x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Shared blame as violence follows Quran burning

A Florida pastor's decision to burn the Holy Quran last month was motivated by ignorance; the proper course of action would have been to ignore his senseless act. Lashing out with violence, as Afghans have done, will only perpetuate the cycle of hate.

Terry Jones lit the fuse of hatred last September. On Friday, it exploded in northern Afghanistan, as a mob acted out their revenge at the UN compound in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Standing outside Mr Jones' church at the weekend, a passer-by shook her head as she told local reporters that the violence in Afghanistan was "all because of him" after he oversaw the recent burning of a Quran in Gainesville, Florida.

Mr Jones's decision to go through with his engineered incitement of intolerance - delayed in September but carried out on March 20 - was motivated by ignorance. And yet, the proper course of action would have been to ignore the senseless blather of a publicity-seeking religious extremist.

Unlike last year, when satellite trucks surrounded Mr Jones's church, this event was carried out with just 30 congregants as witnesses. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, the burning has been headline news. Protests have since spread to the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

It would be easy to blame Mr Jones alone for the offensive "mock trial" of the sacred book that prompted the outrage. And it goes without saying his ideas are morally bankrupt. But hate is a two-way street. While details differ, one report from Mazar-e-Sharif suggests crowds were incited by local clerics when someone announced that not just one, but hundreds of copies of the Quran had been burned. Surely this "someone" knew bloodletting was a likely outcome.

Ten years after September 11 and five years after the Danish cartoons, provocateurs in the West should know that denigrating Islam, even under the auspices of free speech, is not only offensive but dangerous. Senior US officials clearly understood this last year when they called Mr Jones personally to ask him to stand down. If only restraint had also prevailed in recent weeks.

Perhaps it's too late to ask that much of Afghans. Attacking and beheading UN staffers, an institution in Afghanistan with a neutral mandate of state-building and economic development, illustrates just how disillusioned many Afghans are with western intervention. The burning of a Quran by an irresponsible southern pastor equally makes clear how misguided Americans can be.

As Reverend Lawrence Reimer, the pastor of the United Church of Gainesville told The New York Times: "The local strategy of everybody was to ignore this." Sadly, there's no ignoring the cycle of violence Mr Jones has inspired.