Religious tolerance? – A Reflection regarding the Quran burning by U.S. soldiers in Afganistan

The repercussions following the accidental burning of the Koran in Afghanistan have been extreme, violent and have put Western citizens in extreme danger.

Whilst the act itself is reprehensible, it was what it was, an ill considered accident, The consequences have been brutal. I can only wonder, that in asking our respect of Islam – which we willingly give – we, in return, can expect a mutual respect of Christianity.

From Vatican Insider
Afghanistan“To show respect for religious feelings is the key to win the hearts of the Afghan people. It’s a very important factor which all western powers and international operators should keep in mind” these were the words used by the Jesuit Father Stanley Fernandes SJ , director of  “Jesuit Refugee Service” in South Asia in an interview with the Vatican news agency Fides when commenting on the mass protests which followed the news of Korans being set alight by some American soldiers. On the fifth day of anti American demonstrations in various cities of Afghanistan, the UN was also targeted. Since the beginning of the violent protests, about thirty people have been killed.

The Jesuits have been present in Afghanistan for 7 years, they are dedicated to humanitarian activities and are active in education and professional development. Father Fernandes, spends long periods of time in this country. After a recent visit to Kabul, he spoke with Fides saying “The situation is critical. After the incident of the burning of Korans, people are outraged because it is an episode that hurts religious feelings, an issue that can ignite the people. There is no justification for violence, but this is what happens if one touches religious matters. The official apology on behalf of the U.S. has arrived, but I think it will take time before the situation returns to calm.”

The Jesuit continued “ I don’t think there is the risk of a religious war against the West, but incidents like this, when Westerners hurt the feelings of the Afghans, do not help build confidence and a peaceful atmosphere. In these cases, then, the instinct of the crowd prevails, giving the floodgates to violence”.

“When one works in the Afghan context, where Islam is the prevalent religion” remarked Fr. Fernandes  “ it is essential to operate with deep respect for the culture and religion of the local population. In these cases, the relationship between international forces and local people is very delicate. A fragile balance is established and we must therefore pay close attention to the sensitivity and to the local context in order to guard it.”

With regards to the experience of the Jesuits, Father Fernandes declared, “We build good relations with the local people, we try to help them in their development, respecting their feelings, working in the humanitarian field and in education. We have been there for 7 years and the people greatly appreciate us. In our experience, the people of Afghanistan are open and tolerant and appreciate our help to improve their social situation and wellbeing. We hope that, thanks to many people of good will among the Afghans and thanks to the international organizations on the ground, the violence will end and the situation will soon return to normal.


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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8 Responses to Religious tolerance? – A Reflection regarding the Quran burning by U.S. soldiers in Afganistan

  1. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    A timely and interesting report. Fr Fernadez has much to say which is wise and worthy of respect, IMO.

    A main problem is ‘American Specialism’ which resembles the Empire mentality of the British when they straddled the globe, including Ireland, where they wreaked havoc. This led to cultural imperialism and an indifference or contempt for the ways and beliefs of others.

    Recently US soldiers were caught urinating on Afghan corpses, and the history of the US invasion is one of apology after apology for barbaric acts. They never learn for they have no wish to learn.

    As most of the deaths here have been Afghani, then it’s clear that it is THEY who are in extreme danger – from the occupying forces. So the intro is misleading, to say the very least.

    Has the Afghani reaction to the burning been violent etc? Yes, it has been extreme, ugly and disproportionate – to me, but I am not Afghani, nor Muslim. I reject its fanatical side as I do endless US bludgeoning of other peoples.

    I spoke of this Koran burning clumsiness recently and also referred to the vandalism of Christian churches in the Middle East. I ended by saying “What is to be done?”

    I hope no one employs the “they started it! ” argument…….please….


  2. toadspittle says:


    “The Jesuit continued “ I don’t think there is the risk of a religious war against the West…”

    The Jesuit seems to be unaware that there already is a religious war against the West. Currently it takes the form of terrorist attacks, of which 9/11/2001 has been the most successful so far.

    It is largely about Israel, if the late Bin Laden was to be believed.

    Toad, if asked, would advise Fr. Fernandez to go home . Pronto.


  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Toad is right.

    And of course there is already a religious war against the Muslim world. Currently it takes the form of terrorist attacks of which Iraq and Afghanistan have been the most bloody so far. Iran to follow. You next.

    It is largely about Israel, if the late Bin Laden is to be believed.

    The appalling Bush II said it clearly when he spoke about a “crusade”. Not that such a cretin said anything he wasn’t told to say.

    What is to be done?


  4. kathleen says:

    Can anyone imagine Christians behaving like this if a few Muslims were to burn copies of the Bible? We certainly wouldn’t like it, and many people would complain angrily and feel it to be a sacrilege…. but probably that’s as far as it would go. Why? Because we would realise that those that had committed the act were just a few crazy nutcases and not representative of the whole of Islam.

    Why do so many Muslims tar us all with the same brush?

    And then commit far worse crimes against God by going on the rampage, burning and destroying properties and murdering anyone they identify as non-Muslim?


