Extremist propaganda and illiteracy fuel Afghan protests | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 24.02.2012
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Extremist propaganda and illiteracy fuel Afghan protests

At least 12 people were killed in Afghanistan Friday as protests continued to rage over the desecration of the Koran. Observers in the war-torn country say the lack of political education is one reason for the violence.

Afghan men shout anti-US slogans during a demonstration in Jalalabad province

Thousands have poured out onto the streets of Afghanistan, mainly men

Once again thousands of people poured out onto the streets of Afghanistan after Friday prayers. They demonstrated against the US and the Afghan government. Hundreds marched towards the presidential palace in Kabul. They threw rocks and chanted "Death to America and Karzai." At least a dozen people were killed, including two US soldiers.

The Afghan government had already warned of more violence, which has escalated ever since charred copies of the Koran were found at a US air base in Bagram. The demonstrators themselves were also apprehensive of what would happen after Friday prayers.

Ahmad Jawed, a protester from Herat, said it was wrong to respond to the burning of the Koran with violence. "Those who have used violence in the past days are harming the Afghan people. Unfortunately, some politically-motivated groups are exploiting the peaceful intentions.

"We not only condemn the US for the burning of the Koran but also those who are committing crimes in the name of the Koran and its desecration," he stated angrily.

Yunus Fakoor, a political expert in Kabul, said radical religious groups were pouring oil on the fire for their own purposes. "This is not a defense of faith. They are exploiting the religious feelings of people."

Lack of political education

These religious feelings are deeply anchored in Afghan society and many see the desecration of the Koran, the direct word of God, as an attack on their most cherished values. But political scientist Tufan Waziri agreed that these feelings alone cannot explain the current outbreak of emotion and violence.

He blames the lack of political education, which means that incidents such as those in Bagram, which must be condemned, are often misinterpreted or exaggerated. "Education and literacy levels are very low among the Afghan population. People are also very poor and they are disappointed that their living standards have not improved over the past 10 years."

Kabul lies low

As Afghans rise up against the government and the West, the former is keeping a low profile. Little has been done to bring the situation under control; Kabul can only hope it will survive this latest wave of anger intact.

There is currently a lot at stake for Hamid Karzai's government, which is trying to hammer out an agreement over a long-term strategic partnership with Washington. His neighbors in Pakistan and Iran particularly disapprove of the deal and are worried they will not be able to defend their own interests in the region.

However, Ahmad Zia Raf'at from Kabul University doubts that the partnership will be prevented, even if the current demonstrations are boosting Karzai's opponents. "If there is the political will to promote US-Afghan cooperation, then it will be promoted. The protests won't change anything. In a few days, feelings will have cooled down."

However, he also hopes that the US will learn from this situation and stop giving extremists fuel for their propaganda.

Author: Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / act
Editor: Sarah Berning

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