If we’re going to war against religious extremists—and let’s face it, crazies—it’s a toss-up whether to invade Florida or Afghanistan. I’m not in favor of either one, but the United States has picked Afghanistan, leaving the crazies in Florida a free hand.
Deranged violence is spreading across Afghanistan in the wake of Koran burnings in Florida. The fact that it’s happening might signal to American policymakers that bringing democracy to Afghanistan, at least anything that looks like the system that prevails in the United States, is not happening. It might not be a clash of civilizations, but when a population is so reactionary and vulnerable to religious extremism, they’re not likely to march in docile fashion to the ballot box, even when encouraged to do so by 100,000 US troops.
What’s happening is a textbook case of extremism begetting extremism. Like the Arab-Israeli conflict, where radical Israeli settlers carry out an extremist agenda, only to inflame radical Palestinians into carrying out suicide bombings and atrocities such as the recent massacre of an entire family of Jewish settlers, including babies, in Afghanistan Islamic fundamentalists are reacting mindlessly to a provocation in Florida. On March 20, at the absurdly misnamed Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, fanatical Islamophobes carried out previous threats to destroy a Koran, and when President Karzai of Afghanistan condemned it a few days later, passions flared there.
It’s easy for left-leaning, secular opponents of the war in Afghanistan to condemn the Gainesville pastors, and I do. They’re dangerous idiots. But equally I condemn the misguided, fanatical passions that led to the massacre of UN personnel in Mazar-i-Sharif, in Afghanistan’s north, on Friday, and Saturday’s outburst of violence in Kandahar. More can be expected.
We reap what we sow. Provocative artists who present works such as Piss Christ, soaking a crucifix in what appears to be urine, and similar artistic outbursts against religious belief, have every right to do so—but it has costs. Somewhere, someone of ultra-Christian beliefs vows revenge at inflammatory acts such as that. There’s no way—nor should there be—to censor or prevent artists, filmmakers, writers (or bloggers!) from creating provocative works. And there’s no way, really, to prevent religious crazies in Florida from desecrating Muslim beliefs.
Since 1970, at least—and in fact, far longer than that—the Muslim world has suffered from the rise of religious extremism, whether in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia or Iran’s extremist clerics. If it’s taken forty years to accumulate, the reactionary forces unleashed in the Muslim world may take forty years to dissipate, too, even assuming ideal conditions. Hopefully, the ongoing Arab Spring will open some pressure valves to release some of the built-up extremism and allow it to dissipate, slowly, although in some cases fundamentalist groups, and even terrorist ones, may temporarily prosper. The easing of religious fervor may happen more quickly in Egypt, perhaps, than in Afghanistan—or in Pakistan, where fanatical zealots have been assassinating progressive and moderate thinkers and officials who argue against that country’s absurd blasphemy laws. Eventually things will get better. But US military actions, whether in Afghanistan and Iraq or in Libya will make things worse, not better.