Monday, September 13, 2010

Terry Jones and the Unravelling of Sanity

The end of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr coincided with the anniversary of 9/11, which likewise coincided with International Burn a Koran Day. The timing couldn't have been worse.

Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. Ramadan is the month in which the Koran was descended to Mohammad via the angel Gabriel, beginning in roughly the year 610, in a cave on the outskirts of the city of Mecca. ("Descended" -- nas'l shud -- is the verb in Farsi used when describing the process by which the Koran was revealed to Mohammad). The name Koran, or Qur'an, means "the Recitation," and derives from the first word of the first chapter revealed to Mohammad, the opening of Sura 96:

Recite! In the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, who created --
created man from a mere clot of blood.

Terry Jones, the fringe pastor with a congregation of about 30 people who drew the world's ire with his Burn a Koran Day plan, is proud to say that he's never read the Koran.

My personal thoughts on Burn a Koran Day are unimportant, though I fully agree with the Secretary's statements that the whole idea is disrespectful, intolerant and divisive, worthy of being condemned. The whole thing is coupled with more of a shaking sense of outrage, a disbelieving, head shaking, how-dare-you sort of wrath, for both the idiotic act of burning Korans and for the direct disregard for the lives of thousands of people around the globe. I am not surprised that appealing to reason ("what you're doing is offensive and wrong") -- didn't get much traction, but it honestly makes me clench up in anger that Petraeus's appeal to conscience ("you're putting our troops directly into danger") was equally ignored.

(Quoth Captain Firepower: "If I ever meet that guy, he's gonna get his jaw broken. I believe in free speech, but if you're gonna say some stupid shit, you've gotta be able to take a fist for what you believe in.")

Burn a Koran Day echoed through Afghanistan, and Farah was no exception. It took a few days for the news to reach us -- word travels slowly to the Afghan hinterlands -- but when it did arrive, it resulted in protests, mostly in the outlying districts. If Burn a Koran Day had actually taken place, it would've been much worse, Obama and Petraeus's denunciations thereof notwithstanding.

As it was, it was nerve-wrackingly tense -- not from a personal security standpoint (I have great faith in our FOB's perimeter defense), but just from the idea that SOMETHING might happen. Any of the would-be situations that might have occurred in conjunction with Burn a Koran Day would ultimately have been a lose-lose us. That something could have been riots outside our gates, or major protests in the city, or a heavy-handed police response or warning shots gone wrong, or even just a roiling mass of angry people that eventually shouted themselves out and went home peacefully; even in the best-case scenarios have no upsides for us -- none of it would have inched Afghanistan closer to self-sustaining stability, or improved the lives of anyone or upped the standing of the Afghan Government or America in the eyes of the Afghan people. That, more than anything, is what Terry Jones does not understand about his idiotic Burn a Koran Day publicity stunt: that in pointlessly infuriating Muslims around the globe, he has not only endangered our lives, but also made a nearly-impossible job that much more difficult.

Burn a Koran Day was cancelled, but there were still isolated protests around the province. We were overrun with requests for information on them, and I spent the day trying to figure out what was rumor and hearsay (2,000 people, spun into a frenzy by during prayers, three people killed) and what we actually knew for certain (200 to 300-person protested outside a NATO Combat Outpost; four wounded by warning shots fired by Afghan police, one of whom later succumbed to his wounds), and fielding questions from the Embassy and DC about what was happening.

The protests largely fizzled after a day, and September 11th itself, the National Day of Remembrance, was quiet. There was a memorial service on compound at 8:46, the time the first plane hit the north tower. It was held in front of a hand-made memorial with a sculpture of the towers made of plywood, painted grey and adorned with flags and a timeline of the events of 9/11; just in front of the towers was a rusted chunk of twisted metal, taken from the towers themselves. The memorial was made by two army Captains (one current, one former) who lost relatives to the World Trade Center on 9/11 -- a father who was a New York City firefighter, and a brother whose office was on the 101st floor. It all comes full circle: from New York to Afghanistan, where it all started.


Mark Sieffert said...

Thanks for your thoughtful words Mark. I'm glad things weren't worse than they were.

I'm not sure this means much, but CeCe and I joined an Eid celebration with some Malaysian friends on Sunday. If only all American Christians would take the time to learn a bit about Islam and befriend some Muslims...

Hopefully folks over there and elsewhere wil come to realize that folks like Jones are small, radical minority here, the kind of extremists that cause problems and violence everywhere.

austin said...

Terry Jones and the Muslim outrage towards Americans in general over Burn a Koran Day does pose an interesting juxtaposition of our own inability to separate the radicals from the much larger moderate masses that leads to pointless arguments over acceptable locations of mosques.

j said...

Good blog entry: interesting, informative, and well-written.

Me likes.

Seigs said...

Mark, great post - Just got turned on to your blog through Diplopundit - Keep it up - It is fascinating, & I really like your writing style.


Alex said...

Unfortunately, we also have the media to thank for Jones and message around the world. Keep up the good work and write the good write. Take care of yourself and be safe.