…simply have a book burning.  Videotape it and post it on the internet.  Make sure the books at least look like Korans.  As absurd as it seems, Afghans have been rioting the last two days over the burning of a few Korans that the US military that was trying to dispose of (by incineration), but apparently didn’t do so effectively enough to prevent their charred remains from being found in the garbage by some Afghan locals.   President Obama has even issued an apology, probably because of his Muslim ideology.  Everyone knows he only pretends to be Christian (snark). 

I don’t now and will likely never understand the visceral response that the symbolic, or just accidental, burning of a cultural or religious idol elicits.  The attempt at banning flag burning in the US’s recent past shows that the Afghans aren’t unique in allowing emotion to override intellect when it comes to desecration of religious and cultural idols.  The American flag is just a piece of cloth with a particular color pattern.  It may be symbolic of a whole host of things, both patriotic and nationalistic, or perhaps ironic, and maybe anti-establishment, but still, it is just a piece of cloth.  Part of an American flag formed the backdrop for the album cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA in 1984.  The title song begins, “born down in a dead man’s town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground…” Even establishment politicians failed to see the irony in the song, promoting it as a message of hope, when instead it was a lamentation on the great misfortune of having been born in a country that sends you to fight a pointless war, only to return and find no future awaits back home.  The flag is only important as a symbol, but what it symbolizes can’t be controlled by government fiat.

I don’t even get the Pledge of Allegiance.  How do you pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth?  While I took very seriously the oath I took upon commissioning as an Army officer to support and defend the Constitution of the United States–meaning I would support and defend the tenets contained within it, not the paper upon which it was written–I later taught my kids a new pledge to recite when they’d be forced to place their hands over their hearts and stand and pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth at the beginning of their school day:

I pledge allegiance to the wall, and the roof for which it stands, one building, under God, with wood, bricks and glass for all. 

It figure it makes about as much sense as the other one.  Yeah, I know.  I’m going to parenting and nationalistic hell.  But pledging allegiance to a flag is a pointless exercise.  In a republic founded by breaking “political bands which have connected them with another”, swearing allegiance to its flag, even if it is held to stand for all the republic stands for, seems at best internally contradictory, at worst, something of a blaspheme.   Would the colonists have not revolted had they been forced every day to pledge allegiance to the King?  Allegiance to any organization, including nations and states, should always depend on the facts on the ground.  Even my oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic was not a pledge of allegiance to any particular group or ideology, and certainly wasn’t to prevent the desecration of the paper upon which it was printed.  It was an oath to defend the tenets and ideas contained within the document.  In my view, the Bush and Obama Administrations have done a great deal more than just symbolically burn the document.  In great measure, they have completely stripped away its meaning.  To support and defend the Constitution today would mainly require doing battle with its domestic enemies, most of whom owe their power to the infrastructure of governance created within it.

Burning a copy of the Koran seems about as pertinent to Islam as burning a copy of the Constitution would be to the United States.  Burning the paper upon which an idea is transcribed hardly suffices to kill the idea.  Ideas are immutable, they are the eternal treasures that neither moth nor rust destroy, that thieves can’t break in and steal.

And surely the Muslims know this.  Outrage at the desecration of the Koran by infidels, accidental or otherwise, is simply a convenient means to stir up nationalistic sentiments, and to succor latent hatred at the West; in Afghanistan particularly, at the American occupiers that have been there for now over a decade. 

Which points to the utter silliness of the whole Afghanistan exercise.  If the US has been there for more than a decade trying to build a nation out of rubble, yet the very people it claims to wish to help hate it so much that an accidental desecration of a venerated idol of its culture is sufficient to cause wholesale outrage and rioting, even leading to several deaths, then have we anything to show for our efforts?

Given the certain outrage that would follow, and the utter fecklessness with which American leadership would deal with it, an early and permanent exit from Afghanistan might just be forced with some domestic and public Koran burning.  Not that I’d recommend such a thing.  I’m just pointing out how tenuous is our presence in the region, going on two decades now.

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