Tag Archives: Afghanistan Riots on Quran Burning

Scared of the Time to Come

op-ed Outlook Afghanistan Feb 27

Death toll has reached 30 after six consecutive days of demonstrations against the Qur’an burning incident at Bagram. It always starts from Parwan. Last year’s demos were also instigated there, when a local paper recycling factory was attached by residents of the area accusing them to have used sacred texts with verses of Qur’an. Three were dead and several injured.

I am amazed with the amount of ‘analysis’ by ‘Afghanistan experts’ describing the madness of few hundred protesters and opportunists among them as “popular reaction and anger against foreign troops”. Mentioning the paper-recycling factory incident is to say that the demonstrations are not particular show of anger against foreign troops in Afghanistan in general. If it had been any local Mullah involved, there would have been similar reaction. Indeed Afghans are the worst reactionary among people of over 50 Muslim countries when it comes to issues of religious sensitivity. But to say these protests are popular resentment against foreign presence in Afghanistan is ignorance on behalf of some activist international experts, and propaganda when it comes to few particular media outlets in Kabul pursuing the religious agenda of our Western neighbor. Some outlets carried statements and Fatwas by Iranian Ayatullahs about the Qur’an burning.

President Obama, the US commander in Afghanistan General John Alen and many other senior American officials have not only apologized for the ‘unintentional’ burning of Qur’an, but also promised a thorough investigation and punishment for those responsible. Even if a mistake, one wonders why the US military has not learned anything about local cultural and religious sensitivities after a decade? One point the fiery speakers in the protest demonstrations mention is that such regrets have been expressed in the past by US officials, but mistakes repeated. However, there is no proof the burning was intentional. When the hate-monger Pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn copies of Quran in Florida last year, President Obama had personally called him to stop, despite the principles of freedom of expression in the US. The madness we are witnessing is not justifiable in any sense. There are opportunists and elements who want to use such incidents for their agendas. I am not suggesting that the protest demonstrations are not spontaneous at all, but there are some who provoke.

Our political and religious leadership have acted very irresponsibly so far. It is shameful.

President Karzai held a press conference yesterday, when already 30 lives were lost during the last six days. He thought it was more important to reiterate his political scoring with demands of prisons to be transferred to Afghan control, including Bagram. What the violence of past week has shown is utter failure of Police to control mobs and the fact that situation can get out of control so easily. It is an alarm for all of us about the worst to come after 2014 when international troops will withdraw from Afghanistan.

President Karzai called the protesters to calm down. He should have asked for this last week when President Obama had  apologized to him and Afghans in a letter. The response from ISAF also shows their lack of understanding the graveness of situation, and miscalculation about repercussions of the ‘mistake’. A mere apology cannot help, even if from President Obama. Last year, dozens were killed when Terry Jones in Florida had only threatened to burn Qur’an. They should have realized the situation when pages of burnt copies of Qur’an were shown on Kabul TVs. They could have contacted Karzai’s Ulema Shura—the council of clerics—and offered a sincere apology urging them to intervene and request people for patience. If not directly, they could take different approaches.

The most shameful irresponsibility was shown by the parliament where some MPs actually called for ‘Jihad’ against the US. They were shouting Allah-o-Akbar inside the lower house and chanting slogans like “death to America”.  Abdul Sattar Khwasi was prominent among MPs who made the call for Jihad.

Some members of the Senate called people to “continue the violent protest demonstrations”. Hasan Hotak from Zabul was saying there have not been enough deaths, the protests should continue. He was interfering with demands of other senators calling people for restraint. Let me quote his exact words: “the protests should continue for a month. We should infidels that we can defend our religion”. These remarks further provoke violence. Senator Asif Azimi from Samangan was saying: “there should be violence against unethical Americans, who have desecrated the holy book several times. For defending Qur’an, my life has no worth”.  What a defense! Killing each other and burning down public property is no defense of religion. People are ignoring the very teachings of Qur’an for which they are protesting. Violence is no response to a mistake, especially when US officials have apologized with assurance that it will not reoccur and those responsible will be punished.

