They’re trying to win hearts and minds by doing this, trying to show that the U.S. is, as Obama has repeated so many times, not at war with Islam. The problem is that forcing American military personnel to abide by Sharia rules regarding treatment of the Qur’an will most certainly not accomplish what Obama Administration and military officials hope it will and assume it will: it will not make Afghans like or respect or cooperate with Americans.
In fact, it will do just the opposite. Take the lede paragraph of this story, for example: “Troops serving in Afghanistan were advised never to touch the Koran, never to place anything on top of one, and to keep it off the floor and out of bathrooms. They were even told never to ‘talk badly’ about it.” That paragraph contains five instructions that U.S. military personnel are being made to obey regarding the Qur’an. All are derived from Islamic law, and so all reinforce to the Afghans that Americans consider themselves bound by Sharia, or too weak to stand up to it. Even worse, one of those regulations — that troops must never touch the Qur’an — is based on the Islamic idea that the unbelievers are unclean (cf. Qur’an 9:28) and unworthy to touch the sacred book. Watching U.S. troops abiding by this rule can and will only inspire in Afghans feelings of contempt for them as “the most vile of created beings” (Qur’an 98:6).
“U.S. military struggles to teach troops to respect Koran,” by Ian Duncan for the Los Angeles Times, March 8:
Troops serving in Afghanistan were advised never to touch the Koran, never to place anything on top of one, and to keep it off the floor and out of bathrooms. They were even told never to “talk badly” about it.
But the do’s and don’ts said nothing about burning the Muslim holy book, which is what happened last month as a cache of Korans was incinerated at Bagram air base, setting off riots across the country that killed more than 30 people and provoked attacks on U.S. forces.
An investigation by NATO officials into the burnings found five U.S. troops responsible, but it concluded that the actions were not deliberate and were the result of a miscommunication. The troops could face disciplinary action, but commanders in Afghanistan have not yet announced the form it will take.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops last week started mandatory refresher training on how to handle the Koran. Troops are now told flatly not to dispose of Korans and will be urged to err on the side of caution when dealing with Arabic texts, assuming “material is sacred if there is any doubt over its religious significance.”
But some experts think the more explicit approach might not stop future incidents. Montgomery McFate, an anthropologist who has worked closely with the U.S. Defense Department, said the issuance of cultural do’s and don’ts was only useful to a point.
“It makes culture into a set of arbitrary rules. You don’t understand why,” she said. “The Bible is not considered itself a holy object, and unless you’d grown up in a religious tradition where that was true, you wouldn’t understand the way that Muslims feel about the Koran.”
Lt. Col. George Robinson is a senior officer in the Marine Corps’ language and culture training programs and has seen the new training documents issued last month. “It’s probably a little too simplistic to suggest that it’s a simple matter of do’s and don’ts,” he said. “It’s more a matter of why is the Koran important.”
The Koran, which means “the recitation” in Arabic, is considered by Muslims to be the verbatim word of God as revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
The military has struggled for years with troops mishandling Korans. In 2005, Newsweek reported that a Koran was flushed down a toilet in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2003. An internal investigation found no evidence to back up the allegation, but it did find that a camp guard had deliberately kicked a Koran. In 2008, the Army announced that a soldier in Iraq had used a Koran for target practice.
In the early years of the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, cultural awareness training was practically nonexistent. Now, all Army forces are required to undertake six to eight hours of online training before they deploy, and Marines get two days of classroom courses….