Koran burning proves unpopular in Afghanistan

What’s the worst mistake departing American personnel could possibly make in Afghanistan, before we hand the country back over to the Taliban?  How about burning a pile of Korans by accident, because they got mixed in with the garbage?  The Associated Press reports:

More than 2,000 angry Afghans rallied Tuesday against the inadvertent burning of Korans and other Islamic religious materials during trash disposal at an American air base. They demanded to meet the country’s president over the issue and threatened to demonstrate again if their demand was not met.

U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, apologized and ordered an investigation into the incident, which he was “not intentional in any way.”

[…] Ahmad Zaki Zahed, chief of the provincial council, said U.S. military officials took him to a burn pit on the base where 60 to 70 books, including Korans, were recovered. The books were used by detainees once incarcerated at the base, he said.

“Some were all burned. Some were half-burned,” Zahed said, adding that he did not know exactly how many Korans, the Muslim holy book, had been burned.

Zahed said five Afghans working at the pit told him that the religious books were in the garbage that two soldiers with the U.S.-led coalition transported to the pit in a truck late Monday night. When they realized the books were in the trash, the laborers worked to recover them, he said.

“The laborers there showed me how their fingers were burned when they took the books out of the fire,” he said.

The locals did not take this well, in accordance with time-honored Afghan tradition, in which nothing is taken well:

The incident stoked anti-foreign sentiment that already is on the rise after nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan and fueled the arguments of Afghans who believe foreign troops are not respectful of their culture or Islamic religion.

Early Tuesday, as word of the incident spread, about 100 demonstrators gathered outside the sprawling Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul in Parwan province. As the crowd grew, so did the outrage.

“Die, die, foreigners!” the demonstrators shouted. Some fired hunting guns into the air. Others threw rocks at the gate of the base.

One protester, Mohammad Hakim, said if U.S. forces can’t bring peace to Afghanistan, they should go home.

“They should leave Afghanistan rather than disrespecting our religion, our faith,” Hakim said. “They have to leave and if next time they disrespect our religion, we will defend our holy Koran, religion and faith until the last drop of blood has left in our body.”

Well, Mr. Hakim is about to get his wish.  U.S. troops are on the way out, and soon Hakim will once again enjoy the enlightened rule of theocrats who set people on fire, instead of books. 

One would think the fragile Afghan government would act quickly and energetically to defuse a religious crisis, since they’ll be high on the list of things the Taliban wants to set on fire, once they reassert control over the country.  Angry crowds howling about their willingness to defend the Koran from accidental destruction with every drop of blood in their bodies are music to the Taliban’s ears.  However, the governor’s office in Kandahar issued a statement calling the Koran-burning “a shameful move by some stupid individuals,” which is not quite the same as “the Americans made an unfortunate mistake, for which they deeply apologize.”

The local police chief says “the people are very angry, the mood is very negative.”  Guns have been fired in the air, but no one has been injured yet.  At least, not in Kandahar.  Over in Helmland province, insurgents beheaded four people on Sunday night, although it was for the usual insurgent reasons, not outrage over the accidental Koran-burning.  No one showed up to protest the beheadings, or declare their willingness to defend civilization from totalitarian evil with the last drop of blood in their bodies.