When you see such madness in the parliament, what one could expect from illiterate radical mobs? I am scared of the times to come. Such episodes of violence are interrupted trailers of the situation after 2014.

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Paper Mill Recycling Qur’an?

Three people were dead and 25 wounded after the protests in Parwan turned violent. Protesters started burning the shops and destroying vehicles, before they had a clash with Police. The protest was against a local Afghan paper mill that recycles paper for toilet paper and tissue-papers. Any employee of the company had seen some copies of textbooks and Quranic verses amid the pile of scrap papers for recycling. They informed the people and soon it got out of control.

Its insane to even protest against such an incident. There are security forces and police and people can file complain against such religiously outrageous and blasphemous incidents, but only if its done deliberately. Sometimes mistake can happen somewhere. And in this particular case, it is very obvious that no Afghan or Muslim will recycle the copies of Quran for toilet paper. But sometimes it happens unintentionally. The scrap paper they use can contain any kind of writings, including books sometimes. Scrap text book always goes for such recycling purpose. But no Afghan or Muslim will ever deliberately burn a copy of Quran. In the case with paper factory of Parwan, it might have happened due to some textbook might have contained verses of the Holy Book.

In an Islamic country where Islam is a state religion, why should people even bother for such incidents. There are laws and the police can always take action on complain. The proper way for those protesters would have been if they had filed a complaint against the owner of that company, who is already arrested. Burning down private property, shops and smashing vehicles is not a protest, its violence and looting. When police gets tough after such burning, then they come on media and blame police for the violence.

A cleric has been arrested. He is reportedly responsible for the call of protest and provoking speech. We believe he should be trialed for all the violence and dreadful outcome of the killings. If protest demonstrations are held, why people burn down private property? During the fiery speeches, the Mullah has said that foreigners are responsible for the burning of Quran in the paper mill. Its extreme westernophobe with such nonsense. That paper recycling company’s owner and employees are all Afghans. The Government must act on this incident and trial the Mullah who caused provocation and violence.

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Crackdown and Legislation on Hate-Speeches by Clerics

My Outlook op-ed April 11.

Last week intelligence officials arrested a Mullah in Takhar province for hate speeches against the Government. Ziauddin was the imam of Commander Pir Muhammad Mosque in Taluqan city. He was arrested on Friday while making sermon with hate messages to provoke people against the Government and foreigners in Afghanistan. This has been an exemplary move so far following the riots against Quran burning and the tragic murder of UN staff members in Mazar city. The Upper House delegation which was sent by the Senate to investigate the killings in Mazar has reported that it had been some clerics who made hyperemotional speeches using the loudspeaker of the mosque for provocation of riots. New investigations have found that those who stirred the violence and carried out the killings and beheading were ex-Taliban who had been “reintegrated” through the peace program recently. Officials including Police Chief and Governor of Balkh said some insurgents had also infiltrated the protesters, and murdered the foreign staffers of the UN. Some local Afghan staff of the UN, who witnessed the killings, have also said the murderers were with a different accent, not from Mazar.

It’s now clear that the killings and beheading were by insurgents and their ex comrades. But basic provocation for the protest rally to come to UNAMA office had been caused by the hate speeches of some clerics. They are Maulvi Abdul Rauf Tawana, Maulvi Zakirullah, Maulvi Abdul Wakeel Forqani, Maulvi Abdul Hadi and Maulvi Abdul Qahir. The “investigation” of the Senate delegation is just to identify, but not recommend or carry legal action against those who provoked the people with emotional speeches. The Government must crackdown against the hate-mongers who use mosque to misguide the people with religious sentiments. This case should be made an example for the rest of the hate-preachers to stop provoking hatred otherwise they must be punished with legal action.

Governor Ata had asked imams in Balkh not to discuss politics in mosques. He had ordered police to crackdown on audiocassettes of hate-speeches sold in shops. There are many firebrand preachers who have not only written the messages of hatred and spread it by sermons, but audio-cassettes are also available everywhere.

