[Update 2/22: The violence continues to escalate.]
As American celebrated a long three-day weekend for Presidents' Day, the US developed quite a messy PR problem in Afghanistan: 2,000 angry local Afghani demonstrators have gathered en masse at the American base, hurling stones and chanting anti-foreigner phrases. And this is all happening because of an extremely shortsighted and utterly stupid mistake made by some of our American troops.
Apparently some US soldiers improperly disposed copies of the Koran (or "Quran") by burning them and then tossing them in the trash. Why they did this is still vague. The local workers who regularly take care of the garbage discovered the remains and reported the findings to outside contacts.
Why would American soldiers screw themselves like this?!
Burning the Koran is an unmistakeable crime in not only Afghanistan but around the Muslim world. This concept isn't so hard to understand. What is difficult to grasp here is why these soldiers would even think this would be a safe thing to do regardless of the reasons behind doing so. Burning an American flag is not something these soldiers would probably like, so why would they choose to burn a holy book while stationed in a nation based upon that text? And how does this reflect upon the entire American presence in the Middle East? Not very positively, that is for sure.
Understandably, General John Allen, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has quickly apologized: "When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them. The materials recovered will be properly handled by appropriate religious authorities. This was NOT intentional in any way."
Too bad the apology has done little to appease the local anger, which is shared among laborers to local Afghan Taliban to NATO's top general in Afghanistan. Surely our soldiers get some kind of cultural/educational training (advice at least?) before being stationed abroad, though whatever they do receive obviously isn't enough (and I've recently seen some footage of interactions between soldiers and local Afghans that would very clearly demonstrate this lacking). They can be against the Koran all they want, but burning a country's holy text within its borders is a weak and senseless act that only downgrades our already contentious and precarious occupation in the Middle East overall.