printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Qu'ran Desecration in Afghanistan

Haris Tarin, Director of the Washington, D.C. Office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council
Washington, DC
February 23, 2012

2:00 P.M. EST


MODERATOR: Thank you all for joining us today and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have with us Mr. Haris Tarin. He is the director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He’s going to talk to us a little bit about the incidents in Afghanistan regarding the Qu’ran desecrations. So I will turn it over to him. He’ll make some opening comments, and then we’ll open it up for questions.

MR. TARIN: Great. Well, thank you so much for having me. I just wanted to start off by just a few remarks in terms of what the incident, the response from the ISAF forces, and an overall conversation about the narrative that I hope to engage with you all in.

First, as a representative of the Muslim American community or someone who does engage on issues pertaining to Islam and Muslims in the public square, we completely understand that this was an unfortunate incident. The burning of any sacred text, especially a sacred text of the people that we’re – that ISAF forces are seeking to protect and to engage and to build a better society with and develop, but the burning of the holy Qu’ran is something extremely problematic. It’s unfortunate that it happened, even if it was a mistake, if it was – if proper policies and procedures were not followed. It is something unfortunate, and we at the Muslim Public Affairs Council and many leaders in the Muslim American community see this as something that’s really problematic, that strikes at the core of the identity of a lot of Afghans who are proud Afghans, proud Muslims. And it’s unfortunate.

And so that’s a conversation that we had this morning with senior officials at the Pentagon that we met with. We conveyed that sentiment from the Muslim American community, from our organizations. It was myself and a few other individuals and imams who talked about the unfortunate nature of the incident. But we also were heartened by the fact that there was a quick response from the various levels of the ISAF forces and our government as well to address the issue. General Allen, Secretary Panetta, and even President Obama today, who called President Karzai and apologized and really addressed the issue head-on. And the fact that General Allen was meeting with the scholars with Ulema Council and conveyed his sincere and deep apologies – we were heartened that our government, that the Pentagon and the ISAF forces, moved quickly to address the situation.

And that’s something that we, to be very frank, hadn’t seen previously. In a lot of different instances that had taken place, which were also unfortunate, there was not a quick response and there was not an acknowledgement of hurt that was caused, because there was a definite hurt, there was definite insensitivities, and – but the fact that our government and ISAF forces at various levels really considered and acknowledged that there was hurt caused and that the Afghan people – that this was offensive to the Afghan people and that they would put in procedures and policies to address this and to ensure that something like this does not happen again. So were heartened by that.

And our suggestion was that this be made public, that the international community know that there’s a regret and that there’s an apology that comes from the highest levels of our government, of the Administration, to the Afghan people, to the Muslim community, and also the Muslim American community, the Afghan American community. I mean, we have a very strong and vibrant American Muslim and Afghan American community who was hurt by this incident and previous incidents, but who were looking for our – for leadership and ensuring that stuff like this, incidents like this, does not happen in the future, and that there’s policies and procedures that are followed by ISAF forces and in coordination with local Afghan institutions and forces to ensure that incidents like this are not repeated.

So that’s generally our position as an institution, as an organization. These were very unfortunate incidents. But I think that the way that the Pentagon has responded, that ISAF forces have responded, is positive. As I said, previously, they were a bit slower, they were a bit sluggish in their apologies and the condemnation and holding people accountable. And this is a good sign that things are moving forward and that there’s a way – there’s a – that the conversations actually impact policy and procedures as well.

So I’ll open it up.

MODERATOR: We will start the question-and-answer period. Please state your name and your organization, and we’ll start with Iftikhar.

QUESTION: Thank you much. I’m Iftikhar, I work for Voice of America Pashto service. That broadcast goes to the border region of Pakistan. My question is that you met with the Pentagon official today, this morning, and you had a discussion.

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: Apart from the apologies and – that come from President Obama and also from the ISAF commander there, what other steps they were thinking to bring down the heightened tension in Afghanistan?

