- (Photo: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail)
The outburst of deadly protests over the improper handling of Qurans and Islamic materials in Afghanistan this week is a sign of failure on behalf of the United States in its 11-year effort to build peace and democracy in the South Asian country, according to one expert.
Protests in several sites across Afghanistan ensued after workers at the Bagram Air Base in the northeastern Afghan province of Parwan reported copies of the Islamic holy book among a pile of garbage at the U.S.-run base. The workers salvaged some of the copies but others were scorched alongside the garbage at the base's incinerator.
As a result of the incident, an outburst of violent protests spread across the country on Tuesday, leaving at least seven demonstrators dead and dozens of others wounded.
Protests flared up for a second day on Wednesday with angry demonstrators continuing to fire guns, burn tires, and fire slingshots while chanting slogans such as "down with the foreigner" and "death to America!"
NATO issued an apology regarding the incident on Tuesday, but the apology has done little to curb the anger and unrest.
"We are thoroughly investigating the incident and are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again," General John Allen, NATO's highest ranking official in the country said in a written statement. "I offer my sincere apologies for any offense this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also appealed to protesters asking them to keep the demonstrations non-violent.
"Afghan security forces should not use violence during the protests," Karzai said in a statement. "Protests are the right of the people but I ask my countrymen to avoid violence."
The continuation of the protests caused the U.S. Embassy in the country to go on lockdown Wednesday and have caused some to question the role of the United States in Afghanistan.
"There is a larger issue here," Dr. Thomas Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, told The Christian Post.
"Any country that cannot deal with desecration of holy books without mob violence, without riots, is a long way from being a stable democracy. A long way from being a stable country of any kind," Farr added.
Last year, another mob incident occurred in the country after the burning of a Quran in Florida. The incident resulted in angry mobs storming a U.N. complex in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif and killing seven foreign workers.
"The larger issue is that we are still attempting to implant the institutions and habits of democracy in a country in which criticism of religion is met by death, or an attempt to inflict harm or death on the people who are offenders," Farr told CP.
The incidents and deaths point to the fact that religious differences, including defamation of religion, need to be met by reasonable dialogue and not violence, according to the Georgetown University expert.
However, hope for peace, democracy, and religious freedom in Afghanistan seem a remote dream with the U.S. working to negotiate an unsteady peace deal with the Taliban, the notoriously brutal extremist group that led Afghanistan to its darkest years from 1996-2001.
Negotiating with the Taliban to secure a U.S. withdrawal signals failure on behalf of the U.S. in Afghanistan and illustrates that we have given up on the country, according to Farr.
"We have lost Afghanistan," he said.