The most common manifestation of Islamophobia is to call a person a “terrorist” simple because he/she is Muslim. Currently, a U.S. soldier is being investigated for posting a video on his Facebook page in which he taunted Iraqi children calling them “gay terrorists” and used racial slurs against them. ABC News reports:
Spc. Robert A. Rodgriquez posted the video, titled “future gay terrorists!,” earlier this month. It shows two young, T-shirt-clad boys standing side-by-side on a dirt road, nodding and giving the thumbs up sign as the man behind the camera taunts them about whether they are gay or terrorists…
“Are you going to grow up to be a terrorist?” the solder, who may be Rodriguez, asks from behind the camera.
The boys do not appear to understand English as they raise their thumbs.
“Yeah, all right. Cool,” the cameraman responds. “Terrorists. Woo!”
In addition to asking the boys if they were terrorists, the man behind the camera also asked them if they were gay, using a slur the station didn’t air. They were also asked if they engaged in certain sex acts. When the boys smiled, the camera operator asked, “Are you good at it?”
The boys continued to smile and nod.
Later in the video, it appeared that the older boy began to realize the man wielding the camera was making fun of them. He reached over and carefully lowered the arm of the other little boy as he again made the thumbs up sign.
According to the same article, this is not an isolated event:
“The vast majority of soldiers are doing the right thing, and I think the public knows that,” Coppernoll said.
But a quick search of YouTube pulled up several videos of soldiers from across the United States and the United Kingdom mocking children. One showed American soldiers waving a much-desired bottle of water out the back of a truck as Iraqi children ran behind it, pleading for a drink.
Others showed soldiers intentionally scaring the children. But some videos showed the opposite — soldiers handing out candy or playing soccer with locals.
This begs the question whether there is a larger problem of anti-Muslim bias in the U.S. Army. Such questions are intensified when one reads about Muslim soldiers in the U.S. military being discriminated against by their fellow soldiers. For example, there is the case of Army Spec. Zachari Klawonn:
At 2 o’clock on a Monday morning, the sound of angry pounding sent Army Spec. Zachari Klawonn bolting out of bed.
THUD. THUD. THUD.
Someone was mule-kicking the door of his barracks room, leaving marks that weeks later — long after Army investigators had come and gone — would still be visible.
By the time Klawonn reached the door, the pounding had stopped. All that was left was a note, twice folded and wedged into the doorframe.
“F— YOU RAGHEAD BURN IN HELL” read the words scrawled in black marker.
The slur itself was nothing new. Klawonn, 20, the son of an American father and a Moroccan mother, had been called worse in the military. But the fact that someone had tracked him down in the dead of night to deliver this specific message sent a chill through his body.
Before he enlisted, the recruiters in his home town of Bradenton, Fla., had told him that the Army desperately needed Muslim soldiers like him to help win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet ever since, he had been filing complaint after complaint with his commanders. After he was ordered not to fast and pray. After his Koran was torn up. After other soldiers jeered and threw water bottles at him. After his platoon sergeant warned him to hide his faith to avoid getting a “beating” by fellow troops. But nothing changed.
Then came the November shootings at Fort Hood and the arrest of a Muslim soldier he’d never met: Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people and injuring more than 30 in a massacre that stunned the nation. And with it, things only got worse.
It should be noted that the actions of a few soldiers do not reflect the entire U.S. military, and it would be unfair to say so. In fact, several soldiers reached out to Klawonn after his story was published in the Washington Post to offer their support. Nevertheless, the question remains: is there a larger anti-Muslim problem in the U.S. Army that needs to be addressed?
And could this be related to the problem of rising fundamentalist Christian evangelism in the military?
Michael L. Weinstein, a former Air Force JAG, founded an organization called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). According to Weinstein, there exists a “fundamentalist Christian parachurch-military-corporate-proselytizing complex.” Moreover, Weinstein said:
The scary thing about all this is it’s going on not with the blind eye of the Pentagon but with its full and totally enthusiastic support. And those who are not directly involved are passive about it. As the Talmud says, ‘silence is consent.’
It was Weinstein who exposed the fact that the lead supplier of rifle scopes to the U.S. military placed coded references to passages in the New Testament. It was Weinstein who also led the campaign to disinvite Franklin Graham from speaking at a Pentagon event because of his comments about Islam. Weinstein himself was the subject of harrassment, being beaten unconscious twice:
This battle is personal for him: Nearly 30 years ago, as a Jewish cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, he was twice beaten unconscious in anti-Semitic attacks. (There wouldn’t have been much of a choice of targets — only 0.3 percent of the members of the U.S. military identify themselves as Jewish. Ninety-four percent are Christian.) Visiting his son, Curtis, on the eve of his own second year at the academy in the summer of 2004, Weinstein was stunned to learn little had changed; over lunch at McDonald’s, Curtis told his father that he had been verbally abused eight or nine times by officers and fellow cadets on account of his religion.
Weinstein filed a complaint, in response to which the Air Force launched an investigation that revealed a top-down, invasive evangelicalism in the academy. Among other things, it revealed that the commandant of cadets taught the entire incoming class a “J for Jesus” hand signal, that the football coach had draped a “Team Jesus” banner across the academy locker room, and that more than 250 faculty members and senior officers signed a campus newspaper advertisement that proclaimed: “We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world.” Weinstein has been a First Amendment vigilante ever since.
