As reports are pouring in about the killings today of the UN police and staffers in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, one’s thoughts inevitably turn in anger toward the people who committed these senseless acts. But who are they and how did this situation get so out of hand?
The names and the faces will remain unknown to us on this side of the world, but their corporate identity will be seared into our minds. They are an Islamic mob, whipped to a frenzy by the weekly sermon of their leader, who marched on the UN compound bent on revenge. But are they?
In order for us to live in as much peace as we are able to cobble together on any given day, we must start with a basis of respect. The mob in Afghanistan was acting to defend their faith and holy book, the Qur’an, against a blatant attack that took place in Gainesville, Florida on 20 March where Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp soaked the Qur’an in kerosene, put it “on trial,” then burned it after having passed sentence that it should be destroyed.
If the reaction of the Afghans sounds extreme to you, my question is: What lengths would you be willing to go to in order to respond to someone doing the same thing to the Bible? Even in this country, we would be ready for a fight at such a blatant display of hatred and disrespect. The Afghans are no different.
In the wake of 9/11, we have been angry, and rightly so. But most of the anger we have had individually and as a country has been directed not just at the people who orchestrated the massacres that took place that day, they have been directed against the survivors in the countries they came from, people of the same faith — Islam. We have heard speech after speech after sermon after sermon about the violence of Islam and Islamic extremists, but not a great deal about the fact that a very small number of Muslims are extremists and are perpetrating the violence we see splashed across our television screens every single day. That contingent certainly exists and is coming after anyone and everyone who will not join them. But in our fervour to avenge “our” dead, we have learned to ramp up our rhetoric and actions against people who not only do not take part in this campaign, this jihad against us, they are incapable of doing so even if they wanted to as they are too poor to do anything but eke out a living where they are. In our blind anger, our rage, that has fueled ramping up this rhetoric and actions, we have dehumanised our “enemy” and made it acceptable to do anything, no matter how repugnant it would be on any other day, never asking ourselves the question of what kind of an impact it might have on ordinary citizens in other parts of the world, because the reality of it is that we do not care. We want them to feel the heat of our wrath.
LIGHTING THE MATCH
There is an old wisdom that says one should not shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. For much the same reason, one also should not burn the holy books of other religions. Neither is responsible, nor will they produce a calm reaction from the target audience.
One of the most blatant and disrespectful exercises of our freedom of speech has been Wayne Sapp and Terry Jones in Gainesville, Florida who decided to burn a copy of the Qur’an for the 9th anniversary of 9/11. Requests were made from the President on down for them to not burn the Qur’an because of how detrimental and incendiary it would be to ongoing diplomatic and military efforts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Following an appeal by Gen. David Petraeus, the decision was made to cancel the Qur’an burning. It was understood by those making the appeals that men would die if the Qur’an was burned. Such is the culture in the region.
However, against all of the appeals and advice having previously been given, on 20 March Wayne Sapp and Terry Jones went ahead with their plans for the Qur’an, held a mock trial and sentenced it to destruction. While the story garnered little publicity in the US, it roared across the Islamic world, just as those who had advised against burning the Qur’an had said it would. Men have now died as a result. Christians are experiencing new waves of persecution and violence. All to what gain for Sapp and Jones? Or for any of the rest of us, for that matter.
It is important to remember that every relationship must be based on respect and we are responsible for our actions. We must also understand that our actions can sometimes have consequences far beyond what we can see or understand. Part of the price for freedom is paid by safeguarding these two tenets.
The cultural and political climate of the Middle East today is far more volatile than it was six months ago. Yet, into this atmosphere, Wayne Sapp and Terry Jones burned a Qur’an. Religious leaders gave sermons in their Friday services at the local mosque and today’s mob was the inevitable result. The mob went after the one enclave of foreigners that represented the perpetrators of the sacrilege. It made no difference that the people at the UN compound were not responsible for the actions of Sapp and Jones, they were available.
THE NEED FOR MORAL RIGHTNESS
At what point do we understand that the mob mentality that prevailed today in Afghanistan is no different than the mob mentality that prevails in the US? It is two groups in two diametrically opposed camps that are equally angry and filled with hate, terrified that their faith and way of life is being assaulted and who want to redress the wrongs, real or perceived. They did it today with a mob, we do it by sending an army.
Just as we hold many of the peoples of the Middle East responsible for the actions of Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist factions, so they now hold the US, Christians and other foreigners responsible for the actions of Wayne Sapp and Terry Jones. It is not based on any of the realities of the situations, it is based on hate and fear. So the relationships we have continue to spiral farther and farther out of control as generation after generation are taught to hate and retaliate in new and more creative ways because it is easier to hate and fear than it is to build the necessary bridges through respect and understanding.
The actions of Wayne Sapp and Terry Jones are reprehensible and should be illegal. While one could wish that they understood and would take responsibility for their contribution to today’s tragedy, they are said to be undeterred and unrepentant.
I do not have sufficient understanding to know whether their actions legally constitute a “hate crime.” Whether or not the legal definition is met, as a society, we need to make it clear that the actions of Mr. Jones and Mr. Sapp are totally repugnant and unacceptable. If we do not, the casualties will not only be the nameless, faceless victims of today’s mob in Afghanistan; it will be the continued dehumanisation, degradation and corruption of the moral fiber — the integrity — of every single one of us.
— J. E. Clark | 1 April 2011
Current death toll stands at 14, with 12 shot and 2 beheaded.