US Military Condemns Koran Burning, Defends Muslim Faith

The US Department of Defense issued a release in which General David Petraeus and his NATO civilian counterpart, Mark Sedwill, condemned the burning of a Koran (alternately, Quran) by Florida Pastor Wayne Sapp (with Pastor Terry Jones, who previously planned to do so, and whose proposal General Petraeus previously condemned):

“We condemn the action of the individual in the United States who burned a copy of the holy Quran. That action was hateful; it was intolerant, and it was extremely disrespectful,” said Petraeus.

As others will likely point out, no one found it “hateful, intolerant, or disrespectful” when the US military tossed Bibles in the trash and burned them not more than two years ago.*

Still, US ambassador Karl Eikenberry did say

in a statement that Americans respect the Quran “and all religious texts and deplore any action that shows disrespect to any religious faith.”

The international military force in Afghanistan has also repeatedly denied accusations it desecrated the Koran over the past few years.

Sedwill, who is British, also added the actions were “not representative” of those in Afghanistan trying to help Afghans:

Sedwill said, “This was an act of disrespect to the Muslim faith and to all peoples of faith. It does not represent the views of the peoples or governments of the alliance.”

Unfortunately, that statement is confusingly ambiguous.  While no government in the alliance likely supports the rampant burning of religious texts, neither the British nor American governments venerates what the General called the “holy Quran” (any more than it venerates the “Holy Bible”).

Likewise, the majority of American troops in Afghanistan likely don’t feel the need to burn religious texts, but statistically they don’t venerate the Koran, either.

Sedwill made another somewhat odd statement:

“The people and the governments of the alliance both respect and defend the Muslim faith and are in Afghanistan to support a peaceful future for the Afghan people,” said Sedwill.

What part of the NATO mission is to “defend the Muslim faith?”  Think any religious freedom advocates or Constitutional defenders will take Sedwill to task for implying the US military is in Afghanistan to defend a religion?

Both President Obama and General Petraeus did emphasize that Afghans have responsibilities as well:

Petraeus said all leaders are calling on their people not to respond with the same intolerance and bigotry, but to respond with calmness, tolerance, and respect.


Obama had a similar message, saying in a written statement that Jones’ actions marked “an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” but that the violence must stop.

“To attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity,” Obama said.

Some Afghan leaders made similar comments:

The national assembly of clerics on Sunday condemned both the Quran-burning and the killings of civilians and United Nations staff members in the demonstrations.

Reportedly, some “Western leaders” have also complained that Afghan President Hamid Karzai basically lit the fire to begin with:  Most Afghans didn’t even know about the burning until his office issued a press release demanding “justice” for the “crime.”

*A short discussion on the relative desecrations of religious texts:

The Islamic faith holds that the Koran is, literally and physically, the “word of God.”  By definition, the Koran is Arabic; a translated “Koran” is technically not a Koran by Islamic standards (though almost all translations also contain the original Arabic, which would be venerated).  The physical book is considered to be “holy.”  By contrast, Christians do not venerate English over Greek or Hebrew (or vice versa) in their Bibles (despite the continuous debates over various English translations).  Likewise, the “ink on the page,” binding, and paper hold no religious value to a Christian.

Thus, it is easy to argue that it is “disrespectful” to burn a Koran but not disrespectful to burn a Bible, just as it is disrespectful to wear shoes into a mosque but not a cathedral.  “Respect,” however, goes beyond mere sensitivity to the individual tenets of a particular religion.  It also connotes equitable and appropriate treatment, and perhaps deference.  Thus, while it did not violate a particular Christian doctrine for the US military to burn Bibles with the garbage, it may arguably have been a disrespectful way to address the situation, particularly given the deference given to the Koran by the “religiously neutral” US government.