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Koran Allegation May Long Resonate

Indonesian women with Korans protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta against alleged abuse of the Muslim holy book at Guantanamo Bay.
Indonesian women with Korans protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta against alleged abuse of the Muslim holy book at Guantanamo Bay. (By Dadang Tri -- Reuters)

Karzai and his aides have said the controversy was deliberately inflamed by "enemies of the government," who include the revived radical Islamic Taliban militia and other former militia factions from several ethnic groups that have hostile relations with Karzai.

"The opposition exploited this opportunity to damage the name of Karzai," said Sayed Amin Mujahid, a political activist and scholar in Kabul. "They are against him allowing American military bases here, so they used the [Koran] issue as an excuse to cause violence and make him look weak."

The reports of Koranic vandalism also reached other Muslim regions, sparking smaller demonstrations in Indonesia and in the Palestinian territories. Analysts in both places said Tuesday that even if relatively few people took to the streets, the allegation had a powerful negative impact.

"The holy book is the word of God, and when the soldiers in Guantanamo did this act . . . it was a provocation for every Muslim," said Adnan Husseini, director of the Islamic Trust in East Jerusalem, which oversees Muslim holy places. "We don't expect this from a civilized country," he added. "This adds another difficult factor before people who believe there is a war against Islam."

In Indonesia, Islamic militants protested Friday and Tuesday in Jakarta and students burned an American flag. Observers said a badminton match with China drew more public attention, but a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said that if the reports of Koranic desecration were proved true, "that would be an insulting and immoral act."

The Koran has such exalted status among Muslims that is it never allowed to touch the ground. It is placed on a high shelf and kissed each time it is opened. Desecrating the Koran is punishable by death in Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other Islamic countries.

"The Koran is supposed to be more important than a life," said one Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "If there is any disrespect for the Koran, whether true or not, people will believe it and feel it very badly."

Because of such feelings, many analysts said that although the initial protests had died down, they doubted the anger over the Guantanamo report would dissipate entirely, even if the allegation was proved untrue.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, said during a visit to New Zealand on Tuesday that Newsweek's retraction would "definitely help" prevent further protests. But in Islamabad, the information minister, Sheik Rashid Ahmed, said the retraction was "not enough," adding that the report "insulted the feelings of all Muslims."

The groundswell of anger has posed a new challenge to Musharraf, who already was under attack from religious hard-liners for his ties to Washington. Pakistani officials were stung last week when a cartoon in the Washington Times depicted a U.S. soldier patting an obedient dog labeled "Pakistan" after the capture of a senior al Qaeda leader. Dogs are considered unclean by many Muslims.

Constable reported from Washington. Correspondents John Ward Anderson in Jerusalem, Alan Sipress in Jakarta and John Lancaster in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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