US Military Implicates Five Soldiers in Quran Burning
Various reports indicate the US military has identified five soldiers (and an Afghan-American interpreter) who are “responsible” for burning the Quran at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The Islamic holy texts (which were reportedly defiled by Islamic detainees) were among more than 1,600 books and other materials intended for destruction due to their apparent use by detainees to pass messages.
The probe launched by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John R. Allen, is still underway, but five soldiers were involved in the incident, NBC News reported Friday.
A careful reading of the reports indicates it is possible not a single one of the five involved knew there were Korans among the texts.
Afghanistan’s senior religious leaders have said that an apology alone will not do. They want the responsible troops to be put on a public trial.
While al Jazeera made it a point to say the soldiers “face reprimand,” no responsible party — even “anonymous military officials” — has yet said what crime the Americans committed, or what policy they violated. Even so, “anonymous officials” said the soldiers might still face punishment:
It appears that the soldiers will not face criminal charges, anonymous military officials were quoted as saying. The troops may face non-judicial punishment, which could be as simple as a reprimand…
“For the soldiers, it will be serious — they could lose rank. But you’re not going to see the kind of public trial that some here seem to want,” said one U.S. military official.
Todd Starnes at FoxNews poetically framed “the day the US military burned the Bible in Afghanistan.” As has been noted before, and in a few other places, unlike the Korans, the US military intentionally burned Christian Bibles in the trash, and then defended doing so. By contrast, the Korans were burned by “mistake,” and everyone from the commanding General in Afghanistan, Marine General John Allen, to the President of the United States has apologized for the incident. General Allen has reportedly ordered new training on how to handle Korans; many Soldiers already go through training directing them to “respect” Islam.
al Jazeera may also have made the most prescient statement:
“The way that the Americans and the Afghan government handle the conclusions of this report, and handle [the situation] … that is going to be crucial to how the reaction is here on the streets of Afghanistan.”
The “streets of Afghanistan,” of course, should have no impact on the moral conduct, protection of human liberties, and military decision making by US and coalition forces — but that doesn’t mean it won’t. US Army Col (Ret) Peter Mansoor, who was previously an executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, wondered aloud if the American military leadership has become so inclined to defend Islam that it is losing focus:
Americans have cultural sensitivities, too. Maybe we’re so sensitive to Afghan culture that we’re forgetting our own.
The US mission in Afghanistan might be helped most by promoting the American ideals of religious liberty and tolerance. By contrast, current perceptions run the risk of appearing to promote the value of one religion over another. Such a perception may yield positive results in the short-term, but it is one that may backfire in the end.
With reference to ArmyChaplaincy.com.