As a nation that takes pride in aggression during war and boorishness and cultural insensitivity during peace, it's fair to ask the question: how did we let ten years pass before doing this?
The U.S. apologized Tuesday for the burning of Muslim holy books that had been pulled from the shelves of a detention center library adjoining a major base in eastern Afghanistan because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions.
The White House echoed military officials in saying that the burning of Qurans and other Islamic reading material that had been tossed in a pile of garbage was an accident.
It was an epic, preventable error of biblical proportions. NATO forces in the area should have assigned an Islamic cleric to their chaplain corps; someone who could have functioned as a sort of cultural ambassador to local religious institutions, and advised commanders on ettiquette and cultural sensitivity issues. This incident could have been avoided on the cheap. And if one was available, our officers had no excuse for not consulting him.
"It was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials," Allen said. "It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it we immediately stopped and we intervened."
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that their books shouldn't be treated like an ordinary piece of trash. It wouldn't have been difficult or costly to figure out a respectful method of retiring their holy books and disposing of them appropriately. That being said, disposal was our only viable option at the time. If prisoners used the books as message pads recruit followers to extremist causes or organize criminal activities, then those Qurans were pre-spoiled before we threw them on the incinerator. Keeping those books out of the hands of active insurgents was a legitimate force protection concern.
The Quran is the most sacred object in the daily lives of Muslims and burning it is considered an offense against God. The Quran is so important in the faith that Islamic teaching spells out how it should be handled, including directing anyone who touches it to be in a state of ritual purity. Muslims can only dispose of Qurans in very specific ways, including burning or burying those that have been damaged or corrupted to prevent God's word from being defiled.
US apologizes for Quran burnings in Afghanistan