Monday, June 02, 2008

Jesus at Gunpoint

American soldiers, notably the 101st Airborne, are working overtime to convert Iraqis to Christianity.  On patrol, they pass out Bibles and fundamentalist tracts, as well as fake coins imprinted with a "Jesus loves you" message.  Some of these tracts are pretty damned offensive, such as the Jack Chick comic books, which not only show cartoon pictures of Mohammed, but also show him roasting in Hell along with other Muslims.

This is a direct violation of General Order 1A, Part 2, Section J as issued by Tommy Franks, which forbids proselytization.  It is probably a violation of the US Constitution, which forbids the government (for which these soldiers work) from promoting one religion at the expense of others.

It is also -- and here's the part that troubles us today -- incomparably bad military strategy.  It virtually guarantees that American troops will be perceived as a "Crusader army," in Iraq not for political but for religious reasons.  This, in turn, will feed the Islamist recruiting machine.  Religion -- and we say this in our driest tone -- has proven to be a remarkably good motivator in those parts.   Good strategists know better, of course.  The  Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Manual, written principally by Gen. David Petraeus, says bluntly that "US forces should show respect for local religions and traditions .... US forces must make clear that they do not intend to undermine or change the local religion or traditions."  (6-60, if you want to check).

Do we need to mention that it isn't an especially good evangelism strategy, either?  The Gospel promoted by soldiers carrying automatic weapons smacks strongly of colonialism and forced conversion.

It gets a lot worse when we hear stories like the one about a sniper using the Quran for target practice.  To Iraqi ears -- and frankly, not only theirs -- it really does sound as if our soldiers have begun to perceive themselves not as the instruments of a secular nation, deployed to achieve its political goals, but as religious crusaders, sent to either convert the infidel or to kill him.

The chaplain corps is complicit here.  Once dominated by moderate Episcopalians and, to a lesser degree, Lutherans, it has in recent years been the object of a fundamentalist takeover attempt, apparently not yet entirely completed.  The problems at the Air Force academy are pretty well documented, and we have heard instructors at West Point describe heavy pressure on new cadets from moderate Christian households to accept the Christianist model.  And it appears that chaplains are the conduit by which Jack Chick comics, in Arabic, have reached the Middle East -- suggesting strongly that military chaplains have overstepped their bounds.  They need to be reminded that they are there to serve the religious needs of the soldiers, not to re-write American military doctrine.

This behavior undermines the American military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is illegal and it is foolish.  It endangers our forces and emboldens our enemies.  Certainly, the individual soldiers caught doing these things will be punished, as they should be.  But more is needed.  A thorough house-cleaning of the chaplain corps is required.  Careers need to be ended abruptly.  Relationships with the publishers who provide these printed materials need to be terminated.  And it needs to happen yesterday.

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