Fighter Pilot Calls for End to Religious Garb in Uniform
Retired Air Force Colonel Martha McSally became famous several years ago for suing the Department of Defense over the Islamic abaya. While stationed as an A-10 pilot in Saudi Arabia, she was required to wear the abaya when she went off base to avoid offending the local Islamic population.
Congress intervened before the suit was adjudicated and, in its role of creating the rules and regulations for the US military, prohibited the required wear of the abaya in Saudi Arabia.
Writing in the Washington Post, McSally now says members of the US military’s “female engagement teams” in Afghanistan are being “encouraged” (read: required) to wear an Islamic scarf again. She has a somewhat contradictory take on their wear of the Islamic garb: on one hand, she “applauds” the women for doing “whatever it takes to win this war.” On the other, she feels wearing the Islamic garb is a surrender to all that is wrong with the culture in which they are fighting:
Wearing the scarf when in U.S. military uniform is appeasement, not respect. Our troops should not conform to customs that represent the marginalization of people and are incongruent with our fundamental values…
U.S. military women are simply submitting to Muslim practices that symbolize the plight of Afghan women when they put on the scarf themselves…
Top military leaders should issue guidance that U.S. servicewomen are not authorized to wear a Muslim headscarf while in their uniform conducting military duties. If they don’t, Congress should intervene again, as they did on the abaya, and prohibit its wear.
Our male and female troops are risking their lives every day in Afghanistan while proudly representing and defending the United States. They are there to disrupt and defeat al-Qaeda while assisting Afghans in securing their future from extremist oppression. With our Afghan partners, trust can be built on a foundation of mutual respect, where no one is expected to submit to others’ cultural and religious guidelines.
McSally makes some interesting points on the relationship between the US military and the culture in which it is waging war. From some perspectives, the US military may be “validating” the required conduct or treatment of women in Afghanistan when its female Soldiers wear Islamic garb. At one point McSally even implies that wearing the scarf is inconsistent with the religious freedom of the American servicemembers, though none have reportedly raised the issue, and no military religious freedom group has complained on their behalf.
While most controversies regarding the US military and religion seem to involve Christianity, the military’s interaction with the Islamic culture — its correct interaction, given combat, human liberty, and the US Constitution — is a far more complicated and pressing matter.
The issue is also not academic, as when Afghan government officials, who are being militarily supported by the United States, say an Afghan convert to Christianity needs to be executed to be an example to others who might leave the faith.