American Blasphemy Against Koran Sparks Riot, Protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan
The Guardian reports that news (from Newsweek) that US soldiers desecrated the Koran–and at one point flushed pages of it down the toilet as a technique for humiliating and breaking detainees at Guantanamo–has provoked a second day of protests and then rioting in Jalalabad, this time with loss of life. On Tuesday, 2000 students had demonstrated. On Wednesday, 5,000 to 10,000 university, medical and K-12 students came out, and then they went on the attack, including against US troops. Four died and 70 were injured
“At least four people were killed and dozens injured in a riot in eastern Afghanistan yesterday after police fired on demonstrators protesting about reports that the Qur’an had been desecrated by US soldiers in Guantanamo Bay. Offices in Jalalabad were set on fire, shops sacked and consulates and UN buildings attacked by rioters, according to witnesses. Police fired to disperse crowds several times and army helicopters were said to have “buzzed” the crowds. Doctors in the city confirmed that four people had died.”
Pakistan’s Dawn is more explicit about the “offices” attacked:
Police in Jalalabad opened fire earlier on Wednesday to break up an enraged mob of several thousand people that torched the governor’s house, the Pakistani consulate and several foreign aid agencies, witnesses said. Workers in the Pakistani consulate were forced to take refuge in a nearby house as protesters torched the building. “Uncountable people attacked the consulate, we took refuge in the neighbour’s house,” a Pakistani diplomat said on condition of anonymity. In a second day of protests, the crowd went on the rampage chanting slogans including “Death to America” as well as burning the Stars and Stripes and effigies of US President George Bush, witnesses said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the riots showed the “inability” of the war-shattered country’s institutions to deal with such situations, but added the demonstrations at least meant democracy was flourishing.
Uh, Hamid, this incident does not show a flourishing democracy. In democracies people achieve change through the ballot box and political discourse, not by burning buildings down.
Jalalabad is an eastern Pushtun city in the main, and the attack on Pakistan’s consulate presumably means that the Taliban and their cousins now view Pakistan as a proxy for the United States.
The Koran desecration has also stirred Pakistani politicians to protest. Opposition politician and former world-class cricketer Imran Khan called for an end to Pakistan’s military cooperation with Washington unless President Bush apologizes for what was done to the Muslim holy book. The lower house of parliament suspended business on Monday to discuss the issue. ‘ “We are fighting for them as a frontline state in the war on terrorism and they are desecrating our holy book. This is too humiliating,” said the leader of the opposition, Maulana Fazlur Rehman. ” Fazlur Rahman is actually pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda, and he is seizing on this incident to argue that Gen. Pervez Musharraf is a US lackey and isn’t not even getting basic respect in return.
Pious Sunni Muslims consider the Koran to be the very word of God, which pre-existed the material world and was inscribed on a celestial “Tablet.” The Koran itself says,
“That is indeed a noble Qur’an
In a Book kept hidden
Which none toucheth save the purified,
A Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.”
Muslims are not to touch a copy of the Koran when they have not performed their purifying ritual ablutions (washing in a special way with water), called wudu`.
In secular American society, I suppose the shock value here could only be hinted at if we imagined someone flushing a small American flag down the toilet. But probably we can’t imagine it at all.
The technique of humiliating Muslims as a way of “breaking” them for interrogation has often veered toward torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and it wasn’t effective as a technique. The Israeli flag was also used at one point, apparently. The US military has a tradition of such humiliations, going back to treatment of the Filipino Muslim rebels in the early 20th century. But there is a difference between humiliating Muslim prisoners and humiliating Islam.
Whatever goddam military genius came up with the bright idea of flushing the Koran down the toilet at Guantanamo should be court-martialed, and Bush had better get out there apologizing before this thing spirals further out of control.