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Wolf writes: "In the wake of the Quran-burning by troops at the United States' Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, protests continue to escalate and the death toll mounts. In the process, three US blind spots have become obvious."

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)
Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)

America's Islamic Blind Spots

By Naomi Wolf, Al Jazeera

04 March 12


Burning a conquered people's sacred texts sends an unmistakable message: you can do anything to these people, says Wolf.

n the wake of the Quran-burning by troops at the United States' Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, protests continue to escalate and the death toll mounts. In the process, three US blind spots have become obvious.

One is that of the US media, whose coverage simply underscores - and amplifies - the stunning cluelessness that triggered the protests in the first place. Professional journalists are obliged to answer five questions: who, what, where, why and how. But, reading reports from The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post among others, I searched exhaustively before I could form any picture of what had actually been done to the Qurans in question. Not only did accounts conflict; none offered a clear notion of who had allegedly done what, let alone why or how.

Were Qurans burned, as one US report had it, under the oversight of US military officials? Or were they brought by soldiers for incineration, as another version maintained, as part of a haul of "extremist literature" and prisoners' personal communications, with Afghan workers alerting others at the base to the nature of the material?

These murky accounts - with no clear subjects or actions (The New York Times, incredibly, managed not to describe the burning at all) - reflect what happens when major news outlets appear simply to take dictation from the Pentagon.

The second US blind spot is the politicisation of this terrible affront. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has called Obama's apology a "surrender", while another Republican contender, Rick Santorum, is offended that anyone is suggesting that the US should bear any "blame".

This absence of perspective reveals the cultural ignorance that has turned recent US foreign interventions into political catastrophes. I, too, come from an Abrahamic religion, Judaism, which shares strong roots with Islam. In both faiths, sacred texts are treated as if they are, in a sense, living beings. Jews, too, give them "burials" when they are too old to use and treat them ritualistically while they are "alive", using silver pointers to avoid profaning them with human hands, dressing them in velvet jackets and kissing them when they fall to the ground.

Burning a conquered people's sacred texts sends an unmistakable message: you can do anything to these people. As Heinrich Heine put it, referring to the Spanish Inquisition's burning of the Quran, "Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings". Jews understand that very well: from the Inquisition to Cossack massacres to Kristallnacht, the aggressors destroyed Torahs as a logical and well-understood precursor to destroying Jews.

The third blind spot is almost too painful to bear having to address - which, on a charitable interpretation, might explain why not one mainstream US media report has done so: the burnings were not carried out on some street in Kabul, but at Bagram. That is, Qurans were burned at a US facility that meets the dictionary definition of a concentration camp.

Bagram versus Guantanamo Bay

In 2009, Spiegel Online ran a portrait gallery about Bagram titled "America's Torture Chamber". In "The Forgotten Guantanamo", it reported that 600 people were being held at Bagram without charge. All were termed "unlawful enemy combatants", allowing the US to claim that they have no right to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. A military prosecutor said that, compared to Bagram, Guantanamo Bay was "a nice hotel".

Indeed, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, invariably described in the US as "the self-proclaimed chief architect of 9/11", told the Red Cross that at Bagram he had been suspended by shackles and sexually assaulted: "I was made to lie on the floor. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside". Another prisoner, Raymond Azar, testified that 10 FBI agents had abducted him, shown him photos of his family and told him that if he didn't "co-operate", he would never see them again.

The BBC collated testimony in 2010 from nine prisoners, confirming that human-rights abuses continued at Bagram. The prisoners independently described "a secret prison" inside the prison, called "the black hole". Prisoners were still being subjected at the time to freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation and "other abuses". One testified that a US soldier had used a rifle to knock out a row of his teeth and that he was forced to dance to music whenever he needed to use the bathroom.

Another investigation confirmed similar allegations in 2010 and last month, the BBC reported that Bagram's prison population had reached 3,000, while an Afghan-led investigation found still more allegations of ongoing torture, including freezing temperatures and sexual humiliations.

