Beyond Belief

The circumstances which led to copies of the Holy Quran and other religious material being burned at a rubbish-pit in Afghanistan are gradually coming to light. A NATO official has said that it was suspected that some detainees were using religious texts as a means of covert communication and consequently the material was confiscated. This is shamefully lame. Assuming it is true – if the matter had ended there it would have been at least understandable, even if we do not condone the manner in which Afghan people are being detained without trial. But the matter did not end there, and for reasons which have yet to be satisfactorily explained the confiscated material was sent to be burned at a pit used for the incineration of waste from the Bagram base. Locally-employed Afghans spotted the material and pulled some from the fire, but the damage was done and it was revealed that copies of the Holy Quran were indeed burned. (Bagram Base in Afghanistan is in use of US and NATO forces)

NATO apologised for what had happened, but failed to give any explanation as to why the burning was ordered or authorised, and by whom. Violence inevitably followed, with angry protests in Kabul, Jalalabad and other Afghan cities and, as these lines are written, two have died as a result and dozens have been injured. This is a seismic event. There can be few events more likely to arouse anger and outrage in a Muslim country than the burning of the Quran. It would be bad enough, were the desecration committed by a local person, but to have it committed by what is an unwelcome force of occupation heaps indignity upon indignity. There will be anger in the coming days as the story spreads around the world, and the entire affair will enter the iconography of anti-Americanism that pervades here in Pakistan and in varying degrees across the Muslim world generally. No apology is ever likely to appease the feeling of disbelief that an incident such as this could ever have happened in the first place. Nothing can ever justify such a gross, criminal act of desecration. The reverberations and consequences of this are going to echo for long.

Editorial The News International

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