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Fighting for a Government That Defiles Our Values

Fighting for a Government That Defiles Our Values

By Jack Kelly - April 10, 2011

A week ago Friday, a mob stormed the U.N. compound in Mazar-i-Sharif in northeastern Afghanistan. Seven U.N. employees -- four Nepalese security guards, a Norwegian, a Romanian and a Swede -- were killed.

The murders were in retaliation for the burning of a Quran more than a week before by obscure Florida pastor Terry Jones.

Until the riot, Americans were unaware the publicity hound in Gainesville had torched the Muslim holy book because most in our news media ignored the despicable stunt. How did the mob in Mazar-i-Sharif learn of it?

"Had (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai not tried to score some unprincipled defender-of-the-faith points from his perch in Kabul, few if any Afghans would have known about the March 20 Koran 'trial' in Florida," wrote TIME magazine's Tim Padgett.

Mr. Karzai demanded that either the United Nations or the United States punish Mr. Jones, though Mr. Karzai knows perfectly well that, obnoxious as it was, what Rev. Jones did is protected speech under the First Amendment of our Constitution.

But it wasn't Mr. Jones who was responsible for the Mazar-i-Sharif murders. The blame lies with those who regard indiscriminate violence as an appropriate response to a perceived insult to their religion.

Afghan mullahs have urged violent protests, and some have offered rewards for assassinations, noted Afghan journalist Abdulhadi Hairan. The government has done nothing to stop this. Indeed, he said, the provincial governor may have planned the assault on the U.N. compound.

"I feel utterly ashamed of the presence of these mullahs and imams in our country who always say our religion is full of peace but in practice do everything in the most violent way possible," Mr. Hairan wrote.

One high official of Mr. Karzai's Peace Council, "a gathering of former warlords and war criminals ... tried to justify the attack on the U.N. compound and threatened that there will be more such protests," Mr. Hairan reported.

And there were -- in Kandahar, where 12 people were killed; Kabul; Jalalabad; Lashkar Gah and Herat.

If Mr. Hairan, a Muslim schooled in madrassas, gets it, why doesn't Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.?

Mr. Reid said he'd consider having the Senate formally condemn the Quran burning, the First Amendment notwithstanding.

Our commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, issued a statement condemning it but included not a word of criticism of the mob violence.

I wish he were more like Gen. Sir Charles Napier, who served in India in the 1840s. When Hindus warned him not to interfere with the custom of suttee, Gen. Napier responded:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom. When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre. Beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

It's prudent and polite to display cultural sensitivity. That's why American servicewomen in Afghanistan wear head scarves.

But freedom of speech and freedom of religion are the cornerstones on which the American republic was founded. If we're not fighting to defend these, what are we fighting for? And if it isn't to oppose violent religious extremism like that at Mazar-i-Sharif, what are we fighting against?

Thanks in part to Gen. Napier, suttee was virtually ended in India. But in Afghanistan, we're doing next to nothing to advance our values. Just two months ago, the Karzai government was planning to hang Said Musa, an Afghan Red Cross worker, for the "crime" of converting to Christianity.

"We should have imagined that to be the case under the Taliban," said Carl Moeller, president of the Christian aid group Open Doors USA. "But here is the government, in a nation we fought in and our boys and girls died for [doing the same thing]. That's crazy to me that this is going on."

After Mr. Musa's plight was publicized worldwide, he was released quietly and spirited out of the country. But if it could have been done in secret, the Karzai government would have executed him.

On April 7, two American soldiers were shot by an Afghan policeman they were training, bringing the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan to 1,527. It is not worth the life of a single American soldier more to preserve such a regime.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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