Qur'an desecration, again?! Really?!

Bagram Qur'ans burnedReally? It's simply stunning. How did this happen? Qur'ans and a large number of Islamic religious materials were burned (incompletely) and taken out with the trash at Bagram. They were discovered and, of course, salvaged by the local laborers dealing with the trash.As I wrote in these pages in 2008 and 2009, the desecration of the Qur'an -- although sporadic -- has been one of the gravest mistakes on the part of U.S. personnel in recent years. It is utterly shocking that anyone working at Bagram, which was the initial hotbed of religious tension in 2002 (before Guantanamo), would permit or participate in these activities. (Note: the nationality of the offenders is not yet clear, from reports that I've read.)The man in charge of the International Security Assistance Force, General John R. Allen, has issued a swift apology on behalf of NATO forces, just as the U.S. Army offered a swift apology after the disastrously iconic "Qu'ran as target practice" incident in Fallujah (May 2008). (That was the incident that catalyzed the radicalization of Muntathar Al-Zaydi, the Iraqi journalist who became famous later as the "shoe thrower" at President Bush.)Here's why this matters: One of the biggest -- perhaps the biggest -- long-term threat to our national security is the (false) perception that we are at war with Islam. President Bush knew this well. He repeatedly made clear that the U.S. has never been and is not at war with Islam. President Obama's speech in Cairo seemed, for a time, like it would chart a new path. And I am still hopeful because elected officials at the highest levels have thus far drawn clear distinctions between our military actions in predominantly Muslim countries and other counter-narratives that falsely generate a sense of holy war.But incidents of religious desecration keep happening, and their iconicity works against any larger narrative about democratic religious pluralism that the U.S. is trying to craft.To repeat myself, Really? Sure, accidents happen, but how does this particular accident happen in 2012?

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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