American Soldiers to Face Trial over Quran Burning?

Reuters reported last week that Afghanistan wants NATO to put the “Koran burners” on trial — and Afghanistan reportedly claimed NATO had agreed to a trial, though Reuters qualified the statement as not “immediately verified.”

“NATO officials, in response to a request for the trial and punishment of the perpetrators…promised this crime will brought to court as soon as possible,” Karzai’s office said in a statement.

While it is unlikely NATO actually made such a concession — NATO has already said the burning was “inadvertent” and there is no crime against burning Korans in the Western world — the confusion may be understandable. Even President Obama’s apology, for example, pledged to hold “accountable” those who burned the books:

“The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible,” said Mr. Obama, according to the statement.

In a rare article, the Armed Forces Press Service covered the Friday prayers of a DC-area mosque, in which the local Imam called for Afghans to protest in “peaceful” ways.

Magid delivered the jumaa – a sermon – specifically about the Quran burning incident at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The imam spoke to about 1,000 members of the suburban Washington mosque, stressing the need to respond to the Quran burning in “a peaceful and nonviolent manner.”

In a somewhat ironic (or uninformed) statement, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta

“He’s hopeful that the strong response by ISAF, General Allen and others, as well as political officials to include the president of the United States, will assure the Afghan people and Muslims around the world that this is not how the United States military treats important religious texts.”

Of course, as an increasing amount of people have noticed, this is exactly how the US military treated Christian texts when it burned Bibles in the trash at the same military base a few years ago.  While some Christians bemoaned the waste, there were no violent protests — or government apologies — as a result.

Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, may have lent some insight when he joined the chorus of apologies over the incident:

The International Security Assistance Force has a long tradition of handling sacred texts with respect and full consideration of religious customs and rules, Lavoy said.

That may hint at a treatment of religions based upon the religion’s own tenets, rather than equivalent respect.  That is, the assistant secretary is saying the physical Koran is treated reverently because Muslims venerate it; the physical Bible is not venerated by Christians, so the military does not treat it reverently.

General John Allen, ISAF and US forces commander, said troops would be trained “in the proper way to handle religious materials.”  It is unclear if this includes non-Islamic materials.  For its part, NPR attempted to expound on the “proper” way to dispose of religious texts across faiths.