by Waseem Shehzad (World, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 4, Rabi' al-Thani, 1426)
Ordinary Americans can be forgiven for failing to understand why people around the world hate their country and their government so much; successive governments in Washington and the media have kept them in the dark about the true nature of US policies that adversely affect the lives and welfare of billions of people everywhere.
The story of the desecration of the Qur’an by American soldiers at Guantanamo Bay carried by Newsweek magazine in its May 9 issue and, after political pressure was exerted, somewhat modified in its May 23 issue, is a case in point. Many US commentators have taken the position that it is not a big deal; why get worked up about a few pages of a book being flushed down a toilet? Others are in denial mode: such incidents never occurred; according to them, Newsweek was extremely irresponsible to publish such a story, and it has been accused of being part of a leftwing anti-American conspiracy. Muslims who demonstrated against the desecration of the Qur’an have been denounced as “murderous thugs”.
It is important to get the facts straight. Contrary to White House spin, Newsweek did not retract the story; it only admitted getting some parts of it wrong. It is common knowledge amongGuantanamo’s ex-prisoners that American interrogators at the notorious prison repeatedly desecrated the Qur’an to provoke them or break their spirit. American interrogators have sat on, urinated on and kicked into the toilet copies of the Qur’an, according to former detainees at the torture camp.
Newsweek is not the first to report such desecrations, although they gained much greater publicity because Imran Khan, Pakistan’s cricket star turned politician, mentioned the story during a televised press conference that caught the attention of the Afghan people; from there it spread to the rest of the Muslim world. The New York Times reported on May 1 that, after one incident in March 2002, in which a copy of the Qur’an was thrown in a pile of rubbish and then trodden on, the prisoners went on hunger strike, forcing the commander of the camp to issue an apology. A former detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, interviewed by the paper, said that the protest ended with a senior officer apologising to the entire camp. It went on: “A former interrogator at Guantanamo, in an interview with the Times, confirmed the accounts of the hunger strikes, including the public expression of regret over the treatment of the Korans.” (New York Times, May 1.)
Newsweek’s Qur’an-desecration story resulted in student-led protests in 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, the most serious incidents being in Kabul and Jalalabad. These were suppressed with characteristic brutality by the forces of the US-puppet regime, who killed at least 16 people; hundreds were injured. Some 300 Afghan ulama have issued a declaration against the USand vowed to intensify their struggle to rid their country of American occupation troops. The scale of the protests exposed the fiction that “all is well in Afghanistan”, a myth so assiduously peddled by the Americans and their Afghan puppets that they had started to believe it themselves. Protests quickly spread to Pakistan, Indonesia and then to the Ghazzah Strip, as well asYemen. May 27 was a worldwide day of protests by Muslims against the desecrations.
It was in Afghanistan, however, that the true depth of hatred for the Americans and their puppets surfaced, not least because hundreds of Afghans are still in Guantanamo and at Bagram airbase in Kabul, where detainees are routinely tortured. The American-installed president, Hamid Karzai, on a mission to seek aid in Germany, far from condemning the American torturers, said that the protests show there is “democracy in Afghanistan”. He then accused the protesters of “undermining” his efforts to “develop” Afghanistan. There has been little development since he was installed as president in 2002; the few crumbs that the US has thrown to Afghanistan have gone to the warlords who do the US’s dirty work. Sixty percent of Afghan women still have no access to healthcare or clean drinking water; at least 700 children die in Afghanistan each day, according to UN figures. Although it is true that the Afghans’ anger erupted partly because of lack of economic progress, the Qur’an-desecration was the last straw.
Despite desperate attempts by the US government and its pliant media to deny or discredit the story—David Brooks’ piece in the New York Times on May 19 is typical—there are credible sources to confirm what happened. American commentators, however, are barely able to suppress their racist cant against Muslims; Brooks had this to say about the US government’s reaction: “We’re in the middle of an ideological war against people who want to destroy us, and what have the most powerful people on earth become? Whining media bashers. They’re attacking Newsweek while bending over backward to show sensitivity to the Afghans who just went on a murderous rampage.”
Brooks has no time, much less sympathy, for civilians murdered by US-backed Afghan soldiers for doing no more than express anger and dismay at the desecration of copies of a sacred book. There are other, even more contemptible writers best left unmentioned, because it would merely give publicity to their venomous outpourings.
Two former British detainees—Shafiq Rasul and Jamal al-Harith—have also confirmed the hunger strike and apology story in separate interviews with British papers, the Guardian(December 3, 2003), and the Daily Mirror (March 12, 2004) respectively. A former Afghan detainee, Ehsanullah, confirmed the toilet incident to the Washington Post. The paper wrote onMarch 26, 2003: “Ehsannullah, 29, said American soldiers who initially questioned him in Kandahar before shipping him to Guantanamo hit him and taunted him by dumping the Koran in a toilet. ‘It was a very bad situation for us… We cried so much and shouted, “Please do not do that to the Holy Koran.”’ Ehsanullah’s story was corroborated by Asif Iqbal, another detainee who was released to British custody in March 2004 and later freed without charge: “The behavior of the guards towards our religious practices as well as the Koran was also, in my view, designed to cause us as much distress as possible. They would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet, and generally disrespect it.” (Center for Constitutional Rights, August 4, 2004.)
Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, two other British detainees released in 2004, confirmed the Qur’an-desecration story to the Islamic Human Rights Commission (see www.cage-prisoners.com) as well as to Britain’s Press Association. Begg told the latter: “If [Newsweek] are retracting it [the story], it is really silly. So many people are saying exactly the same thing.” He added: “I swear by Allah! I witnessed this clearly, not 10 metres away from me, with my own eyes and ears.” Hafiz Ehsan Saeed, a Pakistani who was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2004 but is still in Pakistan’s Adiala jail, corroborated the story, according to an Islamabad daily, the News International (May 17).
Enough evidence exists to confirm the desecration story, regardless of the spin put on it by US officials and media spokespersons. The question is why they indulge in such behaviour. Brooks of the New York Times has already provided a clue, as have others, notably US officials such as general William Boykin and Bruce Teft, a former “anti-terrorism expert” at the CIA. They consider Islam and Muslims as their enemy, and they will do everything in their power to insult and humiliate them. Their stated objective is to create Muslims who are subservient to the West, who will not dare question the role assigned to them. They must do as they are told, or else.
Muslims have a stark choice: will they accept such humiliation, or stand up to their tormentors? The Muslim rulers have already made up their minds: they have chosen complete subservience to the West. It is now time for the Muslim peoples to decide which choice they wish to make.