On April 2nd, violent protests at a United Nations building in Afghanistan saw at least 12 dead, seven of them UN personnel. Demonstrators were protesting in anger over the burning of a Koran that took place last month in Florida by Pastor Terry Jones. In response to the protest, Jones has said that he feels no responsibility for the violence; instead, he claims that the protests just serve to prove his point.
Calling Islam a ‘dangerous religion,’ Jones has justified the burning of the Koran by stating that it was found to be ‘guilty’ in a trial set up by his church, the Dove World Outreach Center. The controversy over Koran burning began in September last year when Jones proposed the act to voice opposition against the construction of an Islamic community Center to be built close to Ground Zero in New York City. Due to overwhelming opposition from religious and political leaders from around the world, including American President Barack Obama, Jones did not burn any Korans on the 9th anniversary of the September 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center. He did however, organize ‘International Judge the Koran Day,’ where on March 20th his congregation gathered to ‘judge’ the Koran. Finding it to be guilty, it was then burned by fellow pastor Wayne Sapp.
On the website of the Dove World Outreach Center that describes itself as a “New Testament Church – based on the Bible, the Word of God,” there are four products for sale: a book entitled “Islam is of the Devil” authored by Jones, and accompanying ‘Islam is of the Devil’ t-shirts, mugs and hats.
Answering the question as to why the Church would put up signs against Islam, the website reads, “To expose Islam for what it is. It is a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to masquerade itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society.”
The burning of the Koran happened a while back on March 20th, but most Afghans only found out after President Hamid Karzai condemned it four days later – according to the Globe and Mail. The protests, which began in the city of Mazar-i-sharif soon spread to other parts of the country including Kandahar, killing at least 9 more people and injuring about 80.
A general sentiment amongst the protestors has been a lot of anger and resentment against the coalition government in Afghanistan, and an anti-Western feeling. Some have blamed Karzai for giving the issue any attention at all and for creating a surge of anger that led to the protests and killings. Some people blame the Taliban for stirring up the violence.
The Koran burning has also had ripple effects in other Islamic countries, especially its neighbor Pakistan. According to Christian Today, after the Koran burning by Jones and fellow pastor Wayne Sapp, protestors in Pakistan burned the American. Recently, there have been attacks on churches in Pakistan, which many believe to be linked to the Koran burning.
Nasir Saeed, the coordinator of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement in the UK, a charity which provides free legal support to Christians in Pakistan said, “Any actions by the West that are against Islam – or even perceived to be against Islam – inevitably lead to the worst consequences possible for innocent people, particularly Christians, living in majority-Muslim countries.”
Karzai was not the only Islamic leader who addressed the Koran burning. President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari also condemned the burning during his address to the joint session of Parliament.
In the many debates that have ensued over this controversial affair and its many effects, there have been various arguments that have been put forth, ranging from vehement opposition to ‘free speech’ as was espoused by Jones to those who claim that however hurtful or racist an argument is, it should be made open so that there can be a clear dialogue about it. Whatever end of the spectrum one is on, it’s important to consider the far reaching consequences a relatively simple action can have.