Afghanistan and the Olympic Fires of Terry Jones

Karl has asked me to respond

to the attack on our staff in Mazar-i-Sharif,

and this is what I have to say.

UN staff and others have been killed before

in Afghanistan. Today’s attack wasn’t the first,

nor would it be the last.

The killers were ordinary residents of a city

we all thought was peaceful enough

to be the first place to be transferred to Afghan security.

The men who broke into the UN compound,

sparked fires and killed eight people

weren’t Taliban.

They weren’t henchmen of a brutal warlord,

or sworn affiliates of a murderous Alqaeda squad.

They weren’t members of a criminal gang.

They weren’t even armed when the protests began.

These were friendly people,

who took weapons from UN guards

who in turn became their first victims.

UN staff and others have been killed before

in Afghanistan. But this was very different.

Foreigners who committed themselves

to assist in rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan

have long accepted that they might die

at the hands of warring parties,

but this sort of violence from ordinary citizens

is not what we factored into our dreams.

Tonight, the governor of Balkh Province

has told the international media that the men

who sacked the UN compound

were Taliban infiltrators.

This is a far stretch from the truth.

Local clerics drove around the city yesterday

with megaphones, and called on residents

to protest the actions of a small group

of attention-seeking Americans.

Then, during today’s protest, one cleric announced

that not just one, but hundreds of Korans

had been burned in America.

A throng of enraged men rushed to the gates

of the UN compound, determined to draw blood.

Had the attackers been gunmen,

they would have been killed or repulsed

before they could breach the compound.

I was sharing a meal with fellow aid workers

when I heard the news. Then all of a sudden

phones began to buzz.

Security officers demanded that my friends return

to their compounds with immediate effect.

Cars were already on their way retrieve them.

Lockdown was in effect.

This is not the beginning of the end:

It’s effectively the end of the international

community in Afghanistan.

Terry Jones and others may continue

to pull anti-Islam stunts and opportunistic extremists

here will use those actions

to incite attacks against foreigners.

Unless we want our guards to fire

on unarmed protesters from now on,

the day has come for us to leave Afghanistan.

And none should ask

what would happen when we leave.

jd somgait

*Found poem on the attack of UN Workers in a UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, following Terry Jones burning of the Koran.