On March 20, Pastor Terry Jones, who heads a congregation of 30 at his Dove World Outreach Center church in Gainesville, Fla., conducted a mock trial of the Quran "for crimes against humanity."
Pronouncing Islam's sacred book guilty, Jones soaked a Quran in kerosene and set it ablaze in a portable fire pit.
Few noticed. But Hamid Karzai did.
On March 24, the president of Afghanistan, our presumed ally in the war with al-Qaida and the Taliban, condemned this "crime against the religion and the entire Muslim nation," called on the United States to bring Jones to justice and demanded "a satisfactory response to the resentment and anger of over 1.5 billion Muslims around the world."
Thus the firebrand here is not just Jones, who perpetrated the sacrilege, but Karzai, who made certain his countrymen knew what happened 10,000 miles away and four days before.
Friday, after prayers in Mazer-e-Sharif, a mob, inflamed by imams denouncing Jones, descended on the U.N. compound. When they left, seven U.N. employees lay dead, two reportedly beheaded.
President Obama denounced Jones' "act of extreme intolerance and bigotry," and added that "to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous and an affront to human dignity and decency."
Gen. David Petraeus deplored the Quran-burning as "hateful, disrespectful and enormously intolerant."
Still, on Saturday, rioters waving Taliban flags and shouting "Death to America" and "Death to Karzai" went on a rampage in Kandahar that ended with nine Afghans dead and 80 injured when they tried to march on the U.N. compound and security troops fired on them.
Three more were killed Sunday as riots continued in Kandahar and spread to Jalalabad. Forty more suffered gunshot wounds.
Petraeus then met with Karzai, who issued a new statement demanding that "the U.S. government, Senate and Congress clearly condemn (the Rev. Jones') dire action and avoid such incidents in the future."
In short, our ally seized this opportunity to rub America's nose in what the Rev. Jones did, as though the U.S. government, whose highest civilian and military officials had condemned Jones, is morally culpable for not preventing his Quran-burning and not punishing him for it.
Nor is this sufficient. Henceforth, the U.S. government is to police its citizenry to ensure no such anti-Islamic sacrilege takes place again.
Intending no disrespect, who do these people think they are?
Undeniably, it was an incendiary insult to a religion professed by almost a fourth of the world's people for Jones to do what he did. But what does this murderous reaction to a book-burning tell us about the people for whose right of self-determination Americans are fighting and dying in Afghanistan?
Candidly, it affirms what we already knew.
Many Afghans believe beheading or stoning is the right response to an insult to Islam. And not only that. Five years ago, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan convert to Christianity, faced the death penalty for apostasy and was forced to flee his own country.
In some Muslim countries, death is the prescribed punishment for Muslims who convert, for Christians who seek converts and for any who insult Islam, like that Danish cartoonist who sketched a caricature of the Prophet with a fused bomb for a turban.
Stoning is also seen as proper punishment for women who commit adultery.
In Pakistan recently, the governor of Punjab and the Cabinet minister for religious minorities, both Catholics, were assassinated. Why? Both had opposed a law under which a Christian woman had been sentenced to death after some farmhands accused her of blasphemy.
The governor was murdered by his own bodyguard, who was then hailed by 500 religious scholars who urged all Muslims to boycott the governor's funeral ceremony, as he had gotten what he deserved.
In the last two years, Christians have been burned alive by Muslims in Gorja, Pakistan, and by Hindu extremists in Orissa, India. Christian churches have been torched and scores of the faithful massacred on holy days in Iraq and Egypt. Few of these atrocities have received the media attention of the Rev. Jones' stupid stunt or the Danish cartoonist's irreverent scribbles.
Before America sends more of her sons to die for the freedom of Arabs and Muslims, perhaps we ought to have a better idea of what these folks intend to do with that freedom. For across that Muslim world, the faith that created our world, Christianity, is being persecuted and in some sectors annihilated.
To neocons and liberal interventionists, the goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to use our wealth and power to advance freedom until the whole world is democratic. Only then can we be secure.
But if democracy means rule by the people, ought we not to inquire a little more closely what it is these people, down deep, really want, before we bleed and bankrupt ourselves to win it for them?
Maybe Hosni Mubarak had a point.
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