While it is understood that, during a presidential campaign emotions run at a fever pitch, I nevertheless have to admit some consternation at the hyperbole and exaggeration that has characterized the current presidential contest. Case in point: the callous criticism of the presidential apology to the Afghanistan president and to the Afghanistan Muslim community for last week’s largely unexplained burning of Korans in that war-torn country
The report from high military sources claims that about 70 copies of the Koran, the Muslim Holy book,were burned by American soldiers in Afghanistan. It is alleged that Afghan Muslims detained in the past at the base had used the books to transmit messages.
The issue of the burning of the sacred writings has gone without explanation, either to the Muslim world or to the American people. We are told it was an unfortunate mistake. A number of copies of the Koran are burned in a Muslim nation and we are told it was a mistake? Where is the chain of command? Who authorized the burning?
A NATO task force has yet to confirm that the Koran was burned. NATO authorities concede that the “Islamic materials have been improperly disposed.” US General John Allen said, “When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them. The materials recovered will be properly handled by appropriate religious authorities; up to 70 books, some of them Korans, are thought to have been burned.” Allen added, “We are thoroughly investigating the incident and we are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again. I assure you – I promise you – this was not intentional in any way.”
Most Americans and presumably most American service personnel are aware of the intense importance of the Koran to the Muslim people. The burning of Korans has come up before, and invariably results in a vehement, impassioned response. Burning of Korans always results in a loss of life, a potential prelude to war; yet they are still being burned. Thirty people have been killed since Thursday, when the books were thrown into a fiery pit at Begram Air Field. Protestors are now clashing with U.S. troops and throwing grenades. It is reported that 2000 Afghans chanting “Die, foreigners!” continue in their vigil as news of the incident spreads.
On February 23, President Obama apologized to President Hamid Karzai for the incident, calling it unintentional, and characterizing it as “standard protocol” with contraband. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the apology, which drew immediate criticism from several sources, including some of the Republican presidential candidates. Press secretary Jay Carney repeated that the unfortunate destruction of the Korans was unintentional. He said the presidential apology was wholly appropriate, given the sensitivities involved. He said Obama’s primary concern was, “The safety of American men and women in Afghanistan, of our military and civilian personnel there.”
Rick Santorum criticized the President for making the apology. He said that Afghanistan should apologize to the U.S. for the deaths of four U.S. soldiers during six days of violence sparked by the incident. He told George Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning’s This Week, ”This was something that happened as a mistake. Killing Americans in uniform is not a mistake. It was something deliberate.” He chastised the presidential weakness, as he sees it, saying, “And for the president of the United States to do what he consistently does, to apologize and show weakness in an area of the world where apologies are seen as an admission of guilt — that was the problem in my opinion that incited this.”
Newt Gingrich, also a contender, called the apology “astonishing and undeserved.” On Fox News Sunday, Mitt Romney said the president’s apology “is very difficult for the American people to countenance.”
As American politicians, these hopefuls might do well to show at least some support for our president and his decisions. Their toss-off cavalier attitude continues to undermine his every step. American relations with the Muslim world transcend politics and should be of paramount importance.