More than 20 people -- including seven United Nations workers -- have been killed in a series of riots since Friday, April 1.
The U.N. workers and five others were killed Friday when a crowd estimated at 20,000 overpowered and killed the U.N. guards at the U.N. compound in Mazar-i-Sharif. The crowd, The New York Times reported, had been "stirred up by three angry mullahs." The next day, at least nine people were killed and 73 injured in Kandahar, and on Sunday at least three more were killed in Kandahar, CNN reported.
Rioters say they are seeking to avenge the March 20 burning of a Quran by Dove World Outreach Center, a small nondenominational church in Gainesville, Fla., that also made headlines last year when its pastor planned, but later cancelled, an "International Burn a Koran Day" for Sept. 11. With no more than 30 people in attendance March 20, the church put the Quran on "trial," found it guilty, and then watched as pastor Wayne Sapp burned a copy of it. Terry Jones, the pastor who made headlines last fall, supervised.
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said both sides are wrong.
"Along with all Southern Baptists, I condemn the burning of any religious book," Land told Baptist Press. "That is not the mark of a good neighbor, a good citizen or a civilized human being. I also condemn the riots and the killings of human beings in supposed retaliation for the burning of the Quran. This is also heinous behavior and is not in any way, shape or form justified by the burning of the Quran. In civilized society, one does not kill people for disrespecting or destroying the symbols or instruments of one's faith."
The March 20 event at the Florida church was not covered by most U.S. media members and wasn't even considered one of the day's top stories. Agence France-Presse (AFP), a French news service, covered it.
"We will continue to condemn the burning of religious books and we will continue to condemn killing human beings in response to such despicable behavior," Land said. "Both are barbaric and uncivilized, and the Muslim community can rest assured that we will continue to condemn a radical fringe that would burn Qurans, and we expect them to join us in condemning their co-religionists' killing human beings and using the burning of a Quran as the pretext for such murder."
It is possible the rioters were fed lies. Una Moore, an international development professional based in Afghanistan who blogs at UNDispatch.com -- a blog about the United Nations -- said residents of Mazar-i-Sharif were not told the truth about the church's Quran burning.
"Local clerics drove around the city with megaphones yesterday, calling residents to protest the actions of a small group of attention-seeking, bigoted Americans," she wrote the day of the first riot. "Then, during today's protest, someone announced that not just one, but hundreds of Korans had been burned in America. A throng of enraged men rushed the gates of the UN compound, determined to draw blood."
Many commentators have wondered why the protests took place more than 10 days after the burning. Some are blaming Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who -- with most Americans not even knowing it happened -- released a statement March 24 calling the burning "disrespectful and abhorrent" and urging the U.S. to bring the Florida pastor to justice. CNN's Eliot Spitzer said Karzai was "at fault" for inciting the violence.
Paul Marshall, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, noted that the riots so far have been confined to Afghanistan.
"Why did he do that?" Marshall asked in a column at Hudson.org. "Perhaps because it might give him some leverage in negotiations with America."
Marshall also criticized media coverage of the riots.
"Western journalists report on this Koran burning but, comparatively, not on the many bible burnings, and killing of Christians, and desecration of hosts, that occur in the Muslim world," Marshall wrote. "There is also the dangerous suggestion ... that Wayne Sapp or Pastor Terry Jones have somehow 'caused' the killings -- as if the murderers were zombies not responsible for their own actions."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
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