By Patricia Lee Sharpe
In Afghanistan (and Pakistan) even locals can lose their lives for mishandling a Koran, which mostly they don’t do, although accusations of Koran abuse occur with some regularity. The best way to carry out a land grab is to accuse a landowner of mishandling a Koran. If you are lucky, the accused will get lynched and you can snatch the land with little futher ado. If you aren’t lucky, the accused will end up with a long prison sentence, but the land might still end up as yours.
An American contact was annoyed with me recently. I’d declared that anyone and everyone serving in the U.S. Army (or with any of the allied forces) should know that Afghans are pretty touchy about how Korans are treated. Ordinary American soldiers aren’t going to know that, he said. Even if they’re told, it won’t make any impression. They won’t remember.
I don’t think American troops are stupid. I don’t believe that they are incapable of learning respect for local custom. It’s far more likely that their commanders and their commanders’ commanders haven’t done a very good job of providing the cultural sensitization that (we’re told) is routine. Maybe sensitizing is on the syllabus, so to speak, but carried out so badly, so offhandedly, with so little sense of urgency, that anyone in the audience would fall asleep. Or maybe it’s done in an off-putting preachy way. Sermons do get boring. How clearly are the troops taught that Koran handling is a life and death matter? Your buddy could die. Your vehicle could get blown up. Etc
Like many observers, I was pretty outraged by this unnecessarily provocative act, but it may be that I’m even more puzzled by it. Nowhere in my reading have I found any reference to clear cut, codified procedures for handling Korans, step by step procedures to be followed without fail.