Of course, since the US military can detain anyone in Afghanistan and hold him or her without charge in these conditions forever, the entire country lives under the shadow of torture at Bagram. The Quran burnings are a potent symbol of that systemic threat.

So, while Obama should continue to apologise for the Quran burnings, we must understand that Afghans' rage is a response to an even deeper, rawer wound. Obama should also apologise for kidnapping Afghans; for holding them at Bagram without due process of law; for forcing them into cages, each reportedly holding up to 30 prisoners; for denying them Red Cross/Red Crescent visits; for illegally confiscating family letters; for torturing and sexually abusing them; and for casting a pall of fear over the country.

The Quran forbids that kind of injustice and cruelty. So does the Bible. your social media marketing partner


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-4 # globalcitizen 2012-03-04 11:33
Another blind spot, outright Fascism, is the embrace by Liberals of FASCIST ZIONISM. Just saw the speech by Obama to AIPAC, a fascist, corporate, corrupt and criminal organization, one in which Obama SHOULD HAVE BOYCOTTED.

The speech was COWARDLY, CORRUPT, A FALSIFICATION of history, ideology, and proof that OBAMA, DEMOCRATS, CONGRESS, NATO AND ISRAEL have become FASCISTS.

Obama Speaks to AIPAC

".....A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferati on regime that we have done so much to build.

That is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is what we have done.

And so from my first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t..."

+14 # Susan W. 2012-03-04 13:20
GlobalCitizen-- Why do you always harp on liberals and "fascist zionism"? Are you unaware of neocon support of Israel? And are you not listening to the current crop of GOP candidates who fawn all over Israel?
-4 # globalcitizen 2012-03-04 22:54
Susan W.:

Liberal appeasing Fascists appease Fascist Zionism. Yes I AM AWARE OF RIGHT WING SUPPORT FOR FASCIST ZIONISM, BUT BI PARTISAN SUPPORT FOR WESTERN FASCISM AND FASCIST ZIONISM requires some logical, moral thinking, NOT IDIOTIC selective cherry picking:


http://asocialmanifestoagainstclasshistory com.

+4 # RMDC 2012-03-05 06:53
He harps on liberals because they adopt the neo-con agenda, just as Obama has done in his speech. He would not harp on liberals if they had the backbone to take a different position. A war against Iran would is an unprovoked attack and a violation of international law. This makes the US a rogue state. Obama should have clearly said that there will be no war against Iran. Instead, he assured AIPAC that the US would follow Israel's commands.

This is another turning point for the US. Obama could choose to reject war clearly and loudly. He has not tried to work with Iran, which has said repeatedly that it is not trying to build a nuclear bomb. Obama simply pandered to his masters in AIPAC. Cowardly liberals are worse than neo-cons. The neo-cons have proved themselves to be war criminals in the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Either you are strongly against them or you are with them. There's also something called "liberal imperialism" and it is built on humanitarian war as in Libya and Syria. It is just as bad as right wing imperialism.
+12 # Majikman 2012-03-04 14:04
I would be more inclined to read your posts if you would stop shouting. I see your incessant screeching of fascism, sigh, and ignore you.
-3 # globalcitizen 2012-03-04 22:56

Like Susan W. should you come up with any arguments against my historical analyis of WESTERN FASCISM, please let me know.......IGNO RING IS A SIGN OF IGNORANCE.
+3 # Activista 2012-03-04 19:54
please read the Obama "speech" and than comment on globalcitizen -
+1 # Billy Bob 2012-03-04 23:06
I only have one problem with your post. It's the word "liberal".

You seem to have no idea what that word means.
+6 # RMDC 2012-03-05 06:57
Billy Bob -- a agree with you. I just read Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class. He doesn't know either. As a term, "liberal" has lost its meaning. This was a deliberate move on the part of neo-cons. They began by using the term "neo-liberalism " to describe predatory finance capitalism. The Left took up the term neo-liberalism and used it as well. Destroying a word like liberal is one way to confuse all people about what "liberals" actually stand for. They are against wars of aggression and imperialism. But Obama is for such wars. He is really a neo-con. Always was and always will be.
0 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-06 23:52
Few problems...
Yes, the word has been distorted and demonized by the right, but that isn't the only problem.

