The latest round of killings in Afghanistan, including of Nepalese, ostensibly in response to a burning of a Koran by preacher Wayne Sapp in Florida on March 27, is now following the script of earlier such events. There are three standard patterns.
The first is that the anger and killings are politically hyped. Not much was made of the event at the time — as I noted earlier, Iran followed up its burning of six hundred New Testaments with a ritual condemnation of the Koran burning as part of an American “hegemonic plot,” but otherwise not much happened.
Then killings broke out in Afghanistan — but, so far, nowhere else. Why Afghanistan? How did the Afghans know about it? Well, it appears that President Karzai told them. Why did he do that? Perhaps because it might give him some leverage in negotiations with America.
Nina Shea and I noted in NRODT October 4, 2010, that the September 2005 Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoons initially were republished even in Muslim countries. Riots erupted only after the December 2005 Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Saudi Arabia committed its members to make an issue of the cartoons. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, upset by Bush’s promotion of Mideast democracy, whipped up their populations. Similarly, Iran and Syria attempted to deflect attention from Iran’s nuclear project. Turkey later used the cartoons as bargaining chips to acquire high-ranking NATO appointments. However, Lars Vilks’ more offensive 2007 Swedish cartoons and Geert Wilders’ provocative 2008 film, Fitna, led to comparatively little complaint.
This outcry over the Koran comes scarcely a week after the OIC had to abandon, at least temporarily, its decade-long campaign in the U.N. to outlaw “defamation of religion.” Stirring up anger now could revive that flagging effort.
Secondly, Western journalists report on this Koran burning but, comparatively, not on the many bible burnings, and killing of Christians, and desecration of hosts, that occur in the Muslim world. There is also the dangerous suggestion, well analyzed by Mollie Hemingway, that Wayne Sapp or Pastor Terry Jones have somehow “caused” the killings — as if the murderers were zombies not responsible for their own actions.
Third, President Obama and General Petraeus have again issued statements condemning the burning (as well, of course, as the killings). But their statements are unlikely to have the intended effect. These statements simply fan the news cycle and reinforce the perception, in the Muslim world and elsewhere, that the U.S. government can and should control religious expression and can be held responsible for what its free citizens do. The president and his administration should keep publicly silent, and resist attempts by other governments to generate and manipulate outrage for their own advantage.