Karzai’s Guilt: His Cynical – and Deadly – Exploitation of a Koran Burning

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This time, don’t blame so much the knuckle-dragging preacher in Gainesville, Fla. Or a 24-hour media culture that’s ready to hype any loser playing with matches. This time the real culpability lies with Afghan President Hamid Karzai – to whose reputation for cynical opportunism can now be added the 12 people who were tragically killed on Friday in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, during protests against last month’s purported burning of a Koran in Florida.

The preacher in question, of course, is the “Reverend” Terry Jones, the attention-starved, anti-Muslim hate-monger who last summer threatened to burn Korans at his small evangelical church in Gainesville on the anniversary of 9/11. We in the media gave him all the ink and airtime he didn’t deserve and then some, fanning the flames before he’d even lit them. Overseas, meanwhile, Muslim activists boiled themselves up for violent demonstrations if he did go through with it. Fortunately, Jones was eventually talked out of it.

But Neanderthals like Jones rarely just go away. Apparently upset that his ugly 15 minutes of fame had expired, Jones out of the blue announced late last month that he and an embarrassingly small “crowd” of about 30 congregation members had put a kerosene-soaked Koran “on trial” on Sunday, March 20, and then torched it. This time, however, the media did the right and responsible thing: We ignored it. Word of the infantile stunt didn’t travel much beyond the Florida peninsula let alone to West Asia. And maybe – it’s a long shot, but just maybe – it was getting through Jones’ thick skull at that point that no one was paying attention to him anymore, and that perhaps it was time for him to read the messages of tolerance in his Bible rather than burn Korans.

Karzai made sure that was too good to be true. The president we all once took for an enlightened leader a decade ago, when he so handsomely strode into America in his cape and karakul hat – but whose regime has since turned out to be as sleazy and corrupt as any the U.S. has ever had to partner with – decided that he couldn’t let a chance for short-term political gain slip away, no matter the potential for deadly violence in his already war-ravaged country. So Karzai pronounced Jones’ isolated deed “a crime against a religion” and a “disrespectful and abhorrent act.” To further stoke enmity against America and the West, he said the U.N. and the U.S. were responsible for bringing Jones to justice (which, of course, given our First Amendment protections, the U.S. can’t do unless officials can prove Jones somehow violated a fire code).

The hateful burning of any book sacred to millions of people is certainly a “disrespectful and abhorrent act.” But it’s just as abhorrent to recklessly and needlessly incite people’s angry passions about it, especially when Karzai knows enough about the U.S. to know that Jones and his extremist ilk represent a minute corner of our society – and when he and other leaders in that part of the world rightly urge us to remember that Islamic terrorists are an aberrational minority in their own society.

Had Karzai not tried to score some unprincipled defender-of-the-faith points from his perch in Kabul last week, few if any Afghans would have known about the March 20 Koran “trial” in Florida. Which means a few Afghan mullahs wouldn’t have encouraged several hundred outraged Muslim demonstrators to march on the U.N. mission in Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday to demand the “justice” Karzai called for. When some of those protesters grabbed weapons from U.N. guards and began firing before storming the U.N. compound, 12 people – including seven U.N. personnel – ended up killed.

Now Jones is back in the spotlight he so pathetically craves – on ABC News’ Nightline program, no less, where Friday night he denied that he and his benighted congregation bore responsibility for the Mazar-i-Sharif deaths. For once we had to agree with Jones, at least partially. The media did its part to keep his March idiocy from spreading into tragedy. This time the guilt lies with the guy in the cape and karakul – who aside from being an allegedly corrupt politician, is one we now know uses tactics that are as medieval as the Florida preacher’s are.