According to an article in Foreign Policy magazine:
Although he is frequently attacked for waging a war on Christianity, all but a fraction of Weinstein’s clients are practicing Catholics and Protestants of mainline denominations who claim to be targeted by proselytizing evangelical superiors. The root of the problem, Weinstein believes, is a cluster of well-funded groups dedicated to Christianizing the military and proselytizing abroad. They include the Navigators, which, according to their website, command “thousands of courageous men and women passionately following Christ, representing Him in advancing the Gospel through relationships where they live, work, train for war, and deploy.” There is Campus Crusade for Christ’s Military Ministry, which has a permanent staff presence at U.S. military academies and whose directors have referred publicly to U.S. soldiers and Marines as “government-paid missionaries.”
Weinstein himself says such groups are: “are the flip side of the Taliban. They’re like Islamic officers exercising Quranic leadership to raise a jihadi army.” Weinstein has taken on Zachari Klawonn as a client in a lawsuit against the U.S. Army.
Writer Jason Leopold has also written about the fundamentalist Christian movement in the military:
The Christian right has been successful in spreading its fundamentalist agenda at US military installations around the world for decades. But the movement’s meteoric rise in the US military came in large part after 9/11 and immediately after the US invaded Iraq in March of 2003. At a time when the United States is encouraging greater religious freedom in Muslim nations, soldiers on the battlefield have told disturbing stories of being force-fed fundamentalist Christianity by highly controversial, apocalyptic “End Times” evangelists, who have infiltrated US military installations throughout the world with the blessing of high-level officials at the Pentagon. Proselytizing among military personnel has been conducted openly, in violation of the basic tenets of the United States Constitution.
There is the feeling in the Muslim world that the United States is at war with Islam itself. Many Westerners mock Muslims for this conspiratorial talk, and wonder how or why Muslims would ever think such a ridiculous thing. But Glenn Greenwald put it best: “So-called paranoid conspiracies in the Muslim world are often based more in fact than our derision of them.” How far out there would it be to consider the Iraq War an Evangelical crusade fueled by Islamophobia? Well, when you consider that
1. The illegal Iraq War was started in large part due to the religious right, which beat the drums of war hardest. Indeed, “conservative Christians [were the] biggest backers of [the] Iraq War.”
2. George Bush, a fervent Evangelical Christian, said he invaded Iraq because of Biblical prophecy, i.e. “Gog and Magog at work.”
3. Evangelical Christianity is surging in the U.S. military, and many of the soldiers feel like they are on a crusade against Islam.
4. Islamophobia is a major problem amongst the troops–not all, but certainly enough to be troubling. Usage of the racial slur “hajji”, which is the equivalent of “gook” or “Jap”, is not uncommon.
it no longer seems surprising why many Muslims think so. And then you have to add #5 to the list, which is the rise of Blackwater, the Christian version of Al-Qaeda. Erik Prince, the founder of the company, “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” Blackwater is the world’s largest mercenary army (and members refer to themselves as the Knights Templar). This security company is at the center of a number of troubling allegations, which The Nation‘s Jeremy Scahill has done an excellent job of chronicling. Recently, Scahill has written that:
From the first days of the launch of the so-called “war on terror,” Blackwater has been at the epicenter of some of the most secretive operations conducted by US forces globally. It has worked on government assassination programs and drone bombings, operated covertly in Pakistan for both the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, assisted secret raids inside of Syria, trained foreign militaries and continues to bodyguard senior US officials in Afghanistan. The company also has a bloody track record of killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many seasoned observers believe that the extent of the dark acts committed by Blackwater have yet to come to light.
While Congressional committees, the IRS, the FBI and lawyers representing foreign victims of the company have fought for years to hold Blackwater and its forces accountable for their alleged crimes, the company has proved to be Teflon. Not a single case against the company has resulted in any significant action. Following last December’s dismissal of the high-profile criminal case against the Blackwater operatives allegedly responsible for the 2007 Nisour Square shootings that left seventeen Iraqis dead and more than twenty others wounded, federal prosecutors have now launched another salvo.
Last week, the Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury had returned a fifteen-count indictment against five current and former Blackwater officials, charging them with conspiracy to violate a series of federal gun laws, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Among those indicted were Blackwater owner Erik Prince’s longtime right-hand man, former company president Gary Jackson, Blackwater’s former legal counsel Andrew Howell and two former company vice presidents. Given Blackwater’s track record and the severity of other allegations against the company–including killing unarmed civilians–if the charges in this case stick, it would be somewhat akin to Al Capone going down for tax evasion. The one major difference being, the number-one man at Blackwater, Erik Prince, is evading prosecution and jail. Prince, who remains the Blackwater empire’s sole owner, was not indicted.
The demonization of “the other” is a common occurrence during wars. Neo-cons would shrug this off by saying “that’s war.” Yes, that’s true. But that’s why we shouldn’t fight them, at least whenever it’s possible not to. So many troubling incidents have been reported about the Iraq War that we really need to reevaluate what we are doing there, and question our foreign policy altogether. It is not patriotism to send our troops to die for fanatical religious causes, hateful crusades, or to slay Gog and Magog. Rather, it is patriotism to save our boys from the horrors of wars.
Furthermore, we need to take steps to check religious extremism and Islamophobia in the military. In a time when the U.S. has attacked and occupied numerous Muslim countries, these anti-Muslim incidents are indeed concerning. We are quite clearly able to see the troubling militarization of religion in the Islamic world, but are we oblivious to it when it concerns in our own ranks?