A Michigan manufacturer criticized for putting biblical citations on gunsights sold to the US military vows to end the practice. It has sent 100 “removal kits” that soldiers can use to scrape off words that critics say promote the idea of a Christian crusade in the Middle East.
The revelations, first reported by ABC News, caused embarrassment and consternation within the Pentagon after religious groups – including the Interfaith Alliance – complained that it violated an Army rule against proselytizing.
The Pentagon at first said the inscriptions did not violate Army rules, and one official compared the sight references with “In God We Trust” on US currency. On Thursday, however, Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, called the references “disturbing” and a “serious concern.”
But to some observers, it’s not clear how a simple reference to the Bible on a gun part is different from a Muslim soldier carrying a Koran into battle.
Biblical phrases on sights “are innocuous and don’t mean a thing, but it’s how people react to them that matters,” says Victor Le Vine, a Middle East expert at Washington University, in St. Louis.
The US is already struggling against the image of a crusade in the Middle East, and the idea of US soldiers using what some call a “Jesus gun” to shoot at Islamic jihadists ultimately jeopardizes US servicemen, critics say.
“One of the main recruiting tools for anti-American forces is the claim that America is engaged in a war on Islam, and this kind of incident feeds directly into that talking point,” says Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in Washington.
In a letter to President Obama this week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance in New York, wrote: “Images of American soldiers as Christian crusaders come to mind when they are carrying weaponry bearing such verses. This incident simply adds to the perception that religion rather than national security is at the heart of our military’s presence abroad.”
Indeed, Al-Jazeera quotes its correspondent in Kabul, David Chater, saying that the references are a “rallying cry for the Taliban. It gives them a propaganda tool. They’ve always tried to paint the US efforts in Afghanistan as a Christian campaign.”
Some Middle East analysts call that hyperbole.
“When people go to war they are confronted with very fundamental issues about who they are, and that seems to be the context in which American troops tend to be more conservative and many of them are Christian-oriented,” says Robert Canfield, an expert on the Taliban, also at Washington University. “I think the references are inappropriate, but I’m not sure that the Taliban really care. They talk about religion all the time, and they assume that’s what we do, too.”
The references – which are etched in the same font as the part number, rendering them nearly invisible to the casual observer – are on all of the 300,000 Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOGs) delivered to the Army and Marine Corps.
Biblical citation quotes Jesus
The inscription on the standard issue ACOG is a reference to a Bible citation that reads, “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
Michael Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a former military lawyer who graduated from the US Air Force Academy, told ABC News that soldiers have told him that Army commanders refer to the Jesus rifles as “spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ.”
"Our effort is simple and straightforward: to help our servicemen and women win the war on terror and come home safe to their families,” the company said in a statement released earlier this week. “As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of- the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation."
In a release on Thursday, Mr. Bindon’s son, Stephen Bindon, wrote, “Trijicon has proudly served the US military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate.”
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