorities wrong.

  14. Brian Jordan says

    The Christian Science Monitor (and they should surely know about nutty beliefs) has a helpful article on how to dispose of a koran, It concludes:
    “Safi finds one analogy particularly helpful: The Quran is to Islam as Jesus is to Christianity. “In an Islamic universe … the word becomes not a person, but a book,” he says. “For a Muslim to see the Quran burnt not as a way of burial, it would look and feel like someone burning Jesus, or a crucifix.””
    Treating a book like a god, ffs! If that’s not idolatry, I don’t know what is.

  15. GordonWillis says

    Because that’s the biggest problem Afghanistan has – a few copies of a printed book being accidentally destroyed.

    Well, you see, all the other problems are in the book, and if people just start throwing it away, how will they know what their other problems are?

  16. steve oberski says

    Pierce R. Butler says:

    I can’t disagree with the Afghans’ anger at insult added to injury.

    Which, if any, Afghan was injured by this action ?

    Other than injuries of the self inflicted nature caused by abdicating personal responsibility for their actions and allowing themselves to be manipulated by religious thugs.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    steve oberski @ # 20: Which, if any, Afghan was injured by this action ?

    If by “this action” you mean the burning of Qurans, none that I know of.

    If you mean the war that the United States engineered “to give the Soviets their own Vietnam”, starting back in the Carter days, and kept going, however ineptly, ever since – all of them.

  18. says

    Winterwind, true, but then I don’t think accidental harm to a few copies of the Koran is something to worry about at all, so that objection doesn’t really apply.

  19. F says

    steve oberski

    No, that was the insult part. The injury part would be invading the country and killing numerous innocent people while completely failing to do anything about the Taliban – well, making more Taliban-aligned extremists, really – on a bullshit pretext. That shit we started over ten years ago.

    maureen.brian @ 15 & Ophelia Benson @ 16:

    Yeah, that’s pretty much how I look at it. It would be nice if everyone involved took a page from the Baghdad incident where the Koran was used for target practice. An Army officer apologized to a gathering of the people and everyone pretty much acted like adults. Well, except for the jackass sniper who decided to shoot up another Koran a couple days later.

    Thing is, the people don’t have to get worked up about it as a holy book, even. They recognize an intentional insult when they see one. Unfortunately, just about anything, including this purported accident, is going to look intentional or rudely careless at the least at this point.

    Things that bother me about this, though:
    – Really, no none knew they were carting off Korans to the furnace?
    – The Korans were spotted by Afghan workers who said nothing at the time?

    Parties on both sides spoiling for a fucking fight, as usual.

  20. Simon says

    1) The US record in Bagram in particular is terrible: The fact that you take US and NATO statements about Afghanistan at face value does not mean that the Afghans will do the same. After 10+ years of occupation and destruction, US credibility is not exactly at a high point in that part of the world. For all intents and purposes perception is reality when rumors like this spread.
    2) This same terrible war-ridden existence in Afghanistan that of course goes back much further that 2001 only serves to make the locals more on-edge during incidents like this.

  21. dirigible says

    “Parties on both sides spoiling for a fucking fight, as usual.”

    This equivocation rings hollow unless we can establish that some spiritually fit US personnel decided that they were going to burn Korans specifically in order to upset the locals.

    I don’t like book burning as an intentional act, even where it is the exercise of free speech (although I’d accept it on that basis).

    I like mobs who care more about the trappings of their religious bureaucracy than about anything else even less.

  22. ash says

    Do these folks realize how thin-skinned their “outrage” makes them seem? Why is geeting worked up like that considered anything but “weak”

  23. says

    The fact that you take US and NATO statements about Afghanistan at face value does not mean that the Afghans will do the same.

    Who is the “you” in that sentence?

  24. Boomer says

    2) This same terrible war-ridden existence in Afghanistan that of course goes back much further that 2001 only serves to make the locals more on-edge during incidents like this.

    I blame America and NATO as well.

    Afgans, enlightened, innocent victims all, would behave in a perfectly civilised manner were we to construct a whole series of giant Buddhist statues.

    We are derelict in our duties as an “occupying” force.

