So that’s it then. All done and dusted. Job’s a good ‘un, as we say in England. According to the New York Times, the burning of a Koran by the church of Florida pastor Terry Jones almost a fortnight ago has officially been avenged in an attack by thousands of protestors on a UN compound in Afghanistan which left 12 people dead, including seven UN employees; four Nepalese Gurkha security personnel, a Romanian, a Norwegian and a Swede.
But what the headline - ‘Afghans Avenge Florida Koran Burning, Killing 12’ - and the ensuing story fail to make clear is whether the mob actually left the scene having satisfied themselves that vengeance had indeed been extracted, and that they now considered the matter closed, or whether it’s the Times editorial staff who have rendered that judgment. One suspects the latter, given the perils a US reporter would clearly have faced in attempting to obtain a quote from a member of the enraged crowd who, the Times assures us, first made assiduous efforts to locate Americans to slaughter – which, again, we can only assume is in fact true; no quotes from any official mob spokespersons are offered to support this assertion, so it’s either the product of some kind of mind-meld between the writers in New York and the collective, Borg-like consciousness of the mob, or an fictionalized editorial attempt to exculpate the perpetrators.
According to Merriam Webster, to ‘avenge’ means ‘to take vengeance for, or on behalf of’ or ‘to exact satisfaction for (a wrong) by punishing the wrongdoer’, and the examples they give suggest that it’s generally people that are avenged, not inanimate objects. Indeed, while I like my books as much as the next man, I would consider it at least mildly eccentric to do anything for, or on behalf of, any of them; and if, alternatively, the wanton butchery in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif was intended to exact satisfaction by punishing the wrongdoer, the Afghans missed by a mile; last time I checked, Pastor Jones was safely at home in Gainesville, Florida. Absent a beheaded pastor then, how many of the other random Americans the mob supposedly sought would have sufficed as equivalence? Or how many non-U.S. infidels? How does one weight Asians against Europeans? Gurkhas, courageous warriors whom I had the privilege of serving alongside in Afghanistan, are Hindus; and Scandinavia and Eastern Europe are not known as hotbeds of evangelical Christianity. If more foreign targets had presented themselves at the compound, would they too have been butchered; and if so, would the Times have considered this to be, er, overkill? The Times’ writers fail to show their working, as it were, as to how they were able to declare the Koran burning duly avenged.
But of course it doesn’t matter. Friday, which sees crowds of worshippers pouring out of mosques into the midday heat of the streets, has long been kill-an-infidel day in those parts of the Muslim world where imams are wont to whip their flock into a frenzy at the slightest pretence of a provocation. If such an attack had happened before the supposed Koran burning, the Times would have claimed that it was to ‘avenge’ the victims of NATO airstrikes. If it had happened elsewhere, it would have been a response to the Danish Mohammed cartoons (Denmark, after all, is adjacent to both Sweden and Norway...). Or the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Whatever. In the leftist pathology which exonerates everyone from graffiti artists to Osama Bin Laden by virtue of their relative ‘victim status’, sometimes you’ve just got to lash out – and Afghans, the Times helpfully reminds us, are “reflexively volatile”.
So that’s alright then.