(CNSNews.com) – Six days after violent protests erupted in Afghanistan over the unintentional burning of Qur’ans at a U.S. military base, and with more than 30 deaths reported, the world’s top Islamic body Sunday appealed for calm.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said in a statement attributed to its Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu that “the violence and bloodshed was hurting the people of Afghanistan and causing loss of innocent lives.”
An earlier statement by Ihsanoglu, issued last Wednesday, condemned the Quran incident and urged “swift and appropriate disciplinary action against those responsible” – but said nothing about the violence, even though by that stage protests had already turned violent and at least seven had been killed.
More than 30 people, including four Americans, have been killed during rioting since news broke about the damage to the Qur’ans. Two U.S. soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan soldier during a protest on Thursday, and on Saturday two more – a lieutenant colonel and a major – were killed in their office at the Interior Ministry, shot in the back of the head.
U.S. government and military officials from President Obama down have issued repeated apologies for the Qur’an burning at the Bagram base – apologies that have drawn criticism from Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.
Despite statements from the Taliban and others inciting bloodshed, apart from President Hamid Karzai and some religious and political figures in Afghanistan, there have been few calls for calm thus far from Islamic authorities.
In Pakistan, where protests were held on Thursday, Friday and over the weekend, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Pakistan’s government and people “condemn in strongest possible terms the desecration of Holy Qur’an in Afghanistan. It is absolutely important that such utterly irresponsible and reprehensible things do not recur.”
The spokesman did not deplore the violence or appeal for restraint.
Anti-U.S. protests took place in Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi, where members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa – a group the State Department calls a “front operation” for the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba – chanted, “There is just one remedy for America – jihad and only jihad. Death to America, death to America’s friends.”
‘Burn the White House’
A common theme in statements from protest leaders and organizers was the view that the Qur’an burning was deliberate, part of a Western conspiracy against Islam.
“Many of the protesters were of the opinion that the Americans were deliberately trampling Afghan sensitivities underfoot and provoking the Muslims through their shameless sins,” the Pakistan Observer newspaper commented, adding that the U.S. was apparently “on a mission to degrade the Muslims whenever possible.”
“The strong resentment in Pakistan and Afghanistan is justified because the Americans have not just betrayed a nation, but they have played with the faith and sentiments of 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide,” it said. “In our view it is a very sensitive issue and the sentiments of the Muslims would not die down until those involved in the sacrilegious act were tried and punished.”
Kashmiri separatist leader Ali Shah Geelani attributed the incident at Bagram to a plot devised by “anti-Islam forces” in response to the growing realization that Islam is a “religion of peace.”
“They know that the more this message of peace and universal brotherhood spreads around, the more difficult it will be for them to exploit the people,” he said. “Hence they are carrying out such heinous incidents to present Muslims as uncivilized and extremists.”
Iran’s foreign ministry on Sunday issued a statement condemning “the desecration of the holy Qur’an,” and calling for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan. It, too, said nothing about the violence and bloodshed.
Further stoking up Muslim sentiment, the commander of Iran’s Basij militia, Brig.-Gen. Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, was quoted by the official Irna news agency Sunday as saying during a speech to militia commanders that “burning the White House is the only thing that can alleviate the sufferings of Muslims whose sentiments have been hurt by such a crime.”
Back in Afghanistan, meanwhile, not all political figures have echoed Karzai’s appeals for calm.
The independent Pajhwok Afghan News service reported that at least three members of the upper house (the Senate, or Meshrano Jirga) suggested during a session Sunday that the violent response was appropriate.
“Don’t call for peaceful protests,” it quoted lawmaker Mohammad Hassan Hotak as telling the session. “My demand is that protests should go on for a month. We should show infidels that we can defend our religion.”
“There should be violence against unethical Americans, who have desecrated the holy book several times,” said another lawmaker, Mohammad Asif Azeemi.
Pajhwok reported that a third, Fauzia Sadat, has supported the calls from the other two, saying that the people had the right to express their feelings in whichever way they wanted to.
The news service said some members of the Senate, including Chairman Mohammad Alam Ezedyar, did appeal for protestors to stay calm.
Despite incitement by the Taliban and others, the State Department appeared reluctant last week to attribute the violence to anything beyond strong feelings about the Qur’an burning.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner twice demurred when asked about orchestrated attempts to stoke anti-U.S. sentiment.
Asked Friday whether the administration saw any “foul play” underway in this regard, he replied, “I just think that this is obviously an incident that has stirred up tremendous emotion, and we’re very cognizant of that fact.”
A day earlier, Toner was asked whether the Taliban was seen to be taking advantage of the situation.
“We understand that emotions are running extremely high,” he replied. “We have seen demonstrations throughout the country, and there’s no indication that these are anything other than popular expressions of outrage over this incident.”