What US Army says about handling the Quran
This week's protests in Kabul, sparked by rumors that the US Army planned to burn Qurans, have raised questions about what US military teaches its soldiers about respecting Islam.
Two days of protests in Afghanistan have left seven people dead after word emerged that NATO forces may have been preparing to incinerate dozens of copies of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, at a garbage dump at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Afghan Army units have battled hundreds of Afghan protesters outside the base, and there appears to be no let up in surging anger toward NATO and US forces, who have used Bagram as their base of operations for a decade in support of the government of President Hamid Karzai.
The trouble started on Monday, after Afghan employees at Bagram discovered Qurans in a heap of books being prepared for incineration. According to the BBC, the Qurans had been confiscated from Afghan prisoners at Bagram, and were thought to have contained coded messages. But the fallout from these allegations is a massive setback for US and NATO at a time when they're preparing to reduce combat forces.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized for the “inappropriate treatment” of the Quran, and promised to launch an investigation into how the decision to burn the Quran was made. "These actions do not represent the views of the United States military,” Mr. Panetta said on Tuesday. “We honor and respect the religious practices of the Afghan people, without exception."
On paper, Panetta is right. US military training manuals offer very specific instructions to all soldiers and civilian employees on how to treat Muslims and their beliefs with respect. US diplomats and military commanders have spent millions of dollars in winning over “hearts and minds,” delivering food, blankets, and religious literature to distant villages; building schools, roads, and mosques. But training guidelines are only useful if they are actually put into practice. And if the past decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq is a guide, cultural and religious slights can have devastating effects on the reputation of Western forces in Afghanistan.
Remember the Newsweek story – later retracted – alleging that a US Army translator had flushed a Quran down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay detention center? The story ultimately proved false, or had insufficient backup, but it revealed that the US military did indeed have a code of conduct for US soldiers that prevented them from treating Muslims or their holy book with disrespect.