MR. TARIN: I think – a few things that they mentioned to us. The first was, of course, President Obama, today, called President Karzai and relayed his public apology. General Allen, again, met with the Ulema Council before jumu’ah prayer. I know the concern is that jumu’ah prayer is coming and that people – and I think there might be political forces that might use this incident to really rile people up and to get people out into the streets, beyond just the very sincere concerns that the Afghan people have.

But General Allen said that he will – he has met with the Ulema Council. There was meetings with the parliament, and there was also a public recognition that there will be an investigation into the whole incident, how it happened, where the policies and procedures that were in place went wrong, why these individuals did not dispose of them in a way that was congruent with the policies and procedures set by ISAF forces. Because these incidents had happened before. And we had been in conversations with the Pentagon even when some of these incidents took place in Guantanamo Bay. And so after the Guantanamo Bay incidents, there were policies and procedures on how to handle sacred text on the ground. And so they agreed and they committed that there would be an investigation and that investigation would hopefully yield some answers.

But I think that and the fact that they’re – President Obama, Secretary Panetta, General Allen very publicly are meeting with counterparts and folks in parliament and with civil society members – that was another key issue, was meeting – our recommendation was to not only to meet with government officials but to meet with civil society members in Afghanistan, with religious leaders, with civic leaders, with people on the ground, who can engage their – the people who are – the congregations who are coming to prayers and who are coming to – who are concerned and who have very valid and sincere concerns. So our recommendation was that civil society should be also heavily engaged.

QUESTION: I’m Ibrahim Nasser with Voice of America, Afghanistan service. Since you are not representing a government here --

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- so you are representing the Muslim community and an organization which is a Muslim organization.

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: So let’s go into discussing why this happened, why was this big reaction to this incident, which was not seen by even ordinary Afghans. It was just reported by somebody to a few people who reported this to ordinary Afghans, and there was this huge reaction to it. Have we ever seen a reaction to this kind of incident anywhere in the history in the Muslim world, I mean, starting from Indonesia all the way to Morocco, where a sacred book has been thrown out with other papers by mistake?

MR. TARIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: And have we ever seen a reaction like this anywhere else in history? Isn’t it because that politics is being played on this thing, starting from a few other incidents, where Salman Rushdie was threatened and there was no reaction to it and they were kept quiet, silent? And then the cartoon issue emerged, and there was a reaction in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A few people started playing politics and to a just minor thing like a cartoon of a prophet. And then we have this incident, where it hasn’t been seen by ordinary Afghans, but just a few people came up. They said, “Well, we have heard that books were thrown, holy books were thrown with other papers, and they were not properly disposed.”

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, it happens – in my view, because I grew up in that region --

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- we threw papers everyday from schools, from madrasahs, from mosques. We have never seen that people – somebody has found a few pages and his reaction is demonstrations. In my view, it is politics being played. What do you think about it?

MR. TARIN: Well, I mean, there’s no question – and I mentioned this in my opening remarks. There’s no question that there are political forces that are taking advantage of the – of a volatile situation that happened on the ground. I mean, it was an incident that happened, whether out of – whether by mistake, out of ignorance, policies or procedures not being followed. There’s no question that there are people on the ground who are – who don’t necessarily represent the people of Afghanistan, or the voice of the people of Afghanistan, who want to rile up and want protests to happen, demonstrations to happen, to then benefit from the political kind of upheaval that takes place. I mean, I do agree. I think when something happens – especially when the ISAF forces admitted that it was a mistake and then, from what we were told this morning, actually took the remaining, the unburned portions of the text and then gave them to the proper religious authorities to dispose of them and to really look after them, I think that there was a sincere attempt by ISAF forces to address this.

But there’s no question that there’s entities in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in the region who will use this incident for political propaganda. And I think that’s where we come in, the voices of reason, and the – to say we need to go beyond that. We need to be able to recognize that that political reality is there. We are in a situation where there’s violence, there’s political strife, there’s international power dynamics that are taking place, and that’s why we – from a Muslim American perspective, I would hope that my government and the Pentagon and the ISAF forces are held to a higher standard so that issue – thing – incidents like this don’t take place and give excuse for political factors on the ground to be used against us and against the Afghan people.

