Unanswered questions in Quran burning reports

Have you been following the reports out of Afghanistan after it was learned that Qurans and other holy books had been burned by troops? The story keeps developing. More people have been killed, including NATO troops, and President Obama sent a letter of apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The New York Times has been all over the story and I've generally found the reports useful. But there were two questions that were left unanswered in their stories. Here's the top of yesterday's report:

Armed with rocks, bricks, pistols and wooden sticks, protesters angry over the burning of Korans at the largest American base in Afghanistan this week took to the streets in demonstrations in a half-dozen provinces on Wednesday that left at least seven dead and many more injured.

The fury does not appear likely to abate soon. Members of Parliament called on Afghans to take up arms against the American military, and Western officials said they feared that conservative mullahs might incite more violence at the weekly Friday Prayer, when a large number of people worship at mosques.

“Americans are invaders, and jihad against Americans is an obligation,” said Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a member of Parliament from the Ghorband district in Parwan Province, where at least four demonstrators were killed in confrontations with the police on Wednesday.

Standing with about 20 other members of Parliament, Mr. Khawasi called on mullahs and religious leaders “to urge the people from the pulpit to wage jihad against Americans.”

What's great about this type of reporting is that it shows how the murderous rage over the burning is part of a much larger story about the outside presence in Afghanistan and it shows how members of the government are actively trying to foment that outrage and what not.

But what I've found frustrating is the lack of details about the background. You would think that after however many years in Muslim countries, we'd have our policy toward Koran-burning down. So why in the world were these holy books being burned in the first place? There's nothing in that story that explains it. A previous story explains that "A military official said detainees had been using the books to communicate with each other and potentially incite extremist activity."

A CNN report fleshed that out a little more:

The Qurans were among religious materials removed from a detainee facility at Bagram Airfield. The materials were gathered for disposal and were inadvertently given to troops for burning, Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said Tuesday.

"This was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials," he said. "It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it, we immediately stopped and we intervened."

A military official said the materials were removed from the detainee center's library because they had "extremist inscriptions" on them and there was "an appearance that these documents were being used to facilitate extremist communications."

OK. So my first question is what we're talking about other than Qurans. Then I'd like to know about Muslim pieties regarding each of these texts and whether they vary.

But the biggest question I have is how the military would dispose of Qurans corrupted by "extremist inscriptions" without offense. What is the approved method? Is there for destroying holy books that are facilitating extremist communications? Has anyone seen any reporting on that? Is there an approved method? Is there more than one approved method? Shouldn't reporting on this topic include that information?

Actually, as I was just about to post on this, I see that CNN included part of what I'm asking about in its latest report! I love when that happens:

Afghan religious scholar Anayatullah Baligh said it can be appropriate to burn a damaged Quran to dispose of it, but that it should be done by a Muslim performing the act respectfully.

"I can't tell you whether Americans intentionally burned the copies of the holy Quran to make Muslims angry or if they did it mistakenly," he said, but said their "carelessness" was "a crime they have committed against the holiest book of 2 billion Muslims around the world."

A military official told CNN on Thursday that it was unclear at this point how many Qurans were involved in the improper disposal and accepted that some had been partially burned.

American troops at the base would not have been able to read the texts and that would have contributed to the mistake, the official said, asking not to be named discussing an ongoing investigation.

I'm still curious for more details about proper disposal, but that's helpful to include, don't you think?

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