The protests sweeping Afghanistan following the burning of Qurans by NATO forces could spread beyond Afghanistan into other Muslim and Arab countries, says CFR’s Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies Ed Husain.
"What often starts in one country lasts in one country for a short period of time," says Husain, and may then "blow up into a wider conflict." This was the case in previous episodes of Muslim popular outbursts, such as the 2005 controversy over a Danish cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad, he recalls.
"The Taliban and others got involved in this whole incident and made it part of a wider narrative that America is here to humiliate Afghanis, Islam, and Muslims," Husain explains. The danger is that this narrative appeals to the very audience that the Taliban and others are targeting, he says.
In order to minimize the damage and mitigate the spread of protests, Husain says U.S. and NATO officials must reach out not only to Muslim governments but also to Muslim civil society and religious leaders. The official White House, Department of Defense, and NATO apologies must be widely disseminated, and it must be made clear that "there is no hidden agenda or a mindset of war against Islam and Muslims," he adds.