So I definitely agree that there are political forces at play here, but then the voices of reason need to come out and say, “Listen. Yes, if there was – this incident was a mistake, but the sanctity of life is a lot more important than even the sanctity of a written holy text.” I mean, in the Islamic tradition, although the holy texts are an extremely important part of our identity, but life – human life – is even so much more important. And from an Islamic perspective, human life is beyond any sacred symbol. Even though it is a sacred symbol, but human blood and human life – and the fact that there’s been loss of life, of innocent life in this, is just horrific and tragic. And I think that’s what the noble people of Afghanistan need to think about, the fact that there are political forces at play and they should not fall prey to those political forces, and that the sanctity of life and also the rebuilding of Afghanistan needs to be a priority beyond just political rhetoric that takes place.

QUESTION: I mean, as I said – I mean, just gave a few examples, isn’t it becoming a tradition that anything that happens now, that even get – does not even get close to disrespect to Islam.

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: And the Muslim world erupts and it gives a message to the world – to the non-Muslim world and the Muslim world alike that you don’t have to touch anything that is even close to Islam. And thanks to the generals and the Obama Administration. They said, “Okay. We are sorry.” But isn’t it the responsibility of Muslim organizations to come up and say, “Well, this is not something that huge that people should come out to the street, demonstrate, do demonstrations, and burn shops, and kill themselves and kill other people”? For last days we have been seeing, I mean, just destruction in Afghanistan, and we are not seeing any Muslim organization coming up to say, “Well, okay. They said sorry.” But why is it this big reaction to something that was – that happened by mistake?

MR. TARIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: And where people don’t know how people – how they dispose Islamic books, and we have seen that, as I said, before. We used to dispose books in a way, but if it was not done, nobody would react to it. We never saw any reaction to the extent of going and doing demonstrations and killing people and dying themselves.

MR. TARIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why is the Muslim world silent on that reaction, particularly the Muslim organizations that are sitting here in the United States?

MR. TARIN: I mean --

QUESTION: Why aren’t they addressing the other side that, well, this reaction is unjustified?

MR. TARIN: Right. Well, I think our statement has been very clear. We’ve said that, yes, this might be hurtful, this is hurtful to the sentiments of the Afghan people, but we’ve said that the sanctity of life overrules everything else. And if the people want to express themselves freely, I think that freedom of expression is extremely important. If people want to express themselves freely in a democracy, they should do it in a way that’s nonviolent and that does not cause hurt and harm to themselves and to people around them. If people want to demonstrate, if people want to speak up and say that something has harmed them or hurt them or hurt their sensitivities, they have every right to do that, but to do it in a way that is legal and that does not cause violence and destruction, as you said.

I would take issue to say that the – every time that there’s an incident, whether it’s the cartoon incident, whether it’s a Qu’ran burning incident, that the Muslim world erupts. I don’t agree that the Muslim world erupts. I think that there are forces within many of the Muslim majority countries who take advantage of the very – of the political nature of these issues. And there’s no question that the U.S. and the ISAF forces are in Afghanistan and that they’re dealing with political realities, they’re dealing with military realties, they’re seen as forces who are – who have invaded a nation, and so political forces within the society take advantage of incidents like these to then rile people up and stir conversations and stir disruption.

So that’s why I said on our end, as an American, I would up that my country and the Pentagon has a higher standard to ensure that incidents like this on our part do not take place or that there is no excuse for the political rhetoric that comes out from the other side. And so – and I think there’s a lot of voices, whether it’s been the religious authorities in places like Al-Azhar University, various religious entities in the Muslim world, whether it was around the Danish cartoons, whether it was around Salman Rushdie, I mean, we – when the Salman Rushdie incident happened, our organization – this was back in the late ’80s – our organization said that the fatwa that was given on his life was completely ridiculous, it was erroneous. A person has a freedom of speech, and if you want to counter that freedom of speech – and of course what he said was ugly, was problematic, was unfortunate, but living in a pluralistic society we have to learn how to deal with various sides of a spectrum.