  5. kathleen says:

    Mr. Whippy,
    Pleeeeeeease don’t get all huffy with me now…… but could you please refrain from politicising issues like the above. Of course you are entitled to your political views, but brandishing them in such a way is offensive to many American visitors who read this Catholic blog, and serves no purpose whatsoever.


  6. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Kathleen – I will certainly not get all huffy with you and I am glad you speak your mind.

    Re: my ‘politicisation ‘ of issues. I deal in facts. Someone has to tell it like it is. Why do Christians tar all Muslims with the same brush? I am against the ‘crusading’ mentality which is on the increase. I’m against the ‘fatwah’ mentality which is on the increase, and have said so. We are sleepwalking into disaster. You are aware of the very serious criticism of the Church over allegations of silence on Nazi Germany’s rise to power. It seems I am alone in learning from that. Silence is not an option, though I’ve been aware for some time that it makes some people uneasy here. I agree it is more comfortable not to discuss difficult issues which could be catastrophic this year.

    If the US habitually conducts itself in a dreadful fashion, then our silence on this becomes a tacit approval. I also criticise Islam, the UK and so on.. Islamic countries, however dreadful, have not thrown their weight around internationally as have Western countries.

    There are many issues raised in articles here on CP&S which are highly political, yet there is no request for that to stop; My comments are usually relevant to the issue at hand, but I can say here that I don’t enjoy being a procession of one.

    No-one can escape politics, not you, me nor the church. I wish we could. You yourself recently declared a political allegiance when Spain was being discussed. I have never allied myself to such a specific party political allegiance.

    If US readers are upset because their government’s policies are exposed and criticised ( and it is a Christian duty to do so) then I will keep your complaint in mind. I give it serious thought about what I should now do.

    In turn, please keep in mind that to imagine that religion floats serenely above the real world is mistaken. There are certainly articles rightly published here where the intention is to encourage a certain political debate.

    Best wishes for your contributor work here, and I’m sure the kind of CP&S you wish for will come.


  7. Gertrude says:

    Although I am responsible for the post above, I had not really intended to ‘join’ the mele that has followed.

    Yesterday I was having a discussion with a Priest about this Year of Faith, and the need for evangelisation. The subject of Islamist fundamentalism inevitably arose as an example of adherants I suppose infinitely more ‘radical’ about their faith than perhaps many of us are, to the point of being prepared to die for it. The priest argued that as Catholic’s we have not been tested to this point in this country, in modern times, and I think he was saying that if we had perhaps we would be more zealous in our faith.

    On that point, he is right. The historical records of Catholic’s during penal times make us all question how much we would be prepared to sacrifice in the name of our Roman Catholic faith?

    I am not for one moment suggesting that we all take to the streets burning copies of the Koran, or strap bombs to our bodies and wander into any enclave that does not believe as we do. This is not our way, or the way of Our Blessed Lord in whose name we seek, by love, as commanded, to encourage non-believers to find their way to God.

    Politics will always transcend religion – for that is the way that man seeks to exercise his superiority. In this country we have welcomed the stranger, permitted his religious freedom, and whilst race relations in all parts may not be perfect, we have, by example shown that we are a tolerant nation. That some Moslems choose to harm innocent people here is an anathema to us.

    From time to time I have posted what might be conceived as ‘controversial’ topics. I have always thought that we should be informed, and in so make reasoned choices in our opinions. This is our God-given perogative.

    Holy Church has survived 2,000 years because apart from its Apostolic origins and divine foundation, we have always spoken with one voice. The Magisterium ensures this, and whilst we might not be particularly blessed with some of the Vicar’s of Christ we have had over the centuries, the Church remains strong in spite of this.

    Islam has no such foundation, but dear readers, we should still reach out in love. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but Islam is itself divided into factions, and this has allowed terrorism to flourish in parts. It is as it is.

    My point with this article was to ask ‘do we not deserve the same consideration in the West that Islam demands we give in the countries where, as Father says in this report, it is the prvelant religion? Contrary to some who would wish otherwise, I still believe that the United Kingdom is still a Christian country.

    Note: Since I wrote the above, Associated Press report:
    The custodian of holy places in the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, recalled in his letter sent Sunday to President Shimon Peres that vandals spray-painted “Death to Christians” and “We’ll crucify you” on the Baptist Church in Jerusalem and similar hate graffiti on a Greek Orthodox monastery in the city.

    It is not just Islam that has a problem with Christianity, the above is thought to have been by Jewish extremists.


  8. kathleen says:

    That’s a great analysis Gertrude, and I agree with everything you say.

    Mr. Whippy:
    There are many issues raised in articles here on CP&S which are highly political…..”

    Yes, that’s correct, and where politics and religion either clash, or concern one another, it is inevitable to discuss them. (This is the current dilemma and ongoing debate faithful Catholics are having with the Obama regime at present, as we all know.) Of course I’m not against that.
    What I was referring to was your using an incident like the topic of this article above to insult ex President Bush and all Americans with him. In fact what you say here is mild compared to some of your comments in the past on other threads!

    All I’m saying is that it is unnecessary and offensive.

    Islamic countries, however dreadful, have not thrown their weight around internationally as have Western countries.”

    Eh, may I suggest that they do, just that their methods are different.


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