Book burning, Afghan Style

Farkhunda Malikzada was 27 and an aspiring student of Islam when she was destroyed by a mob in Kabul. She was beaten, stoned, run over by a car, doused with gasoline, burned ( her blood saturated clothes barely caught fire); all this documented on video and posted on social media by the attackers themselves!  The huge crowd of bystanders did almost nothing to stop this abomination. On the contrary they participated verbally shouting “beat her” over and over again, and pitched in themselves with their own violence wherever they could.

The police mostly stood by until the mob had their fill.

Farkhunda’s alleged  crime was burning the Koran. there was no truth in that claim but should that even matter. I think not.

I have read the Koran from cover to cover in English. I speak as a layman but also someone who has read widely in the spiritual traditions.  Like the New Testament, the Koran is often  a stirring  biography of a  mystic and revolutionary. Like  similar stories of Jesus, Buddha, or even Moses, the depictions of Mohammed are complex: sexist, bigoted and warlike, his moral lapses cost lives. He is particularly gifted at finding  scapegoats to bind his followers together.  But he also has some remarkable stirring visions and offers a powerful political agenda.

Burning  any book, deemed sacred or secular, is a reprehensible act. Burning a person who may have burned a book is depraved idolatry.  No book is worth a human life.

As expected the modern Afghan legal system turned out to be  a weak vehicle for bringing justice to Farkhunda or her family and friends. One of the problems, besides corruption and favoritism, was finding a person to blame. Whose fist or stone killed her,  who was the inciting agent in her murder, the judges asked, and a lack of clear answer led to limited sentences for the murderers and complictors involved.

Who or what is responsible? A book which sometimes incites violence? A clergy who creates a god out of a man and  his all too human pronouncements and insights? And what about the teachers and true believers who support such a shallow understanding of human  complexity and spiritual brilliance.

Isn’t it time to think more intolerantly about religions (most of them actually) who create a culture so conducive to dangerous scapegoating routines chronicled in this blog?

When  a child of 6, standing next to an unfinished grave was asked who was buried there  , she answered as a naive but programmed ambassador of her community saying: “Her name is Farkhunda. She burned the Quran, so she was punished and she was lynched.”

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