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EDITORIAL: When Muslims burn Korans
The Arabs don’t speak for all of Islam
Two dissidents, an Iranian and an Afghan, have posted a video to YouTube in which they burn a Koran. In the United States, the act would spark a debate about freedom of speech versus tolerance. In their countries, it is a criminal offense that could bring a death sentence.
In the American context, some say burning a Koran is a legitimate act of free expression, while others charge it is an act of bigotry that needlessly incites anger and violence abroad. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, went so far as to say that, “anytime we can push back here in America against actions like this that put our troops at risk, we should do it.” That is a dangerous capitulation to anti-progressive forces. It is wrong to limit American freedoms based on the violent propensities of foreign extremists. And it would be a strange manifestation of freedom in which burning a Koran was illegal but burning the American flag was protected speech. Osama bin Laden would certainly approve.
President Obama has framed his approach to the struggle against violent extremism by emphasizing tolerance even above critical judgment. Last autumn, he said that while the United States “is still predominantly Christian,” there are other faiths whose “path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own.” The White House tells us that extremists who commit offenses against human dignity in the name of Muhammad have a perverted view of Islam. But these academic rationales do nothing to bring freedom to those who suffer under the totalitarian rule of those who believe that the more extremely they interpret Islam, the closer they draw to their god. From Tehran’s point of view, the leader of the “Great Satan” lacks the credentials to make authoritative judgments on the true nature of the Muslim faith.
The two anonymous dissidents in the video look at the Koran much differently than Americans. To them, it’s not a religious tome but a political document, the blueprint for the tyrannical legal systems under which they live (in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran) or have lived (in the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). They do not view the Koran as the foundational volume of the religion of peace but as an extremist manifesto that has been used to justify the worst forms of human cruelty and oppression. Whether it is human-rights advocates being hanged on cranes in Iran or Taliban goons spraying acid in the eyes of Afghan schoolgirls, the justification always comes back to the Koran.
The dissidents in the video also consider the Koran alien to their national cultures. This may seem strange to Americans who reflexively discuss the “Muslim world” as though it is a monolith. However, the countries with Muslim majorities represent scores of nationalities, cultures and traditions. Persian culture predates Islam by thousands of years, and Afghanistan’s patchwork of nationalities can trace their lineage back to the dawn of history. These dissidents complain that Arabs foisted the Koran on their people, resulting in 1,400 years of decline. They see nationalism as a potent antidote to Islamism, and it’s no coincidence the jihadists see national identity as one of their primary obstacles in realizing their dream of a global caliphate.
Iranian and Afghan dissidents simply want the freedoms that people in most Western countries achieved centuries ago. Some Americans might feel uncomfortable at the sight of a burning holy work, while others might cheer. To these two dissident Muslims, burning a Koran is igniting the flame of liberty.
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