Bob Cohen of the New York Times commented on Pastor Terry Jones, his Qu’ran burning and the bloody aftermath in Afghanistan in his piece, “Religion Does Its Worst:”
“I see why lots of people turn to religion — fear of death, ordering principle in a mysterious universe, refuge from pain, even revelation. But surely it’s meaningless without mercy and forgiveness, and surely its very antithesis must be hatred and murder. At least that’s how it appears to a nonbeliever.”
I agree with the basic thrust of his article – the evil of fundamentalism – but I don’t agree how he came to that conclusion, however. There are essentially two problems, the first his characterization of the Afghan situation:
“Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, was one such enabler. He was a fool to allude to Jones’s stunt, performed before a few dozen acolytes. Why elevate this vile little deed and so foster mayhem?
Karzai is a man who will stop at nothing to disguise his weakness. His benefactors and underwriters — the West — are those he must scorn to survive.
The foolishness did not stop with Karzai: The imams of Mazar chose to use Friday prayers to stir up the crowd. As for the killing itself — whether by infiltrated Taliban insurgents or not — it was a heinous crime against innocent people and should be denounced throughout the Islamic world, in mosques and beyond. I’m still waiting.”
Foolishness, yes – but no mention of the occupation? His piece isn’t about that; but you can’t speak of the violence that just happened without placing it within the context of the occupation. He alludes to Karzai’s weakness, but his weakness is he is a client of the U.S., who stole the 2009 election with Washington’s blessing. His brother Mahmoud Karzai was investigated last February by a U.S. grand jury “over allegations of racketeering, extortion and tax evasion as he built a substantial business empire in Afghanistan,” according to the Daily Telegraph, while another brother Hamid is reportedly a drug kingpin who also happens to be on the CIA’s payroll. This corruption – bankrolled and supported by the Obama administration – fuels the Taliban, while massacres and war crimes that the U.S./NATO occupation continues to level against the Afghan population makes for fertile ground where Islamism flourishes.
Terry Jones, in stark contrast, doesn’t live in that kind of environment. He doesn’t live under a dictatorship or occupation, and there hasn’t been a civil war where he’s from since the 1860s. His church was never the pawn in a game between empires, unlike the Taliban, which grew out of the Afghan civil war following the U.S.-backed guerilla war that ousted the Soviet occupation. Yet Cohen criticized top U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura for only condemning Jones:
“He was right to call Jones’s Koran burning ‘insane and totally despicable;’ he should have used the same words about the slaughter of his men. Not to do so was craven, a glaring omission.”
Craven to whom? Afghans? Muslims? Both? Cohen’s choice of words seems reminiscent of the Islamophobes favorite term to describe Western “submission” to “Islamic demands” – dhimmitude. Besides, Jones started this in the first place, and the UN isn’t exactly innocent, either:
“The number of civilians killed in U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) raids last year was probably several times higher than the figure of 80 people cited in the U.N. report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan published last week, an IPS investigation has revealed.”
Cohen is right to denounce both Christian and Muslim supremacists, but Cohen must understand that he preaches from the same pulpit as the man he reviled – from a position of power. Muslims – secular and fundamentalist alike – on the other hand operate from the other side of that power. Cohen alludes to a real conflict between believer and non-believer, but he does so without bothering to mention another, more important war – between the colonialist and the colonized.
Christian and Muslim supremacists must be denounced and destroyed, but they have more in common than their zealotry; they both feed from the same imperial trough, where one wants to take it further, while the other one tries to stop it. Rather than “waiting” for Islamist acts to be “denounced throughout the Islamic world,” Cohen could stop waiting and undermine both Jones and the Taliban by using his position as columnist at the prestigious NYT to speak truth to power and undermine American neocolonialism in Afghanistan (for starters.)
The same goes for the second problem with his article, where he incorrectly places the context of Northern Ireland within the realm of religious fundamentalism:
“I’m full of disgust, writing after a weekend when religious violence returned to Northern Ireland with the murder of a 25-year-old Catholic policeman, Ronan Kerr, by dissident republican terrorists. Religion has much to answer for, in Gainesville and Mazar and Omagh.”
Eh, no; the dissident Republican terrorists he speaks of grew out of the Provisional IRA, which fought a war against British colonialism in the six counties. The dissidents are those who split from the Provos oppose the Good Friday Accords, and are continuing the struggle for a uniter Ireland. The conflict isn’t religious but between those loyal to Britain – Loyalists – and those who want a united Ireland – nationalists. The dissidents who killed Kerr are largely secular beyond their confessional identity and they did so not because of his insufficient Catholicism, but because he was seen as a collaborator with British colonialism.
In other words, it’s colonialism, stupid.