This week, seven United Nations workers were killed when their compound was overrun during a violent protest in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. The fury that inspired their killers can be attributed to several causes: a war that is fast approaching its tenth anniversary with no indication victory is close at hand; a wave of popular unrest that has swept the Muslim world after the successful demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt. But the nominal cause that drove this crowd to kill and mutilate these seven workers whose only mission in Afghanistan was to help its people was the burning of a single book.
Some of you might remember hearing about Pastor Terry Jones from a few months back. He made international headlines when he announced his Gainesville, Florida church would burn a Qu’ran to mark the anniversary of 9/11. Jones and his ilk hoped to advance their bigoted views through this public spectacle. He was initially dissuaded from this plan, but late last month, decided to go ahead and destroy the text over a billion people hold sacred. While largely unnoticed here in America, this action did not escape suspicious eyes abroad.
My own personal distaste for Terry Jones should be clear by this point. The President was right to condemn his actions as provocative and senseless. All that said, I find it equally disgusting that the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has in turn demanded that Jones be arrested for his actions. Ignoring the irony of a man whose family profits from the international opium trade demanding anyone be arrested, such demands reflect the gulf between western values and those of the places we have sought to “save.”
Nothing done at that Gainesville chapel justifies anything that has been done in Afghanistan. The Qu’ran is a book, made of paper and ink, and not worth a single drop of innocent blood. We are right to despise and condemn the symbolic desecration of another religion’s beliefs out of fear and hatred, but we must never equate such actions with outright murder. I would sooner have ten racist hatemongers spew their invective, than see one person denied their human right to free expression. This is not to say we as Americans are superior to Afghanis, but that the way we experience faith and interpret freedom of speech are radically different.
This incident disturbs me on several levels. Beyond the loss of innocent life hangs an air of incompatible dreams. When we close our eyes and dream of an Afghanistan after the War, we see a liberal democracy, where freedom of speech, religion, and gender equality are enshrined in both law and practice. What do Afghans see when they close their eyes? It remains a (capital) crime in Afghanistan to convert from Islam to any other religion. In the wake of Friday’s violence, other attacks have focused on a girl’s high school in Kandahar. No matter what the ultimate outcome of this war, or the ones in Iraq and Libya, I find it hard to imagine our dreams, and those of the people who must repair the nations we have destroyed, will ever look the same.
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-Editor: Natalie Cappetta
Opinion Editor: Vicente Patino