In the United States, as I related at "Amazon.com's Koran Desecration Problem," being accused of desecrating the Koran can lose you book sales. But the same accusation has much more dire consequences in Pakistan, as Yousaf Masih, an illiterate Christian man who does cleaning for the Pakistani military, recently discovered. According to WorldNetDaily.com, Masih was working in the home of a military officer near Peshawar, on the morning of June 28 when he came across a bag of papers that the officer instructed him to take outside and burn. As Masih followed these orders, others recognized the papers as pages of the Koran. Realizing what this could mean, Masih rushed off to his home. At 3 p.m., the police came to his house and arrested Masih. They were followed by a group of angry Muslims who beat Masih's three sons. That night about 10 p.m., a crowd looted and burned an estimated 200 houses belonging to Christians.
Then there is the story of a plastic shopping bag filled with burned Korans that turned up on June 11 near the front door of the Islamic Center of Blacksburg, Virginia. The Council on American-Islamic Relations immediately went into gear and issued a press release darkly muttering about "a possible hate crime," while its local director of civil rights grandly stated that "A redoubled commitment to freedom of thought and religious diversity is the best response to the burning of any sacred text." The incident attracted much attention, including tsk-tsking from columnists like the Washington Post's Colbert King.
Well, appearances deceived. Joe Eaton broke the story in the Roanoke Times today that the Korans in question belonged to a local Muslim, a student at Virginia Tech whose house caught fire in 2004 and who left the burned scriptures at the mosque hoping that they would be properly disposed of there. Apparently, a note he had attached the bag blew away. After the case made headlines and he realized it concerned him, he informed the police of his role in this benign incident. The police noted that the Koran was in Arabic, suggesting it was owned by a Muslim; and that it was doubled bagged suggested that the contents were being handled with respect.
Both these stories, in their different ways, confirm what the Newsweek report about Koran-flushings at Guantánamo Bay made clear: the need for extreme caution when making accusations of Koran desecration. (July 5, 2005)