Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Going by the book

At least 4 Afghans died in Jalalabad and 71 were injured in protests against US forces today. They were denouncing the May 9 disclosure in Newsweek that US investigators have confirmed that Guantanamo interrogators, "in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet."

This charge is going to be hard to shove under the rug. As the Council of American Islamic Relations points out: "Vague assurances of a military investigation are insufficient to keep this incident from being used to further harm relations with the Muslim world."

So Afghanistan, never really pacified after the overthrow of the Taliban, is heating up again. A people who've seen arbitrary arrests and a couple of years' mistreatment of random arrestees at the US prison at Bagram aren't likely to wait quietly for the result of an investigation.

Meanwhile in Yemen, according to the Christian Science Monitor an Islamic cleric has come up with his own way of turning young hotheads away from Al-Qaeda style activities. He reasons with them, using the Koran as his text.

When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen's Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.

Nervous as he faced five captured, yet defiant, Al Qaeda members in a Sanaa prison, Judge Hitar was inclined to agree. But banishing his doubts, the youthful cleric threw down the gauntlet, in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."
. . .

Hitar explains that his system is simple. He invites militants to use the Koran to justify attacks on innocent civilians. . . . For example, he quotes: "Whoever kills a soul, unless for a soul, or for corruption done in the land - it is as if he had slain all mankind entirely. And, whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." He uses the passage to bolster his argument against bombing Western targets in Yemen - attacks he says defy the Koran. And, he says, the Koran says under no circumstances should women and children be killed.
. . .

"It's only logical to tackle these people through their brains and heart," says Faris Sanabani, a former adviser to President Abdullah Saleh and editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer, a weekly English-language newspaper. "If you beat these people up they become more stubborn. If you hit them, they will enjoy the pain and find something good in it - it is a part of their ideology. Instead, what we must do is erase what they have been taught and explain to them that terrorism will only harm Yemenis' jobs and prospects. Once they understand this they become fighters for freedom and democracy, and fighters for the true Islam," he says.

What this country needs is a Christian Hamoud al-Hitar to study the Gospels with George W. Bush and recall him to the faith he claims saved his life.

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