A while back I looked the word and read Wikipedia and a few other sites. There's several meanings to it, including a parallel with fiscal and social conservatism: liberal means individual freedom (to an extent, at least), but it also means the age of reason stuff as connected with the uprising of the merchant class against royalty, with 'free trade', and there is colonialism associated with that -- rather bourgois, actually.

Then there is neoliberal, which is not really liberal but more neoconservative -- which is not really conservative. Orwell would have eaten this for dinner. Sometimes liberal means liberal and sometimes (too often) the opposite -- and neither liberal nor libertarian need have much to do with liberty (either positive or negative). Sometimes it even means libertine.

Liberal has apparently been taken under the wing of Humpty Dumpty and means whatever the speaker chooses it to mean.
+5 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-04 11:44
Obama should be up before Den Hague for war crimes.
+16 # WFO 2012-03-04 12:04
"The Quran forbids that kind of injustice and cruelty. So does the Bible."

US policy is in the hands of people who follow the Talmud, which doesn't forbid the atrocities you described. All of these violations and atrocities are right out of the Israel playbook - Palestinians have been subjected to and experimented on with these exact methods of torture and sexual humiliation for a long time.
+2 # cadan 2012-03-04 15:42
But is this true? Surely adherents of Judaism feel bound by the ten commandments (e.g., no killing and stealing), let alone more specific commands to be kind to the stranger in the gates.

This is not to say, of course, that our crazy murderous policy is in the hands of anybody sincerely adhering to the teachings of any holy book from any culture.
+14 # MidwestTom 2012-03-04 12:47
We should pull all of our troops out of all Middle East countries, and stop all forms of aid. We should enlist China, Russia, and the European Union to join us. Soon a weapons shortage would force the countries to get along, we would have a smaller budget deficit, and the world would be safer. If they insist that they want war, let them fight it out, and let's sit this one out. The oil will still be there, and whoever wins will want to sell it to the highest bidder.
+13 # Majikman 2012-03-04 14:10
Religious freedom? Only Christians need apply.
0 # philobiblos 2012-03-05 14:31
This comment is both bigoted and designedly ignorant; today it is difficult to find a single state in which Christians are the majority in which other religions do not have religious freedom. On the other hand in many Muslim states, beginning with Saudi Arabia, no places of worship other than Muslim are allowed and Christians (and often Jews) are persecuted, often viciously: in Egypt the Copts are randomly killed, their wives and daughters raped, their churches burned; in Iraq half the ancient Christian community has fled the country because of persecution; in Turkey (which a couple of generations ago murdered millions of Christians) and Pakistan Christians are randomly murdered, while in Nigeria about 600 Christians were burned alive last month. So what are you talking about, whom are you lecturing on religious freedom?
0 # cadan 2012-03-05 19:21
Well, what's a Christian?

If we accept that those who call themselves Christian really are Christian, then in the historical past Christianity has been much more intolerant than Islam. For example, in Greece (under the Ottomans) Christians were not forced to convert, but were any other religions tolerated in historical Spain?

In the 20th century what you say is true, i think---althoug h the persecution of Christians in Iraq is due entirely to our meddling there. Saddam may have been a dictator but i don't think there was persecution of Christians in his time, at least not to this scale.