So I think there’s been responsible parties in this as well. The rector of Al-Azhar University, during the Danish cartoons, came out and said no, that violence is unacceptable. Okay, if he hurt sensitivities, if – what he did was problematic and ugly, yet there’s a way to respond to that that is in Islamic tradition that addresses the – allows for freedom of expression but addresses the argument and the claim, not violence, not destruction. And I think the rector of Azhar, even with a recent incident that took place, where one – a Saudi young person, a Saudi, said something about the Prophet – peace be upon him – the head of Azhar came out and said this person should not be charged, but this person should be spoken to and talked to about the life of the Prophet, not necessarily charged by a court of law.

And those voices are there in the Muslim world. I think because they’re not as sensationalistic and the media, unfortunately, does not cover those voices when they do speak, they’ll cover the voices of the few people who will cause destruction and cause havoc and violence. So those voices are always there. It’s just a matter of making sure that those voices are heard as well.

MODERATOR: Let’s see if anyone else has a question.

QUESTION: I’m probably going to go to the other side of the spectrum and ask –

MODERATOR: Can I ask you your name?

QUESTION: Oh, yes. Ayesha Tanzeem, and I’m also with Voice of America, Urdu Service. We have a lot of Voice of America here, too. I’m just going to move to the other side and say do you think that violence and the reaction, the really violent reaction, despite the quick response and the apology at the highest levels, is indicative of a deeper problem in Afghanistan? Is there something else going on here?

MR. TARIN: I think it’s indicative of a deeper problem in the region, not in Afghanistan only. I think that there’s no secret that the U.S. is dealing with various factors and players in the region, whether it’s Pakistan, whether it’s the Taliban, whether it’s the Afghan Government, whether it’s other interests in the region. Of course, there are issues. And we are a country and the U.S. is a government that’s an occupying force in a nation, and there are realities to that political situation. So of course there are deeper problems. But I think that incidents like these are used by various political forces to incite and to cause more problem and destruction in the region.

So that’s why I will say – I always say voices of reason must be able to come out openly and in public and have this conversation in a way that makes sense, that goes beyond just the rhetoric. Because the initial demonstration was about – is a few hundred people, close to 2,000 people. And I hope that the Afghan civil society, Afghan Government, and religious establishment will be able to engage its constituents in local communities to say that this is not something – I mean, if you want to demonstrate after Friday prayer, that’s – everybody has the right to freely express themselves, but to do it in a way that is peaceful and to do it in a way where the sanctity of human life does not – is not crossed.

QUESTION: If I may just follow up, while we know that the U.S. officials are talking to Karzai and other officials in Afghanistan, are Muslim organizations like yours in touch with any Muslim leaders in Afghanistan to discuss these issues and present this side?

MR. TARIN: Not on this specific issue as of yet. I mean, the – on various other issues, we’ll talk to international Muslim communities, whether there’s meetings in Europe and there’s meetings in various parts of the world (inaudible). But on this specific issue, there hasn’t been any outreach to Afghan civil society leaders as of yet. But I think that was one of the conversations that came out of this morning’s meeting with folks at Department of Defense was engaging – having Muslim and Afghan Americans engage civil society in Afghanistan, and I think that’s – in a few days, we will see that, and I’m sure you’ll hear of that as well.

QUESTION: So – I’m sorry, I know that somebody else wanted to ask a question. Just to follow up, but then going back to his question, aren’t you guys – while the Pentagon and the State Department have been very quick with their response, aren’t you guys kind of taking your time reaching out in a critical situation like this?

MR. TARIN: Well, I mean, we’ve been very – our position – our role is not to do the job of our government. (Laughter.) Our job is to ensure that our message as a community is heard. So what we’ve done is we’ve been very – I mean, we’ve been very open with our message, with our statement, with our positions on this. But we – I mean, to actually go into Afghanistan and engage civil society members and government officials, that is the job of our government. And if we engage government – our government officials who see an opportunity to do that, we’ll definitely do that. But at this point, our mandate is to ensure that our community understands the issue, the message, and it’s in the proper context.

