After the wacky Florida pastor’s Koran burning inspired some excitable locals in Mazar-e-Sharif to murder 7 UN workers, General Petraeus declared the Koran burnings – not the mass murder - “hateful, extremely disrespectful and enormously intolerant”. Earth to the good general, if you want to build a modern nation state out of Afghanistan, you can’t be indulging the country’s most barbaric elements.
I understand what Petraeus is thinking: he believes that insensitivity on our part repels the hearts and minds that our Afghan mission is trying so desperately to woo. While the pastors Koran burnings are not making things easier for him, there is nevertheless a mistake in the good general’s logic: If you want the Afghans on your side, stop sucking up to them. Condemn the murderers; round them up and kill them; and then tell the rest of the Afghans in no uncertain terms that actions committed half-way around the world do not excuse murder and that this kind of behaviour will be put down violently and vigorously in the future. As Osama Bin Laden himself once put it, people gravitate to a strong horse not a weak horse. Craven accommodation is what the weak horse does.
Mark Steyn was quite correct when he opined that the Afghan mission is better off channeling General Charles Napier, who put an end to the custom of suttee in India by declaring:
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
As a result of Great Britain’s 19th century cultural confidence, not only is suttee no longer practiced in India, but India is a modern nation with a 60 year parliamentary tradition, British common law and a developing free market economy. In short, today’s India is an integral part of the civilized world. As far as India is concerned, thank God that the old time Brits weren’t as sensitive as General Petraeus.