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Week In News: Quran Burning Enrages Afghans

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Week In News: Quran Burning Enrages Afghans


Week In News: Quran Burning Enrages Afghans

Week In News: Quran Burning Enrages Afghans

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Residents of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif stormed into a United Nations compound Friday to protest a Florida preacher's burning of the Quran. Host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about how that event may prove to be a sea change in the U.N.'s involvement in Afghanistan.

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Mr. ALAIN LE ROY (Under-Secretary-General, U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations): Part of the demonstrators rushed into our compound with weapons, and they stormed the compound, they put fire on it, and they killed several of our staff.

RAZ: That's Alain Le Roy. He's the U.N.'s under-secretary-general of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. He's talking about yesterday's attack in northern Afghanistan on a U.N. compound that left 12 people dead. The demonstrators were set off after learning of a Quran burning in Florida.

James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us now, as he does most Saturdays, to help us put some of these stories in perspective.

Jim, hi.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Hello, Guy.

RAZ: It seems, Jim, it seems almost bizarre that what we would perceive as obviously ugly but protected behavior - the burning of a Quran - could set off murders halfway around the world.

Mr. FALLOWS: It certainly does. And I think that Western style democracies, in particular the United States, have evolved over centuries. The difficult concept that there can be deplorable and yet still legal speech.

While Pastor Terry Jones was certainly within his rights, his legal rights to do what he did, I think it was wise for the U.S. and world news media to play it down as much as they could. And it cannot help but be another problem, you know, to put it in the mildest possible terms between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

RAZ: It must mark some kind of shift, though, in the thinking among U.N. officials, I mean, has to.

Mr. FALLOWS: There was a very moving post I saw online by a U.N official saying that this was not the beginning of the end for a number of NGO and aid workers in Afghanistan. It was, from her point of view, the end because the tensions had grown so extreme between international officials, especially Americans and much of the Afghan populace because of real or perceived front against Islam or the Afghan population.

I think it may also mark a shift in American opinion about Afghanistan. It's inevitable, but at some point, the U.S. public would come to the conclusion that we are not going to be there forever. And it's possible that this kind of explosion, this kind of horror may have a ripple effect in that way.

RAZ: Jim, I want to turn to Libya for a moment, because, of course, we all watched the president's speech this past week. He never used the word war. But I wonder whether this is already being framed as Obama's war.

Mr. FALLOWS: There are terms (unintelligible) about what is a war and what is a police action and what is the intervention, but by any common sense definition of the term when you're bombing people, when you have troops exposed to combat, when you have people both civilian and otherwise being killed, that is a war.

And I think this is almost without recent precedent in how much it is the president's own personal war. He has not yet asked for congressional authorization, which he doesn't have to do under the War Powers Act for sometime to come.

But the only precedent I can think of, of a American leader taking the responsibility for such an action so entirely upon himself was Ronald Reagan with the Grenada Invasion of 1983, which was relatively contained and which President Reagan actually welcomed the idea of reasserting American military after Vietnam. I think this means among the many consequential events that turn on how this goes in Libya is the president's own fate, too, because he has -this is his war for better or for worse.

RAZ: It's also been interesting to see how Obama's supporters, those who elected him, have responded to the intervention in Libya.

Mr. FALLOWS: It was striking to see a column by Thomas Friedman in New York Times whose concluding paragraph was, well, I hope President Obama is lucky. And Andrew Sullivan, a very prolific blogger at my own Atlantic Monthly site, again, had the same argument that he was weary and cheery(ph) of the judgment that went into this. But now, he just hoped it turned out well.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. He joins us most Saturdays on this program. You can find his blog at

Jim, thank you so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Guy.

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