KABUL, Afghanistan—Terry Jones, the bigoted Christian pastor from Florida provided one of the few focal points capable of uniting the diversity of Muslims around the world: desecration of the Quran. His self-serving act of stupidity will be exploited by the Taliban factions in Afghanistan and Muslim extremists elsewhere.
The death toll in Afghanistan as a consequence of violent demonstrations triggered by the Quran burning orchestrated by Jones is mounting: 12 dead, including seven United Nations staff members, in the relatively quiet city Mazar-i-Sharif in the north on Friday and nine more in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Talban in southern Afghanistan today. Insurgents attacked the Camp Phoenix NATO base just outside Kabul this morning and there are currently demonstrations in Kabul and Herat near the border with Iran, reports the Washington Post. The U.S. Embassy, several non-governmental organizations, and the American university closed operations in Kabul and banned non-essential travel before 8:30 am local time.
Jones reportedly told a French news service that he takes no responsibility for the protest deaths. Astonishingly, in a statement he said the United States and UN should take “immediate action” against Muslim nations in retaliation for the deaths, The New York Times reports. “The time has come to hold Islam accountable,” he said.
Jones ignited a global response last September when he announced plan to burn the Quran burning on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but he canceled it under worldwide pressure. The U.S. news media, apparently smarting from accusations that it fanned the discontent by overplaying Jones’ threats, did not trumpet the actual burning when it took place March 20 at his 50-member church in Gainesville, Florida.
Two days ago, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, an inspiring group originated in isolated Bamiyan province, did a presentation of the possibility for peace for students at the university where I work. In a show of hands, 20 percent of the university students said peace was impossible. The exchange, conducted largely in the Dari language, revealed these obstacles.
The historic divisions based on ethnicity, region, and gender are unabated. There is little national identity. Not everyone wants peace, the student said. The country is wracked by poverty, illiteracy, and corruption. Economic development has been largely ineffective. Afghanistan “is almost a failed state,” weak and ineffective, non-existent in many areas, and utterly dependent on outside funding.
Peace is largely an abstraction, there is little agreement about what it would look like, so there are no plans to get there, they agreed.
“The history of this country seems to be locking us into a future of wars,” said one student.
The self-interest that drives regional and international interference fuels the conflict and cannot improve Afghanistan, they said. Many of the actors that need to be at the same peace table, including Pakistan and India, Iran and the United States, don’t even talk with each other. The global economy’s interest in the Muslim world seldom extends beyond its oil and gas fields. Many Afghans are unimpressed by that they’ve seen of western democracy and ideals and “anti-American sentiment is at record high levels, reports Eurasianet.
What is widely expected to be another bloody spring has arrived and the forces of violent intolerance were granted new rallying fury by a similarly small-minded spirit from half a world away.