    We have failed to grasp certain of the more colourful and volotile aspects of the local culture, and as a result haven’t provided these poor oppressed people with a sufficient number of things, giant things, to blow up.

    And so they had no choice but to riot.

    No choice.

    Dollars to doughnuts that the presence of thousands and thousands of giant Buddhist statues ( and throw in a few of Richard Gere too) would distract the locals, exhaust their supplies of explosives, and bring peace to the land.

    Lastly, we should hone are sensitivities and put an immediate halt to the construction of anymore schools for girls and shut down those already in existence.


  25. Simon says

    @Ophelia #27: you.

    @Boomer #28: It sounds like you’re saying the Afghans should be thankful for our invasion?

    @ash #26: A possibility is that they are frustrated at more than just this.

  26. julian says

    A possibility is that they are frustrated at more than just this.

    Oh they’re mad at lots of stuff. Women leaving the house. Girls getting an education. Any request for people who don’t follow the Koran to be respected.

    The list goes on.

  27. Hammena says

    Something tells me that the type of person who foams at the mouth enraged at the burning of a Koran is not likely to be the same person who worries about women’s rights, the lack of progressive values, freedom of thought, rights for minorities, the right to dissent, etc.

  28. Hammena says

    @ Simon;

    I am no flag waving neocon supporter of US imperialism, but it is worth noting that over 5 million Afghan refugees returned home after the US overthrew the Taliban regime.

    In light of this fact alone, it would be simplistic propaganda to label the US actions in Afghanistan as purely a form of evil/imperialism/state terrorism.

  29. maureen.brian says

    Face it, Afghanistan has been fucked over by just about everybody for a couple of hundred years. In such situations the religious fanatics will try get the upper hand. If they are funded by the CIA and encouraged by the latest invader’s carelessness it is quite possible that they will become a lasting problem – as at other times and places in history.

    Just for fun, though, let’s look at a couple of dated photos of female-type people in Kabul a long time ago. That alone would make you weep as well as ask again what exactly ISAF is trying to achieve.

  30. Simon says

    @Ophelia #34: The Guardian article you cite has the following two quotes that match the accidental destruction claim in your post:

    “I assure you … I promise you … this was NOT intentional in any way,” General John Allen said in a statement addressed to the “noble people of Afghanistan”.

    A spokesman for coalition forces, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, said the books were sent for incineration by mistake, but declined to comment further pending the investigation. “The decision to burn had nothing to do with the material being religious in nature or related to Islam … it was an error.”

    This is not to say one couldn’t find independent and reliable sources of information on many other stories relating to Afghanistan, however on this particular story most reporting in the US and UK seems to rely on military sources, which together with the above is why I concluded your source was the quotes and reporting in the Guardian article.

  31. says

    Ah right! That answers that question.

    Fair point. Given what I know via Justin Griffith and Chris Rodda here at FTB among others about what military god-botherers get up to…I should have been more skeptical.

  32. kevin says

    To play some serious devil’s advocate on behalf of the Americans: Consider that the use of the Koran to deliver messages as was the case here, more than likely violates one of the traditional western “sanctuaries” in wartime, namely the sanctuary of the “church” (or whatever). Shoot from a church and there is going to be some serious response, even “disproportionate” retaliation, delivered against it. Same goes for shooting without a uniform and or/in a crowd of civilians, shooting while pretending to surrender, using the red cross/crescent/MDA/crystal as cover for military operations. Westerners especially in the armed forces, take these “sanctuaries” seriously, even hold them as “sacred,” and maybe even personally since if *they* violate them, all hell breaks loose (uh.. case in point here, ironically).

  33. mirax says

    >>Just for fun, though, let’s look at a couple of dated photos of female-type people in Kabul a long time ago. That alone would make you weep as well as ask again what exactly ISAF is trying to achieve.<&lt;

    Agree that much has been lost in Afghanistan but that photo was likely taken in Kabul which even then was an oasis of forward-thinking compared to the surrounding countryside where people have always been deeply conservative.

    What is even sadder is to note what has been lost in peaceful and prosperous muslim majority countries – say Malaysia- due to the creep of islamisation. What an average muslim woman wore then is not what you see today.

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