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Where Does Blame for Violent Protests in Afghanistan Rest?

Blame for the outrageous protests, terrible acts and needless, heedless deaths over the last few days in Afghanistan rest in at least three quarters.  There’s the individual explanation, the sociological explanation, in short the mob mentality, spurred on by this partisan and that, and finally the political explanation, which I fear is the strongest one, though whether it is the correct one is impossible to tell.

The first and easiest locus wherein to push and place blame is to target that obdurate fool, that self-interested propagandist Terry Jones.  (I refuse to address him my his professional title, for I believe doing so does a disservice to the kind and loving men and women who fulfill the duties of the role of a Pastor in open, edifying ways.) His needless, pointless-for he had no real point, no critique that applied to this world or any other!-started a ball rolling which had for sometime, stopped, and rested at the feet of politics, otherwise known as self-promotion, in Afghanistan.

But, careful! Mr. Jones got the ball rolling; he lit the fire that for some days now has been consuming hearts and minds in Afghanistan.  His seemingly came out of nowhere, and in that sense, and given the constitutional protection afforded him, blame finally cannot rest with him: he did what he did and nothing could have stopped him from doing so.

This is the propagandist’s victory; but make no mistake, this is his moral defeat.

But there’s a sociological story here as well.

Three imams in Mazar-i-Sharif speckled their Friday afternoon prayers with invocations of jihad against the morally repugnant Koran burning in Florida.  Jihad, of course, has a spiritual meaning-to fight against moral falsehood through determined application and explication of the truth. However jihad as all those who watch CNN and Fox News know has a more contemporary, more easily sated  meaning that touches on and passes through physical violence.

Hundreds of men, young and old, wary of war and its immediately decipherable, yet unmeasurable costs, were easily lit to passion and fire by the Imams’ sermons.  That they streamed out of their mosques outraged, boiling over and found guns to do their murderous work is no surprise.  But the surprise is that men who do god’s work easily set that work aside to sway besieged people, hopeless, easily angered, and put to the streets.

Their cover, the mob mentality and physicality that allowed every man to who had some part in the murder of the U.N workers, to invoke a headless, dumb and blind movement that went wherever it was led. But who were the leaders of such an angry beast?  For now, the three imams will have to share that burden of guilt associated with their speeches, with the way they pointed a manic crowd toward some populist mischief that eventually targeted innocent people who had little but the best in mind for all Afghanistan and her people.

Finally, let’s talk politics in Afghanistan.  Last Thursday, President Karzai took the stage and denounced Mr. Jones’ heinous act, and demanded that Jones be prosecuted under U.S. law.  Never mind that burning a holy book is not a crime in the United States, and as heinous as it might be, is in fact protected speech.   Now, the Obama administration did not get ahead of the story.  The U.S. government did not immediately condemn Jones and the insensitive manner and the ultimately fancifully misguided point of his speech, his political act. Instead, leaders in Washington D.C. hoped no one would notice that a Koran had been burned in Florida by a man who professed to wanting to burn the Koran in a public and altogether propagandist manner.

However for the past year and more President Karzai seems to have had some difficulty standing down when confronted by his Western allies, even if no such confrontation had in fact occurred.  It wants to curry favor with the right in Afghanistan to seem to stand against his Western allies, those who in some quarters might be though invaders and aggressors.  So, trying to stand to the right of the right, in the guise of a moral stance, Karzai took it upon himself to condemn an act that he thought was properly the remit of the U.S. government to condemn.

He was correct, but he surely was not correct to take it upon himself to point out the glaring error of the Obama administration. For in pointing out what President and other leaders had failed to do, Karzai brought out to the people of a majority, orthodox Islamist country, the full horror of the desecration committed against their entire way of life.  And all to score political points against his supposed allies.

It is impossible to argue where ultimate fault lies in this terrible story.  Perhaps the fault lies ultimately with Hamid Karzai, because of all the actors in this tragedy, he surely knew better than anyone else, what might actually happen were the facts on the ground revealed.  Still, perhaps not.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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