In a country where the state religion is Islam, Government should have control on the religious affairs and stop provocation of religious hatred. The Senate delegation cannot implement their investigation, but they should discuss the issue in parliament and recommend legislations with limitation of the topics a Mullah can talk about in Friday sermons at mosques across the country. In a situation like ours, where extremism has plagued the whole society, we are in dire need of definition for the roles of Mullah on the chair of Friday-after-prayers-sermons in mosque. There should be regulations and for this. The Government and parliament committees can seriously engage moderate scholars and Ulema Council of Afghanistan for a debate on and recommendations on legislation.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs should deal with the speeches in the mosques and give guidelines to imams. This issue should not be controversial in a country where over 95 percent population is Muslim, the state religion is Islam and all in the Government are Muslims. Many of these imams get their salary from the Ministry, thus they can control them.

It’s ridiculous that our Government is making laws about marriage parties, what to eat, how to dress and how many to invite on ones marriage day, but hate-mongers of the mosque are given ultimate freedom in spreading the word of hatred. We need much more than legislation about hate-speech by loud speaker of the mosque. All the mosques should be registered to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and qualified preachers be allowed to lead the prayers. There are over 160,000 mosques across the country, but only 3000 are registered with the Government. Of course it’s very difficult to register all, and monitor them. But if there is a will, it will be possible with the cooperation of the Ulema Council. These people should realize the dreadful situation our society has reached today. If a mosque speech can provoke normal citizens to murder innocent people, then it needs ultimate and very serious attention.

If you attend a Friday sermon of the most-visited mosque in Kabul, you will understand why our society is so reactionary on religious sentiments based on false provocation and ignorance of hate-monger clerics. For instance, Enayatullah Balegh every Friday calls on the Muslims, who attend his sermon in the central mosque of Kabul, for Jihad against foreigners who desecrate Islam. For such nutty saviors of Islam, some stupid in Florida represents the entire America and all “foreigners” and infidels. Balegh calls for “holy war” against “foreigners”. If any emotional empty-head takes his words for serious and it provokes him to incite violence or hatred against “foreigners”, shouldn’t Balegh be held responsible?

It’s not only about Terry Jones. The hate-speech is a phenomenon as old as preaching of Mullah. I remember the Religious Studies subject taught in childhood at schools that “Jews will never be friends of Muslims.” This is the most common sentence of hatred poisoned in the minds of children from early age. And it is still part of every Friday prayers sermon. A Reuters journalist reporting a Friday sermon of Habibullah Asaam in northwest Kabul quotes the Mullah, “the Jews and crusaders can never be friends of Muslims, they are the despoilers of our society and culture. Those who want them here are cowardly Muslims. Women avoid wearing veils, men chase fashion and show off, it’s all because of the foreigners.”

In volatile parts of the country where Taliban influence is stronger, imams either fearing their life by threats from insurgents, or due to sympathy with them, always make provoking speeches against foreign troops and the Afghan Government. It has strong influence on the “hearts and minds” of the innocent heads.

The Government, MPs and religious scholars should pay serious attention to the hate-mongers. They have rooted the culture of violence in our society.

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On Qur’an Burning and Violence

I wrote two op-eds on Outlook the past week about the riots against Quran burning and brutal murder of UN staff in Mazar. Below is merger and excerpts of those op-eds.

The horrors of killing UN staff terrified everyone, particularly the expat community of aid workers living in Afghanistan. As an aid worker wrote “it was different than previous fatal attacks” because of the violence against a civilian organization in such a brutal way by angry civilians. Initially it was perceived that the civilian protesters have killed. Later on reports suggested that insurgents had infiltrated the protest rally. It was confrimed by the UNAMA Chief Staffen De Mitsura.

Every other day there is a protest demonstration against some issue in different cities, but rarely it turns violent. In Kandahar, where about 20 people died in two days of violence, the rioters burnt girls’ school, and those “protesting” had a white-flag of the Taliban. While the demonstrations in Herat, Jalalabad and other cities went peaceful.