MODERATOR: I’ll go here and then I’ll get you, Beth.

QUESTION: Hi, Ali Imran from Associated Press of Pakistan. My question is kind of continuing Ayesha’s point. I understand these are isolated incidents, but they do occur from time to time.

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: And did you previously reach out or advise the – both the governments, Kabul and Washington, how to proceed and sensitize the troops there – American troops – to local culture, and also to the Afghan Government to do its part in --

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible)?

MR. TARIN: That’s a very good question. Yes, we have. Like I mentioned before in my opening remarks, when the – when one – when the incident happened with the desecration of holy text in Guantanamo Bay, there was not only the Muslim American community, but the interfaith community in the U.S. met with DOD officials. Our president actually had visited Guantanamo Bay and seen some of the conditions. And we definitely had advised the government agencies to be – especially DOD – to be sensitive about the religious issues and cultural issues that were – of the inmates and of the – of communities at large.

But what we heard that was reassuring this morning from a DOD official was that the Secretary did order retraining of the forces who were going into Afghanistan, and I think that’s extremely important. We have worked with government agencies to ensure that training is something that is done properly. That’s not only an issue in Afghanistan and Pakistan; we have law enforcement training that needs to be done here in the U.S. regarding – as it pertains to Islam and Muslims. So we’re working on that as well.

But what was heartening was to hear that the Secretary had ordered that right away, that all forces going into Afghanistan would be trained, whether it’s cultural or religious sensitivities. And I think that something that’s ongoing and that we’ve been talking to folks at the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the FBI, because there’s both a domestic and international component to that.

QUESTION: Does (inaudible)?

MR. TARIN: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is again to follow up. Beth Mendelson, also with Voice of America. It has been a frontline international story for almost three days now and everybody’s come out with their apologies. This is not, as you said, the first time this has happened.

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: What if the story doesn’t go away? What if the apologies aren’t enough? What happens if you start seeing swelling groups of protestors, you start seeing insurgents joining on the bandwagon? What is the contingency? There must have been some talk about what is the strategy moving forward. And then again, if you go into this situation where you have this investigation and something comes forth in the investigation and that again incites people, what is the long-term strategy about how to handle this?

MR. TARIN: I think that question you probably have to ask the ISAF forces on the ground in Afghanistan. I’m not on the ground and --

QUESTION: But from your – but as a Muslim, (inaudible) what you would do?

MR. TARIN: Right. As a Muslim American, I think the – and this is what we – that – what we advised folks this morning, was that there needs to be a continuous and very public conversation about this. That’s the issue. We can’t have this incident happen, apologies take place, and then it’s kind of shoved under the rug after that. I think that it needs to be – and that’s why we suggested a town – a series of town hall meetings with Afghan Americans, with civil society leaders, engagement with civil society leaders.

And this – a conversation that’s very public about it, I think, because beyond just, like – beyond just the political forces, it’s the Afghan people who need to be reassured that their identity and their cultural sensitivities and their religious sensitivities are taken into consideration. And if the Afghan people understand that, I think that’s the most – for me, being a Muslim American Afghan, I think if the Afghan people understand that well, then that’s the most important thing for me.

QUESTION: Yeah. These are incidents – I mean, when that happens, we can see them from the political perspective, but from the military perspective – bringing it to the whole military training, I suppose you might not be there or you’re not supposed to speak on behalf of the Pentagon. But do you know what kind of steps in the manual – the training manual you think that are very necessary to be part of? They have a very mature manual – the U.S. military. There have been to wars --

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- and they might be aware of it. But is there any fine-tuning to specifics?

MR. TARIN: I’m not aware of the details of the manual – the policies and procedures. But from the conversations that we’ve had and from what it seems is that these individuals who actually engaged in disposing of these texts were not following any policies and procedures. I think that’s generally what we see, what – they were not necessarily following any procedures. And that’s part of the investigation, is: Were they following procedures? If not, if the procedures they were following must have some type of problem, and those then need to be addressed. And I think that’s what General Allen (ph) said.

