Alienating the Hearts and Minds of the Muslims

When the Untied States was reportedly on a track leading to winning over the hearts and minds of the Muslims, the Newsweek report, still uncorroborated by other sources, shattered the notion. Yet it should serve as a wake-up call to the need for pursuing of a kinder and more just policy towards Islam and Islamic nations by the United States and a reaching out to the believers of the Islamic faith that constitute almost one quarter of humanity.

If the United States intention to win the hearts and minds of the people in Afghanistan and Iraq had gained any momentum, it was lost in the aftermath of a short one-paragraph report in the Newsweek magazine of May 9, 2005. The report had alluded to the allegation that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay military prison had desecrated the Holy Koran. Not unlike other political drama, the magazine after reports of violence from across the world, and a strong denial of finding of any evidence by the US Defense Department to the truth of the story, diplomatically tried to evade responsibility expressing conditional doubt over the contents of its own report, amounting to a retraction of the news item and expressing that a mistake had been committed, but in good intention.

The Holy Koran is the book that regulates the lives of almost a quarter of the earth’s population, now numbering over 1.2 billion people. The Afghans out of their deep respect for the word of God as contained in the Holy Koran, wrap it in many layers of most expensive scarves they can afford, kiss it each time they bring it down from the shelf and touch their eyes on the cover of the Holy book when they unwrap if from its covering of silk and satin. By belief and tradition, no Muslim Afghan would tolerate any disrespect to the Holy Koran, as it would directly mean insulting their God and their religion. The Islamic Afghan nation was the first among the Muslim nations that reacted to the report from Palestine to Indonesia. The reaction began in the city of Jalalabad in the Eastern Province of Nangrahar in Afghanistan and spread over eleven other provinces in the country including the capital city of Kabul itself. The protests became violent and according to reports they have claimed the lives of over 16 people and have caused injury to over 100 others.

While the incident took the country’s president Karzai by surprise, to many political observers, the US policies regarding its relations with the Islamic world that is constantly being scrutinized and studied under strong magnifiers, could have led to the unrest. Karzai in his comments tried to keep the incident away from opposition of the Afghans to the existence of foreign troops on their soil and said if the allegations were proven true, then he would ask the United States government to take action against the perpetrators.

As unrest gathered pace, Dr Rice, the US Secretary of State addressing a congressional committee issued an appeal: “I want to speak directly to Muslims in America and throughout the world. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, tolerated by the United States. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is abhorrent to us all.”

These are the most powerful words expressed by any US policy maker to date to appease the world Muslims who felt their sacred beliefs were violated by those in the administration that are entrusted with handling of the Muslim suspects in a military prison removed from the US mainland and the application of the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.

However, for the United States policy makers who are claiming exportation of democracy to the rest of the world, it is essential to pair the US military might with reason, diplomacy, kindness, and other manifestations of the United States great democracy. The advanced military technology of the United States has empowered it to fight wars thousands of miles away on alien soils and win wars and battles with brute force. Yet winning a war does not mean winning over nations and hearts and minds of human beings. American democracy needs to win over humanity with justice and affection and demonstrating a policy void of discrimination as is dictated by its constitution.

With the US war on terror in Afghanistan, the US troops are conducting operations independent of the national government of Afghanistan. They decide where to go, whom to detain and where to detain and how to interrogate them. President Karzai’s government is not involved in these decisions, but logically is held responsible for the actions of the foreign troops in his country. He and his government are vastly dependent on the US support so much so that the salaries of the newly established nucleus for the national army are paid by the United States. The US troops conduct searches of homes in villages without authorization of any court and thus bring about terror among residents of villages and hamlets. The Afghans have no choice but to tolerate these excursions. They would like to think of the foreign troops in their country as guests. Unfortunately parallels exist in their recent history when the Soviet Red Army was called by communist elements inside and outside the country as the guests of the Afghan government and later when the Arab extremists and terrorists were named by the tyrannical Taleban regime as the guests of the Afghan nation. This is not how the forces that call themselves liberators would win the hearts and minds of the liberated. The people in Afghanistan do not see much difference and or much change in their lots socially or economically. Under these conditions reports like the one in the News Week, trigger decent especially among those who expected much more from the so called liberating US and Coalition forces whom they helped sincerely in the fight against the Taleban regime and against the Arab terrorist groups in the region.

On the other hand, notwithstanding the exemplary hospitality of the Afghans, some guests could overstay their welcome especially when they behave as the if they owned their hosts’ property and took too much freedom in their behavior as guests.

The unrests may have truly been manifestations of the profound belief of the Afghans in their religion and the exemplary respect they have for their holy book, the Magnificent Koran, but they may have also been a sign that the pious and patriotic Afghans want foreign troops to behave more soberly on their soil and the international community to pay due respect to their religion and their sacred guide namely the Holy Koran.

While the Afghans especially at this period in their history need the help and assistance not only of the United States, but of the world at large and while the United States helped by the United Nations and a number of the US allies are engaged in a hot pursuit of a war it calls the war against terror in Afghanistan, the main ally of Mr. Karzai’s government should play its cards more carefully and pay the Afghans and their religion the respect they deserve. Otherwise it is not difficult that the enemies of freedom and democracy would use the mistakes in the conduct of the superpower as an excuse to incite unrest and opposition to it. This may lead to a situation that the huge investment by the United Sates in man and funds in the war to win over the trust and friendship of almost one quarter of humanity would have been wasted. The US must do all in its power to correct the situation, find out the truth as swiftly as possible and punish those found guilty openly and transparently and if there were any truth to the allegations, to apologize to all Muslims for the incident. Only then the words of its Secretary of Sate would gain more value and power and will reverberate in the hearts and minds of the people of the world as the voice of truth and justice. 5/16/05