The Lede and the Koran

In an article published in NYT’s The Lede blog by Robert Mackey on the desecration of the Koran by US soldiers, the author ended on an interesting note when it first went online,

After the transcript of NATO Commander Gen. John R. Allen’s apology to the Afghan people, Mackey noted,

While it might seem surprising that the American-led mission continues to have difficulty with ensuring that soldiers are sensitive to this aspect of local culture, it is true that burning revered items can mean something quite different to young men and women educated in the United States. For example, the part of the United States Code that deals with “Respect for the Flag” outlines a litany ways that it should not be displayed, and then concludes: “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

This version of the article was published at 9:51am. The current version of the article, updated at 3.33pm, deletes this offensive paragraph. On the Groundviews Twitter feed, I flagged the initial version of the article to both author and the US Embassy in Colombo.

As an interesting aside, discovered upon tweeting the above that the US Embassy Twitter account in Sri Lanka was largely dormant. After I flagged this, got an assurance from Embassy staff that it would be updated more regularly in the future.

What’s interesting though is that the deleted paragraph can’t now be accessed even via Google Cache.

I left the original story open overnight in a tab, which is how I was able to extract the original text by Mackey. A charitable reading of it suggests that according to the author, American soldiers desecrate Korans because they actually believe this is a way of respecting them, given their US education. It’s ironic that this twisted logic was published in an article anchored to the NATO Commander’s apology to the Afghans. As one of only two comments on the article published to date by J Joshi MD notes,

Mr. Mackay ends with the wrong comparison and the wrong question. The right one should have been: “How should we properly dispose of worn Bibles?”

Mackey’s writing also begs the question whether inflammatory opinion, when published in a masthead like the NYT, helps or hinders favourable public perceptions and conflict transformation in Afghanistan. Based on The Lede’s unofficial motto by T.S. Eliot, it’s clear that Mackey, going by what he wrote in the original of this article, is about the worst poet imaginable.

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