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The Apology Conundrum – Burning of Qurans in Afghanistan

President Obama’s recent apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the unintended destruction of Qurans by U.S. military forces has set off a firestorm of action and debate. In Afghanistan, violent protests by those furious at the desecration of the Islamic holy book have killed a number of people and are even suspected as being contributing factors in the recent murders of two U.S. military officers this past week.

In the United States, the President’s efforts to right the unintended wrong by expressing remorse have angered and annoyed many who feel that we have no reason to apologize, given that the entire incident was not on purpose. Most notable of the critics have been the people campaigning to replace President Obama in the Oval Office. While it is easy to chalk up their comments as purely political positioning, it does bring up the fact of whether the President should have apologized in the first place.

A recent article in the Washington Post, “Obama apology resonates in Kabul, on campaign trail,” provides a succinct analysis of recent examples of when our Commanders in Chief have uttered words of apology. In reflecting on the most current apology by the President to the Afghan people, I understand why he did but can’t say I agree with him doing it.

By discovering that Qurans were being used by Afghan prisoners to spread terrorist messages and insurgent directions amongst fellow prisoners in one of the supposedly most secure prisons in the region, the United States sought to stop further misuse of provided religious materials. That part of the story seems to be lost in the larger debate on the president’s offered apology. To date there seems to be no acknowledgement by Karzai or those protesting in the streets of Kabul or other places in Afghanistan of the misuse of their own holy book for purposes that are nothing remotely holy or divine.

Rather than take to the streets and confront the people who originally desecrated the holy book with added unholy text and who continue to flagrantly hijack one of the world’s great religions and turn it into a theocratic edict to justify the murder of innocents, mistreat women and children, and other less than holy actions, we have a deafening silence from Afghan and other Muslim leaders. That to me does not merit any type of Presidential apology.

After discovering the problem with the Qurans, American and NATO Commanders did the right thing in stepping forward to explain what happened with the Quran disposal and what measures and training they were taking to ensure it would not happen again. Rather than accept the apology for the value that it offered, Afghan leaders have seemed to have played to pandering political opportunism rather than show any gumption of courage and say, “We acknowledge the mistake; let’s move forward to correct it.”

Forgiveness of one’s mistakes is a tenet of every major religion, yet Karzai and others in Afghanistan seem unwilling, unable or uninterested in living up to that moral code.

History has long recorded Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, British and Russian militaries have their own bloody history engraved upon the land and ours continues to be written. Billions of U.S. dollars and thousands of lives and limbs have been spent since October 2001, and it should not be in vain. After more than a decade of fighting, we are a war-weary people.

Our nation may be the last, best hope for this beleaguered country, but if its leaders do not show their citizens some real leadership in civil, respectful and nonviolent discourse with one another and those who seek to help them, the cause we are fighting for will be truly hopeless.

Should this condition continue, there will be no apology of any value to the families of those who gave their all in a well-intentioned mission. That is an apology I hope no U.S. President ever has to make, but if Afghanistan leadership does not improve, I can’t say I am hopeful for the future.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Eddie-Ecstasy

    “Forgiveness of one’s mistakes is a tenet of every major religion…”

    …with the exclusion of Islam.

  • Anonymous

    Poor soldiers who were instructed to burn materials that were written in Arabic and are now accused under sharia law and if the muslims have their way they will be put to death–How the hell were they to know that it was the f’ing quran–Were the books written in their mother tongue English?–Hell no–Folks the quran is written in Arabic–Wake up–Get over it–We in the West have to make a stand here and now–If not remember islam in it’s finest will be coming to a neighbourhood near you