And for us, what we always advise both domestically and internationally is when you have policies and procedures, there must be experts who help in the development of these policies. There must be religious scholars, there must be academics, there must be civil society members who sit around a table, whether with military folks or government folks, to then be able to advise them. We had the same – a lot of the same issues with FBI training domestically. And we’ve been in conversations with the FBI and with the Department of Justice to ensure that there’s academics, that there’s experts, that there’s scholars who are looking at a lot of the curriculum and then making judgments as to what is sensitive and what is not.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) come back to it.

QUESTION: Just a quick question: Is there Dari (inaudible). Do you (inaudible) Dari?

MR. TARIN: I speak a little bit of Dari, but --

QUESTION: Because it will be connected. Maybe later on at the end, because we want to have his comment on the local language for TV with (inaudible) the audience, yeah.

MODERATOR: Sure. For the transcript, he needs English, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Let me just ask this one. I just want to come back to – it’s really beyond my understanding. I just want to really understand this issue. It’s not just American soldiers who are dealing or will be dealing with the religious text. People from one end of the world to the other end of the world – Muslim, non-Muslims, billions of them deal with religious text, Muslim religious text every day in schools, in homes, in madrassas, in mosques, in universities, colleges. Everywhere, you deal with text. And every day, there will be incident where Muslim religious text will be thrown somewhere by somebody.

If we justify this, that there was a reason that there should have been demonstrations on this because American soldiers threw this text, wouldn’t provide justification to people every day that there will be a demonstration because somewhere in the world by somebody, religious text was thrown?

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: If this is a cause of – if this justifies these demonstrations. So wouldn’t there be demonstrations every day, everywhere in the Muslim world and then in (inaudible)?

MR. TARIN: Yeah – no, there’s no question that religious texts and Islamic texts are handled by – and a lot of times mishandled by people. There’s no – by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

QUESTION: I don’t think there will be a single day where religious text will not be thrown by somebody --

MR. TARIN: Yeah. But I – yeah, I completely agree with you on that. I – but I don’t think that is the point. The point here is that we – in Afghanistan, you’re dealing with a very sensitive social and political environment……


Qu’ran 30-40 * donna

The point here is that we in Afghanistan, you’re dealing with a very sensitive social and political environment. And when forces that are foreign, the ISAF forces, are seen even unintentionally dealing – not being competent in how they deal with those sensitivities and with those texts, that’s where the problem comes in. And so of course there’s – I mean, whether it’s in the U.S. or the Muslim world or the non-Muslim world, all types of religious texts are desecrated, and at times unintentionally.

QUESTION: So we can say it’s not a religious thing, it’s political, because if it’s set up by somebody else somewhere else, it won’t be any –

MR. TARIN: Of course, it has political dynamics. I mean, we’re clear that it has political dynamics to the conversation. But – and – but at the same time, there are people on the ground, whether – there are some people who use it as a political justification, but there are others who sincerely are hurt by it. And when you live in a democracy or a fledgling democracy or a democracy that you want to establish, where people have the right to demonstrate and to say things and to do things that are within the, of course, bounds of law, we have to accept that people will then express themselves in ways that we might not agree with, as long as that’s – that’s why our statement has been if people want to express themselves, they have the right to express themselves, but please express yourselves in a way that human life is preserved and within the bounds of the law.


QUESTION: You said you’re Afghan American, right?

MR. TARIN: Correct.

QUESTION: My name is Syed. I am a freelance journalist from Afghanistan.

MR. TARIN: Great.

QUESTION: And usually when we meet Afghan Americans, in the last 20 years they have been trying to justify the American policies in Afghanistan.