Some American journalists said President Karzai is responsible for the riots because his condemnation statement brought public attention to the burning, as the international media had ignored Terry Jones. For instance, Fareed Zakaria in his GPS program on CNN criticized Karzai for his statement, saying that “Karzai despite having lived in America and knowing about freedom of expression” made such statement.  I think it’s nonsense to blame Karzai. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and Mullahs there had already made it an infamous news in AfPak region and there were condemnations from Government officials in Iran and some other countries before Karzai spoke about it.

It’s ridiculous that our people react out of extreme anger all because an idiot hate-monger pastor in America, who has mental problem seeking attention, has burnt the holy book. Why such a reaction only in Afghanistan, while the rest of the Muslim countries ignored the pastor? We are always first in reaction whenever some idiot do bigotry in any faraway corner of the world.  Actually religion has been exploited for all political agendas during the last 4 decades of war in Afghanistan. Therefore, Afghans are the most responsive and sensitive when it comes to religion. Taliban and other insurgents use such incidents to justify their violence.  They issued a public statement calling for further uprising. On the other hand, the attention-seeking Terry Jones is defiant of his act and determined to go further with such actions. His inflammatory acts of bigotry and the misuse of religious sentiments by Taliban to justify their violence, is very beautifully summed up by the NYTimes columnist Nick Kristof in a comment on Twitter saying “The tragedy of the Koran burning and riots in Afghanistan is the way extremists from Florida to Kandahar feed each other.”

While the protest demonstration continued for a week across Afghanistan, Terry Jones’ Quran burning was being defended for “freedom of expression” in some western media outlets. Though I completely believe on “freedom of expression and speech” and burning a book should be one’s private issue. But Terry Jones’ is not a mere act to be defended under the notion of “freedom of expression”. Quran is not just a simple religious book for over a billion Muslims who take it as part of their identity and life.

Burning Quran, which resembles the identity of its believers, is different than criticizing it, which has been done by many previously-Muslim atheists. What Terry Jones does is a senseless act of religious-hatred with purposeful intention of provocation. Burning a book that resembles message of God for its believers is against the notion of “freedom of speech”. If humiliation on the basis of one’s color of skin, language and appearance is considered racism and condemned by majority, why religious-hatred be defended in the guise of “freedom of expression”. People here take religious symbols more important than lives. There was no reaction on the photos of Kill Team, but the country was on fire due to an idiot burning a copy of Quran.

Knowing all this, when someone burns the Quran, we have to see it from different perspective, not just the notion of freedom of speech. Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber wrote, “knowing the likely consequence means that burning Qurans in Gainesville, or anywhere else, is an act of criminal mischief.” And it was a good move when UK Police arrested senior member of BNP on burning a copy of Quran.

Afghans are the worst reactionary among the people of over 50 Muslim countries. Actually the people here are very fool to be offended with the attention-seeking bigotry of a stupid mental-case pastor Jones. Why to bother with someone who is rejected by majority of his own town? I am sure people here don’t know that locals of Gainesville, Florida, have started kind of a social boycott with Terry Jones. He is being asked to leave the area, for the nonsense and bigotry he has been doing. Many Christian organizations have condemned Terry Jones for burning the Holy Quran. But our folks want him “to be tried”. Protesters chant slogans like “Death to America”. This kind of nonsense here makes me to forget arguing against the misuse of “freedom of expression and speech” in defense of Terry Jones.

The hypocrisy of our society is that we are reactionary to such issues just because they come from the West, though only mental cases like Terry Jones does such bigotry there, while majority are decent people against it. If it is not the Westernophobia, why there is not a protest against insurgents who blow up schools and copies of Quran are burnt. Suicide bombers blowing up in the name of Allah, and reciting the name of Prophet Muhammad before the blast, taking innocent lives, is the worst blasphemy to Islam, but it’s the hypocrisy or fear of our religious clerics and society at large that there is never a mass protest against the insurgents.

But all such hypocrisy and ignorance in our part of the world does not mean western media should defend extremists like Terry Jones. He is not practicing freedom, but provoking religious hatred and should be condemned.

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