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[Editorial] Religious bigotry

At a small church in Florida, a 12-man “jury” picked from its members handed down a “guilty” verdict on the Quran. The Islamic holy book was then soaked in kerosene for an hour before it was set on fire. The mock trial had every ingredient of a comedy or a voodoo ritual.

That little mischief had grave consequences, however. It touched off fierce protests in the Muslim world. In Afghanistan a score of people have been killed in riots in at least three cities and further bloodshed is feared as protests continue. The dead included seven U.N. workers from Nepal, Norway, Romania and Sweden.

A pastor named Terry Jones threatened last year to burn hundreds of copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks last year. In the face of international outrage and appeals, he canceled the plan, but he eventually presided over the Quran burning event on March 20.

Why Afghanistan was the first to react in the Arab world can be explained by President Hamid Karzai’s reckless mentioning of the incident in the U.S., which Afghan people were largely unaware of. In a public address, the Afghan president condemned the Quran burning four days after it took place, demanding that the American pastor be brought to justice.

It could be a political ploy of Karzai to seek a process of reconciliation with the Taliban insurgents. He has recently sharpened criticism of the international community for what he calls ineffective aid activities and expressed distrust in the U.S. and NATO forces for causing civilian casualties in their ground and air operations.

But Karzai is not solely to blame; his Muslim faith is more important to him than his position as an American-supported president of a strongly nationalistic and religious people, confronting fundamentalist forces. U.S. President Obama condemned the act of “extreme intolerance and bigotry” in his country and deplored the bloody attacks in Afghanistan in reaction to the Quran burning.

Obama appealed to people the world over to draw upon the common humanity beyond their different religions. Away from the fires and smoke in the scenes of protest in Afghanistan and elsewhere, we still can find hope in reported acts of broader minds. Some Christian groups in the U.S. asked their members to read the Quran to promote international understanding. An American Muslim group designated Sept. 11 as “love Jesus day.” Jesus is a messenger of God in Islam.

Religions in the civilized world stand for love, peace and tolerance. In churches, temples, mosques and synagogues, believers are told to love their neighbors and they pray for peace in their immediate communities as well as at the global level. The trouble is that each religion has a dose of fanaticism that practices just the opposite.

Here in Korea, a general equilibrium has been maintained among the major faiths of Buddhism, Protestantism and Catholicism. Yet problems arise when politics is mixed with religion and when overzealous religionists try to intrude, sometimes literally, into the realms of other religions. But, fortunately, individual extremism, if any, is effectively restrained by strong societal disapproval. May good reason prevail in religious activities everywhere.