MR. TARIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: And it’s the first time I meet a religious person from Afghan American community who is talking about the American foreign policy, like inside (inaudible) American claims to be, and they learn a lot of tolerance in this country. There are also a lot of sensitive issues, like for example I was talking to journalists about this play, Mountain Jews, in New York City, where they show Mohammed, peace be upon him, as a rapist. And I watched this play myself, and there American Muslim where they just shocked and they left the theater. So do you also by some time from time to make – you raise the issue to media inside the United States, or just trying to justify the American policies?

MR. TARIN: We don’t justify American policies. We’re an independent of – I mean, we’re an American institution. We’re Muslim. We’re American. But we’re a nonprofit institution and we’re not – we’re in a nongovernmental institution, so it is not my role, it is not my job, to justify the policies of my government. Just there might be policies of my government that I agree with, but just as there are that I agree with, there’s many policies of my government that I disagree with as well. And whether it’s domestic or foreign policy, there’s many policies that I disagree with.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) raised media –

MR. TARIN: Of course, of course. That’s what my organization does.

QUESTION: The Mountain Jews, this was, like, a well-known play in New York City.

MR. TARIN: Right. I mean --

QUESTION: Do you –

MR. TARIN: I don’t know about – I don’t know specifically about that play. You can – if you bring it up to me, I can definitely look at it.

QUESTION: And the Foreign Press Center introduced this thing, announcement in New York City.

MR. TARIN: Interesting.

QUESTION: We were invited journalists there.

MR. TARIN: Interesting.

QUESTION: I mean, we did meet – I –

MR. TARIN: It hasn’t been part of the – I mean, to be very honest with you, it hasn’t been a very kind of highlighted feature in the U.S. media. I mean, the U.S. media has not covered it at all. But if we can talk after, if you’d give me some details, I’d be willing, definitely willing, to look at it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: We have time for just two more questions.

QUESTION: I have one – the last question for me.

MODERATOR: We’ll go here and then here. Okay. Thomas.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask –

MR. TARIN: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean – I’m Thomas Gorguissan from Al Tahrir newspaper in Egypt.

MR. TARIN: Great.

QUESTION: And it’s – definitely it’s to deal with the sacred text is something that (inaudible) unacceptable (inaudible) --

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- in history like that. I’m just trying to clarify, because as long as you met the officials today, first of all, there is no clear – I mean, I’m trying to figure out what brought the text or let’s say the books, somewhere that the Americans, they have to dispose of them. And still it’s not clear for me (inaudible).

MR. TARIN: Sure.

QUESTION: Are these texts used by the Americans or it was in the base or they took it from somewhere? And it was Qu’ran and – or just Islamic texts or Islamic texts and Qu’ran?

MR. TARIN: Sure.

QUESTION: And you used words – you say to – it was clear that to retrain – retrain.

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, already I mean it’s supposed to be within two years we are supposed to be out of Afghanistan. I mean, already 10 years. I mean (inaudible) what?

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, if it’s this – and then in your answer to the other question, we figure out that there was no clear, let’s say, guidance for the people how to deal with these things or any other things, sensitive (inaudible) cultural (inaudible) sensitivity.

MR. TARIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: So to make it short and clear, how these books were there?

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: And how – who are these people who are dealing with it? I know it’s (inaudible) probably now it’s under investigation, but did you know anything about the nature of the books and how it came to be disposed by the American soldiers or –

MR. TARIN: Sure, sure. On the past point, I’ll start with the guidance, the guidance that the military gives to its soldiers and to its forces. I would suggest that you ask the Pentagon folks to see if you can – if those are unclassified or you can get those documents. I mean, I would hope that you can engage some of the folks at the Pentagon and see if they can give you copies of those guidances.

The first question on how it took place, from what I’m aware of is that there are holding cells that are for a lot of the inmates that come to some of these air bases and detainees, and so in the holding cells there is – there’s places for prayer, for worship, for reading of their religious texts. And so these were some of the religious texts --

QUESTION: Leftovers (ph)?

MR. TARIN: Yes. These were some of the religious texts.


QUESTION: Is the Parwan detention facility where the –

MR. TARIN: Right. Exactly.

QUESTION: -- a lot of detainees, they hold on to their religion books?

