The attack that has so far claimed the lives of 12 UN aid workers and guards, Afghan and foreign, in the northern city of Mazar begs the question of who can be held accountable for the killings beside the criminals who committed the act?
The Florida pastor who swore to burn the Koran finally did on March 21, the day that marked the Afghan and Iranian new year. But this time, the media kept it fairly quiet. Ten days later, another cleric in a mosque incited a different kind of violence. The coveted shrine is a site of worship and celebration in Mazar, a place people from all over the world would come to watch the Nowroz (new year) celebrations before the wars. On the day the pastor supervised the burning of the Muslim holy book in Florida sacred to billions, thousands of Afghans gathered around the Mazar shrine to celebrate and hope for a new beginning, maybe for peace and prosperity in a country steeped in violence. But the glee of the celebrations turned to bloodshed when a mullah informed the Friday worshipers at the mosque about the burning. Reports say 4,000 protestors filled the streets peacefully but an angry mob, a minority, charged toward the UNAMA office and trapped UN workers, killed guards and the foreigners they could find. The details remain murky as Afghan police fight to secure the city. The city that Afghans considered the most secure turned deadly in a matter of minutes.
Jones has the right as an American under the law to burn holy books, to badmouth any group and to even incite the violence he very knowingly did after last year’s reaction to his threat. The US government was successful in convincing him to give up his crusade last year, but I wonder what occurred to change his mind. He claims no responsibility for the murders but I do think he should be held accountable on some level to answer for the expected violence. A simple shout of “fire!” in a theater is illegal if it’s an attempt to spread fear but why is Jones’ deliberate attempt to incite Muslims only an issue of freedom of speech?
My argument does not support the killers in Mazar. I think the cleric who ranted about Jones’ burnings in the mosque and inspired the protests may be equally responsible and should be reprimanded by the Afghan government for doing the same thing Jones did: incite bloodshed. Those who peacefully protested have a right to react to an act they consider hateful. If a pastor draws a swastika on a synagogue and Jews fill the streets of New York City in protest, we would support them. Peaceful demonstrations to hate crimes are a just cause, but as soon as violence erupts, we lose our sympathy and understanding toward that cause.
As a journalist, I covet the right to free speech but I also understand the negative power it can invoke and the need to limit that power.
Weis Sherdel, an Afghan-American and good friend, articulated his frustrations about the Mazar attack on Facebook: “As an American, I am saddened by idiots who exploit their first amendment and spread hate and ignorance by burning the holy Koran. As an Afghan, I am ashamed by my people who direct their anger towards innocent people. I pray for understanding and patience.”
I could not have said it better myself.