US Marines: Afghans Prefer Christians over Atheists

It was noted here once before that US military fighter pilots sanitize their uniforms prior to combat missions, so if they are captured they have little on their person to provide information to the enemy.  However, intel officers occasionally encouraged pilots to carry family photos, thinking the “personalizing” aspect of the photo might positively influence their captors’ perspectives.  Similarly, some encouraged carrying a religious item like a cross that would be found on them if they were captured.

Why carry an obviously Christian item on a combat sortie into a predominantly Islamic country?

Simple: Adversaries, primarily of the Islamic faith, respected Christians as “people of the book.”  Many have misunderstood Muslims’ use of the term “infidels,” which refers to those “without faith.”  In short, hostile Islamic adversaries viewed a Christian in the US military far more positively than an atheist in uniform.

The US Marines recently capitalized on that knowledge, using the faith of an American soldier as a positive message of religious respect to counter the Taliban propaganda of American “infidels” — militant atheists trying to get rid of religion in Afghanistan: 

“The insurgency puts out a lot of lies; a lot of exaggeration, a lot of false rhetoric that says the ISAF Coalition is a bunch of infidels – they are contrary to Islam, they want to get rid of religion…they want to destroy things,” said [LtCol Pat] Carroll [the cultural and governance advisor].

On Dec. 28, Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, the commanding General of Regional Command Southwest, visited a religious shura (meeting) held Garmsir district center in Helmand province…

During the shura, Toolan spoke to a room of more than 50 Afghans concerning his own faith and respect of other religions. Although Toolan, the top-ranking general in Helmand province, is a Christian, it is believed that because he is a man of faith (as opposed to an infidel) that it will send a positive message to the village elders and religious leaders. [emphasis added]

(Interestingly, this article was published before the now-infamous video of the Marines urinating on corpses in Afghanistan– which the Taliban essentially said was proof of America’s atheism.)

Michael Weinstein has said public knowledge of Christians in the US military — in particular the Marines — are ready-made propaganda for the Islamic-based insurgency.  This is obviously in stark contrast to the US military’s beliefs that faith is a useful point of commonality with Afghans (and a tool in the war), and that the perception of an American atheist is actually more harmful to the US military mission.

LtCol Carroll agreed the knowledge of General Toolan’s faith would reach the insurgents — and he was hoping it would:

“I have no doubt that what happened today will reach insurgents,” said Carroll. “At least the message that ISAF came down here, the ISAF commander stood up and said he was a man of faith and had respect for the religion and culture.

“They won’t like it. The insurgency doesn’t like to see that stuff because it contradicts what they’re putting out.”

The shura was also attended by US Navy Islamic Chaplain (LtCmdr) Abuhena Saifuislam (meaning “sword of Islam”) — an ISAF Religious Engagement Advisor.  Saifuislam previously visited Afghanistan showing the locals, many for the first time, Muslims and even their religious leaders were serving in the US military in Afghanistan.  (In 2010, 92% of Afghans reportedly didn’t now about 9/11, so it may not be surprising such information is unknown.)

The American support of religious freedom (as opposed to Islam, as if often said instead) — even by a Christian US military commander in Afghanistan — is a clear demonstration of the US support of human liberty.  Hopefully, that may be a model for Afghanistan, where religious freedom is not necessarily as understood, or defended, as it is elsewhere.


  • Carrying an obviously Christian item to any foreign country has been a good idea for a very very long time. Even I did in the late 70’s and early 80’s, especially to Islamic “friendly” countries despite my non-theiest beliefs. A soldier must use any tactic to stay alive, religious symbology is/was one tool of the trade..even if it is deceitful. I carried a Chaplains cross “shirt pin.”

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