MR. TARIN: That’s right.

QUESTION: And they write a lot of words in it.

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: They can add – they write a lot of words in it and (inaudible) text and Qu’ran (inaudible) so they took them away and they disposed them in (inaudible) location?

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: They’re trying –

MR. TARIN: So there was – like she said, there was – it was a holding cell. There was inmates who had used these materials and they had written certain messages in them. And wasn’t – I’m not privy to what type of messages were written in them, but these were taken away from the inmates and they were supposed to be disposed of.

Now, that’s where the problem happened. Once these texts were taken, how they were disposed of is the whole question and the problem. Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a quick question – oh, I’m sorry.


QUESTION: I am the last one.

MODERATOR: We’re going to go here, and you’ll have the last question.

QUESTION: From your comments, I have (inaudible) you are probably trying to say that these incidents and the follow have something to do with the larger political question which can be addressed through efforts towards (inaudible) probably at political level through enlightened discourse. Is it correct?

MR. TARIN: I mean, that’s part of – the purpose of our organization is to have that discourse publicly. I’m not saying that the solution politically on the ground is to have an enlightened interfaith conversation. I don’t think that’s the political --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TARIN: Yeah, yeah. But I think --

QUESTION: The larger context.

MR. TARIN: The larger context. I think the narrative – yes, there needs to be a narrative out there that these issues need to be discussed in a way that’s civil, where we can actually hold people accountable, yet at the same time express ourselves freely. So – and can do that with various groups. I mean, tomorrow we’ll have a – what came out of our discussions is tomorrow a few different groups will be holding at the Adams Center, which is a mosque in Sterling, Virginia, a conversation to – with Pentagon officials to come and clarify what had happened and clarify – and also deliver the apologies that General Allen and some of the other folks at the Pentagon made.

And there will be chaplains, Muslim chaplains and Christian and Jewish chaplains in the military to also in presence hopefully to be able to say listen, in the U.S. we have a long history of respecting religious texts. I mean, Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, had a copy of the Qu’ran that he held in his personal library, and he held it in esteem. And our first Muslim member of Congress used that same text to then swear his entry into the U.S. Congress.

So we are able to have these conversations, we can have disagreements, but we need to have them in a way that allows for a very positive discourse.


QUESTION: Okay. My question is that you already answered it. Despite all the apologies from Obama and all the officials, still the anger is there and the protest continues. So what’s your advice for that?

Then I ask the question in Dari, if you can answer in Dari, will be --

MR. TARIN: Maybe after?


MR. TARIN: Yeah.


MR. TARIN: Yeah. Sounds great.


MR. TARIN: So – but she was asking in Dari, so we can keep that for afterwards or we can go on to --

QUESTION: After? Okay. All right. So I have another question. Since you’re representing Afghan American Muslims here, so do you think Afghans here are kind of also they are watching media? So maybe the coverage is so big on this event (inaudible).

MR. TARIN: Right, right.

QUESTION: So it might affect also Afghans --

MR. TARIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- if something similar happens there. So how would you go and advise, and what’s to be the solution for the – if the protests reach out beyond Afghan borders?

MR. TARIN: I think the Afghan American community, speaking to some of the leaders this morning, and since yesterday I’ve been speaking to some of the Afghan American leaders, they – I mean, they have the same perspective. Yes, there are – they understand that sensitivities were hurt, but at the same time there needs to be a civil discourse and dialogue, and that people who are – and that there are – and Afghan American leaders are very aware – very, very aware – that there are political forces who can take advantages of incidents like this. And so they’ve been talking to people, they’ve been talking to communities and to leaders and to their congregations and saying let’s talk about – they’ll be there tomorrow at the Adams Center. Let’s talk about this in a way that’s respectful to ensure that the apology is there, but that this does not bring instability – greater instability to Afghanistan. Yeah.

MODERATOR: We’ll end it there. We want to thank you, Mr. Haris, for your time.

MR. TARIN: Thank you.

MODERATOR: And thank you all.

# # #