(My own take is that we shouldn't label states by religion, because their rulers are so uniformly disinterested in any true religion, whether here, or in Saudi Arabia, or elsewhere.)
+16 # grouchy 2012-03-04 14:31
Thanks for this essay and it's historical contribution. Now how to get it out to the American public so it can counter some of the propaganda they are subjected to on a daily basis.
-4 # philobiblos 2012-03-04 15:36
In point of fact this piece is studiedly ignorant of Muslim aggression and no amount of relativist cant can undo this: Yes, it is a terrible thing to burn books, exactly for the reason give by the poet Heine. I certainly will not be an apologist for the American military machine but the burning of the Qurans appears to have been an offensive perhaps, but certainly thoughtless error.
The fact is that this action was used as a justification for riot and murder by the Taliban, a movement I am not sure Ms. Wolf would approve.
At the same time frame as these events took place (over the last month), Muslims burned 600 Christians alive in Nigeria, they killed Copts, raped their women and burned their churches in Egypt, and used Christians as human shields in Homs, Syria, and then accused the secular government of the country of killing civilians! Where is the concern for these victims, or other victims in places like Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where a woman was recently executed for witchcraft!
In short, yes, let us be critical of our mistakes, but let us not be blind to a worldwide, cult-like movement which brings out some of the worst impulses of human beings...
+8 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-04 16:19
Islamaphobia and anti-Muslim propaganda is most unhelpful.
+10 # Majikman 2012-03-04 16:39
You miss the point of the article. Ms. Wolf is saying that our ignorance of and contempt for others' religions are inflaming an already untenable situation.
+10 # oakes721 2012-03-04 15:55
USA Incorporated does not even give any vestige of media-ocher news coverage that once served citizens, but has bedded and bought the press, who now sends out gibberish in such propaganda packets.

Extremist behavior is in the violence and burning of sacred books, not in the written word. All dictation from the Pentagram (no typo).

Obama's apologies! He's apologized for torture although he has the power to stop it. Having suspended Habeus Corpus, authorized worldwide assassinations, indefinite detentions without charge or trial and outlawing peaceful protest guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution ~ he 'sincerely' apologizes.
-5 # vertglnt 2012-03-04 19:18
One aspect of the Koran-burning, which never seems to be mentioned, is that
the Korans in question had already been defiled by prisoners who had written messages
in the margins in order to coordinate some sort of rebellion within the prison.
Having been thus defiled, and by muslims, were these books still Korans,
still sacred?

+2 # Activista 2012-03-05 13:58
"the Korans in question had already been defiled by prisoners who had written messages
in the margins in order to coordinate some sort of rebellion within the prison"
this is lie - Pentagon propaganda - so stupid and so transparent.
The Christian creep who burned the Korans in Florida - Rev. Terry Jones - there is a trend ...
0 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-06 23:57

Khaliqdad said the team looked at the books in the storage that were set aside for burning and found nothing with extremist messages written on them, as suggested by some NATO officials.

'We saw different types of religious books including the Koran. Many were new and did not have anything written in them. We saw some where the prisoners had written the dates they were arrested on and the topic of holy passage from the Koran and the page number,' he said.

'There were no secret messages, no political messages ... There were no books related to the Taliban or al Qaeda. These were books that are taught by the Ulema everywhere,' Khaliqdad said.
+3 # sheila Cee 2012-03-04 22:44
If Obama should be tried for war crimes, what do you say about Bush and Cheney for what they have done to Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other places around the world. We were responsible for Pinochet in Chile AND for strengthening Sadam Husein in Iraq before deciding he was no longer of use to the US. Then Sadam became a heinous dictator who needed to be disposed of. It must be noted that the US still supports some of the worst dictators in the world.

I say it is Bush and Cheney who must be tried for war crimes. I may not like everything Obama has done or is doing but I'll take him anytime over the crazy Republican candidates running for President.
0 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-06 23:59
Send them all up for trial for war crimes -- they are all involved.
+7 # sheila Cee 2012-03-04 22:45
P.S. to my last comment. I am Jewish, but...I am disgusted with the right-wing fascist government that is running Israel.
+6 # Activista 2012-03-04 23:07
Naomi Wolf puts US crimes in Afghanistan in sad but true cultural perspective and symbolism.
And - YES - Obama should boycott AIPAC.

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