Afghanistan erupts over Quran-burning

Afghanistan erupts over Quran-burning

T­he riots in different parts of Afghanistan in early April claimed 23 lives – including seven aid workers – leaving over 150 injured. Anger spilt across the streets of the country from Mazar to Kandahar, Kunduz to Nangarhar, Kabul to Herat, with thousands articulating anti-America and anti-foreign troops’ sentiment through their slogans. In fact in Jalalabad, protesters even burned an effigy of the American president.

The violent protests, in retaliation to the burning of the Quran by an American pastor, and the symbolic burning of Obama’s effigy are seen by many as reflection of the resentment that has been simmering against the American administration for a decade now.

Previous instances of this kind of rioting were witnessed in Kabul in 2006 after international forces caused a deadly traffic accident. In 2009 too rumours of the desecration of a Quran had sparked riots in the central eastern province of Wardak; and as recently as March this year thousands of people in Kunar demonstrated against the killing of nine children by Nato forces. As the foreign troops prepare their exit from the country and attempt to handover the reigns to the local police their return might not be as celebratory as perhaps they had hoped for.

Tragically, the latest demonstration of civilian anger found at its receiving end, as always, innocents as has been the case with the occupying forces as well. And ironically, the epicentre of this bloodbath was located almost 12,000 km away in Florida when, on March 20, 2011, Pastor Wayne Sapp conducted a swift staged ‘trial’ of a kerosene-soaked Quran and set it alight after declaring it guilty of ‘crimes against humanity.’ He had support in Pastor Terry Jones who had made a similar abortive attempt to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2010 but severe condemnation had called a halt to his plans.

Even as president Obama has simultaneously condemned both the desecration of the Quran in the US and the accompanying violence in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of UN staff, for many Afghans who have lived through the decade long Nato presence too many civilian lives have already been lost in the constant pursuit of the elusive Osama bin Laden.

And even though many Afghans condemn the killings but against the background of the mood of the ordinary civilian in response to the foreign presence this latest act of emotional violence against them - attached to the defilement of the Quran – has the potential of being used insidiously by the Taliban to tip popular support towards them.

Having witnessed years of ceaseless conflict in Afghanistan it is not uncommon for protesters to react much more strongly to blasphemy and acts of disrespect to the Quran or their religion rather than to killings and suicide attacks.

For many critics of Washington the question remains as to why the administration did not do enough to prevent the incident considering it would be an emotive issue for the thousands of American-Muslims even if they did not care enough for Afghan sensitivities.

The religious scholars of Afghanistan have also had to bear their burden of the blame as many believed that it is they who incited the people to violence in the aftermath of the desecration since religion is a critical and potent political tool in this nascent struggling democracy.

Those with more faith in the Afghan civil society believe that while the demonstrations themselves were spontaneous outpourings of anger by ordinary people the bloodshed was the result of the infiltration of insurgents amidst the protesters.

Political analysts have not left the Afghan president completely off the hook either stating that the growing anti-American sentiment has been fanned by his own double-edged politics as he has been quick to blame the foreign forces for civilian casualties like his repeated condemnation of the Kunar killings of the children by Nato forces while being silent on the Taliban attack on Kabul Bank in Jalalabad. In the meantime, the controversial US pastor has called for the killing of the people who attacked the UN staff.

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