April 2, 2011: Afghans turn out in the streets of Kandahar to protest against the Koran burning in Florida (Image courtesy: Roznama Ummat, Pakistan, April 3, 2011)
Following the recent burning of the Koran by a group of pastors led by Terry Jones in Florida, popular anti-foreigner protests erupted in several Afghan towns. The first protests were reported on April 1, 2011, a Friday, which is an important day of weekly prayers, in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province; protesters set fire to the office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), killing at least eight foreigners.
Later reports and investigations by the Afghan Senate revealed that the protesters had been provoked in sermons delivered by various Afghan clerics. Reports also indicated that some Taliban militants had joined the protesters and were responsible for the violence.
In a recent blog post, Afghan journalist Abbas Daiyar wrote that unrelated to these particular attacks and protests, Afghan mullahs (Islamic clerics) were regularly delivering hate-filled speeches against foreigners in Afghanistan in the mosques, in addition to calling for jihad. He observed: "It's not only about Terry Jones. Hate speech is a phenomenon as old as the preaching of the Mullah[s]. I remember the religious studies in childhood at schools, that taught that 'Jews will never be friends of Muslims.'"
Daiyar noted that the scope of such hate speech is difficult to deal with, as there are more than 160,000 mosques across Afghanistan. He called for registering mosques with the government in order to stop hate speech, stating: "We need much more than legislation about hate speech from mosque loudspeakers. All mosques should be registered with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and [only] qualified preachers should be allowed to lead the prayers. There are over 160,000 mosques across the country, but only 3,000 are registered with the government."
Following are some excerpts from his blog post:
"The [Afghan] Government Must Crack Down On the Hate-Mongers Who Use Mosques to Misguide the People"
"[In early April]… intelligence officials arrested a Mullah [Islamic cleric] in Takhar province for hate speeches against the government. Ziauddin was the imam of Commander Pir Muhammad Mosque in Taluqan city. He was arrested on Friday while delivering a sermon with hate messages to provoke people against the government and foreigners in Afghanistan.
"This has been an exemplary move so far, following the riots against Koran burning and the tragic murder of UN staff members in Mazar-i-Sharif city. The Upper House delegation sent by the [Afghan] Senate to investigate the killings in Mazar has reported that some clerics had made hyperemotional speeches over the mosque's loudspeaker to provoke riots. New investigations have found that those who stirred the violence and carried out the killings and beheading were ex-Taliban who had recently been 'reintegrated' through the peace program.
"Officials including the chief of police and the governor of Balkh said that some insurgents [i.e. Taliban militants] had also infiltrated the protesters, and murdered the foreign staffers of the UN. Some local Afghan staff of the UN, who witnessed the killings, have also said that the murderers… [spoke] with a different accent, not from Mazar.
"It's now clear that the killings and beheading were done by insurgents and their ex-comrades. But the basic provocation for the protest rally to come to UNAMA office was the hate speeches of some clerics. They are Maulvi Abdul Rauf Tawana, Maulvi Zakirullah, Maulvi Abdul Wakeel Forqani, Maulvi Abdul Hadi and Maulvi Abdul Qahir.
"The Senate delegation's 'investigation' is just to identify, but not recommend or carry out legal action against, those who provoked the people with emotional speeches. [But] the government must crack down on the hate-mongers who use mosques to misguide the people with religious sentiments. This case should be made an example for the rest of the hate-preachers to stop provoking hatred otherwise they must be punished with legal action.
"Governor Ata had asked imams [mosque prayer leaders] in Balkh not to discuss politics in mosques. He had ordered police to crack down on audiocassettes of hate speeches sold in shops. Many firebrand preachers have not only written the messages of hatred and spread them in sermons, but [have recorded] audiocassettes, available everywhere."
"Our Government Makes Laws About Marriage Parties, What to Eat, How to Dress... But Mosque Hate-Mongers Have the Ultimate Freedom in Spreading... Hatred"
"In a country where the state religion is Islam, the government should have control of the religious affairs, and stop provocation of religious hatred. The Senate delegation cannot implement its investigation, but it should discuss the issue in parliament and recommend legislation regarding restrictions on the topics a Mullah can discuss in Friday sermons at mosques across the country. In a situation like ours, where extremism has plagued all of society, we are in dire need of a definition of the roles of the Mullah on the chair of post-Friday prayers sermons in mosques.
"There should be regulations for this. The government and parliament committees can seriously engage moderate scholars and Ulema Council of Afghanistan [organization of Afghan clerics] for a debate on and recommendations on legislation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs should deal with the speeches in the mosques and give guidelines to imams.
"This issue should not be controversial in a country where over 95 percent of the population is Muslim, the state religion is Islam, and everybody in the government are Muslims. Many of these imams get their salary from the ministry; thus they can control them.
"It's ridiculous that our government makes laws about marriage parties, what to eat, how to dress and how many to invite on one's wedding day, but the mosque hate-mongers have the ultimate freedom in spreading the word of hatred.
"We need much more than legislation about hate speech from mosque loudspeakers. All mosques should be registered to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and [only] qualified preachers should be allowed to lead the prayers. There are over 160,000 mosques across the country, but only 3,000 are registered with the government.
"Of course it's very difficult to register all, and monitor them. But if there is a will, it will be possible with the cooperation of the Ulema Council. These people should realize the dreadful situation our society has reached today. If a mosque speech can provoke normal citizens to murder innocent people, then it needs ultimate and very serious attention."
"Every Friday, Enayatullah Balegh Calls on the Muslims Attending His Sermon in the Central Mosque of Kabul to Wage Jihad Against Foreigners Who Desecrate Islam"
"If you attend a Friday sermon of the most-visited mosque in Kabul, you will understand why our society is so reactionary on religious sentiments based on false provocation and ignorance of hate-monger clerics. For instance, every Friday, Enayatullah Balegh calls on the Muslims attending his sermon in the central mosque of Kabul to wage jihad against foreigners who desecrate Islam. For such nutty saviors of Islam, some ignoramus in Florida represents all of America, and all 'foreigners' and infidels.
"Balegh calls for 'holy war' against 'foreigners.' If any emotional empty-head takes his words seriously, and is provoked by him into violence or hatred against 'foreigners,' shouldn't Balegh be held responsible?
"It's not only about Terry Jones. Hate speech is as old as the preaching of Mullahs. I remember the Religious Studies subject taught in childhood at schools that 'Jews will never be friends of Muslims.' This is the most common phrase of hatred that poisons the minds of children from an early age. And it is still part of every Friday prayers sermon.
"A… journalist reporting on a Friday sermon by Habibullah Asaam in northwest Kabul quotes the Mullah as saying: 'The Jews and crusaders can never be friends of Muslims; they are the despoilers of our society and culture. Those who want them here are cowardly Muslims. Women avoid wearing veils, men chase fashion and show off; it's all because of the foreigners.'
"In volatile parts of the country where Taliban influence is stronger, imams who are either fearful for their lives… [due to] threats from insurgents, or who are sympathetic to them, are always making provocative speeches against foreign troops and the Afghan government. This has a powerful influence on the 'hearts and minds' of the innocent minds.
"The government, MPs and religious scholars should pay serious attention to the hate-mongers. It is they who have caused the culture of violence to become rooted in our society."