Thursday, May 28, 2009

Afghan gov't destroys books it says insult Sunnis

KABUL (AP) — The Afghan government quietly dumped more than 1,000 Shiite texts and other books from Iran into a river after a local governor complained that their content insulted the country's Sunni majority.

The move appeared to be an attempt by President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government to smooth over a potential thorn in relations between the Muslim sects.

But instead of burying the issue along with the books at the bottom of the Helmand River, the government was facing condemnation Wednesday from Shiite leaders after news leaked a month after the dumping.

"It is a humiliation for all Shiites," said Mohammad Akbari, a prominent Shiite member of parliament. He said a joint commission of Sunni and Shiite leaders should have reviewed any complaints about the books.

Merchants who'd ordered the books for shops in Kabul said there was nothing offensive about their content and that they were destroyed simply because of prejudice against Shiites, who make up about 20 percent of the population.

The dispute highlights the continuing tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Afghanistan despite efforts by the government to preach tolerance across the sectarian divide.

Shiites were persecuted under the largely Sunni Taliban regime that ruled the country until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Since then, the two sects have settled into an uneasy coexistence, with the post-Taliban constitution giving Shiites the right to create some laws that apply only to them.

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