- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012

Raucous Afghan mobs have forced a presidential apology, even after two American soldiers were killed. The extremists win again.

Yesterday, Afghanistan saw its third day of rioting after workers collecting garbage at NATO’s Bagram air base found charred remains of religious texts, including the Koran. The texts in question had been defaced with extremist propaganda and had been disposed of. It’s unclear who did the disposing, but it was reported that the process was overseen by a U.S. officer. Since then, crazed mobs have gathered in Afghan streets chanting “Death to America,” and the Taliban urged Afghans to “continue seeking revenge until punishment is dished out with your hands.” On Thursday, outside a U.S. base in eastern Nangarhar province, an Afghan soldier did just that, killing two American soldiers and escaping into the welcoming arms of an approaching mob.

U.S. Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the international forces, quickly noted the “error” of the burnings, ordered an investigation and apologized to “the noble people of Afghanistan.” President Obama then upped the ante with a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying the United States “will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.” There has been no reciprocal pledge of accountability from Kabul. Instead, the Afghan government has demanded that NATO place the offenders on trial, though no Western laws were broken.

The U.S. government position is that the incineration was inadvertent, but independent reports indicate it was intentional. The “religious texts” in question were enemy propaganda, which for Islamists also happen to be holy writ. This is one of the nagging problems in combating an extremist ideology based on religion. Sensitivity to this issue can go to extremes. In 1997, the then-ruling Taliban banned the import and use of paper bags out of concern that recycled pulp from religious texts would be defiled. But if a Koran contains marginalia explaining why certain passages impose a duty on Muslims to wage war on Christians and Jews, it is prudent to dispose of it in an approved manner.

Authoritative 19th-century Muslim scholar Muhammad Amin ibn Abidin wrote that burning a Koran is not usually permitted, except as a last resort, and that burial or sinking in water is preferable. Rather than framing this issue as one of respectful disposal, Mr. Obama caved to the extremist view and admitted America was completely in the wrong. The Taliban can chalk it up as another victory in the war of ideas.

Meanwhile, two U.S. servicemen lie dead, betrayed by a member of the Afghan military they were in the country to train. These troops were defending an Afghan regime that seems to believe their deaths were justified. What offends Americans is not just the obsequiousness of Mr. Obama’s response but its one-sidedness. Mr. Karzai will not apologize for the deaths of our troops, for the American-flag and Obama-effigy burnings or for the uncivilized behavior of his volatile people. Nor will Washington demand such an apology.

Mr. Obama should have learned by now that bowing to foreign mob violence only justifies and encourages the extremists. Counterinsurgency means never having to say you’re sorry.

The Washington Times

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