The news have been covering the fallout of a Newsweek article about the descration of copies of the Koran. Today over lunch, I was involved in an argument about this, and have decided to separate out what I know from what I can infer.
Here are the events:
- There have been many reports in which “descration” of the Koran was mentioned pre-2002
- After incidents in 2002, the Pentagon issued a rule that the Koran not be placed in “offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas.”
- A Newsweek article claimed that a government investigation of Guantanamo found an incident of flushing the Koran down a toilet.
- This particular investigation never was tasked with investigating abuses to the Koran.
- An anonymous source in the Pentagon was the source of the claim. This fact was mentioned in the original article.
- Before the article was run, it was vetted by two officials at the Pentagon (who have chosen to remain anonymous). One of the officials corrected an error with a different part of the article and the other refused to comment on the article. Neither mentioned or objected to that particular claim.
- Riots and death ensued, especially in Afghanistan.
- Newsweek went back to the anonymous source, who retracted the claim, saying that he/she confused this report with a separate report.
- Newsweek issued a retraction.
From this we get the following facts:
- The claim X is false. (X = the report contains evidence of this particular abuse.)
- The fact Y is neither true nor false at this point. (Y = An incident where a Koran was flushed into a latrine.)
Via Occam’s Razor, we can infer the following:
- The incident seems to have occurred because the people involved misjudged how seriously Muslim’s take the Koran and thus didn’t realize how incendiary the statement would be.
- It is highly unlikely such an incident occurred after 2002. If such an abuse has occurred, it is most likely the act of an individual and not a policy act.
- It is almost a certainty that an incident of this nature occurred before 2002. It is possible that such acts were a matter of policy or that multiple incidents did occur.
- Newsweek seems to have adequate legal cover. The article never claims X, only hearsay of X. The statement was effectively vetted to three officials at the Pentagon before publication, none of whom objected.
- The White House has adequate legal cover because I couldn’t find a single place where they said that Y was false, only that X is false.
- The White House is spinning it in the court of public opinion very carefully because they are worried that reports of Y or something similar to Y (most likely of pre-2002 abuses) will get leaked. They either know Y is true or are pretty sure Y is true.
I remember getting waylaid by a pro-Palestinian student organization at the University of Illinois (this was pre-9/11). I was asked to do a “game show” about Islam which I bombed. I couldn’t even remember the word “Koran.” So it is no surprise to me that people may have reported such an incident without taking exception to it.
(Sure, I’d be pissed if someone threw my copy of the Bible into the toilet. But I wouldn’t kill over it. Maybe I don’t properly “Got Jesus” but if that sort of intolerance is what is necessary to do so, I hope I never do.)
The whole thing does make me think about how I little I cared about the Middle East in those days and how it must royally suck to belong to a pro-Palestinian student organization in these days.
But mostly it goes a long way to explaining flag-burning.
I always thought it a bit odd that people in Islamic countries seem to like to do flag burning as a form of protest—the whole thing always caught me as childish. Isn’t that what hippies did in the 60’s? This incident explains why someone might feel that this would really offend me.
Back then getting angry over it seemed silly. After all, here are a bunch of people who have no power over you unless you let them. Now it seems even more silly. To me the U.S. flag isn’t my country and it certainly isn’t my Koran. My “Koran” is the universal principles taught in the Bible, affirmed in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the United States Constitution. People can desecrate the symbols all they want. The nice thing about basing your Koran on principles is they can’t be burned.