“F*** yeah”: Worse Than Abu Ghraib

They scrawled the words "Fuck yeah" on the pages of the Holy Koran and then they shot it full of holes. Last week a few American soldiers in Iraq thought it would be cool to use the Koran for target practice. The US commander on the ground, Major General Jeffery Hammond, has quickly apologized to try to repair the damage. I hope it will be enough, but I seriously doubt that fallout from this act of stupidity by a few soldiers can be contained.

I am a Muslim. I am an American. I am deeply offended. Those who know me know that I am not easily offended in these matters.

Muslims consider the words in the Koran to be the literal word of God. Korans in Muslim homes are kept in a place of honor, usually displayed on a stand made to hold the book on a mantle or another prominent place. Muslims consider it a grave insult if the Koran comes into contact with one’s feet or is desecrated in any other way. Every Muslim understands this. It is instinctive to protect the Koran.

So when an American soldier desecrates a Koran and riddles it with bullets, the message is clear: it does not need any translation. This isn’t the "cartoon controversy" where a bunch of radical Islamists thumped their chests in response. This will hit home with the moderate Muslims around the world. Moderate Muslims are not going to go out on the streets and march in protest. But they will understand the message coming from America. At a time when America needs the moderates in the Muslim world to rally to the cause and isolate the extremists, this kind of act will cause the moderates to sit on their hands.  I doubt very many Muslims around the world will care to make the distinction between the act of a few American soldiers and the policy of the United States. That kind of nuance is likely not going to translate well.

This kind of action is a victory for the hatemongers on both sides. It makes my conversations with Muslims in the country of my birth – Bangladesh – that much more difficult. I will trot out the standard line about how this was an act of a few and does not represent the attitude of the United States government toward the Muslims of the world. I will get a polite hearing, but I doubt anyone will believe me. Already I am confronted with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay when I speak out against human rights violations in the Muslim world. At least in those cases I can make the admittedly weak case that those abuses were carried out in the overzealous response to terrorists acts – that those acts were targetted at who the United States thought posed a security threat to itself. In this case, however, there is no getting around the fact that the target is the over one billion Muslims around the world.

I am not so worried that this particular act will increase the level of terrorism against the United States. Those who would act in violence don’t particularly need this as an excuse to do their acts – if it wasn’t this, they would find another justification. But I do worry that the long-term goal of winning "hearts and minds" just took a major blow. I don’t know how many more such blows can be absorbed before the divide between the Muslim world and the West is irretrievably made permanent.

Those of us who stand with a foot in each culture have a responsibility to try the bridge the gaps of misunderstanding and mutual fear that have hightened since the September 11th attacks. But our voices are drowned out, along with the voices of the majority of those in the West and in the Muslim world who simply want to live in peace to raise their families, when this kind of act is carried out by a "strategic corporal" . This must stop.

UPDATE:  I crossposted this on Daily Kos last night. It has reached the recommended list and launched a vigorous debate in the comments. Now there are over 700 comments on the post and the debate continues. The diary has elicited strong opinions on all sides and quite a lot of insightful commentary.

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13 Responses to “F*** yeah”: Worse Than Abu Ghraib

  1. Cali Tejano says:

    I couldn’t believe it when I first heard about this. I’m willing to bet this “solder” was one of those who got into the armed forces thanks to the relaxed requirements.

    Whomever that soldier is, f**k you for showing the world how ugly and disrespectful Americans can be.

  2. sq says:

    you are a shill. you can try and square your “Muslim American” circle all you like, but you are still a overeducated Bangladeshi pretending Americanness in a country where the vast majority of your “fellow Americans” would run a mile before electing one of your creed to a position of power.

    instead they shoot your Book. and there is no murmur about it, cos nobody really CARES. you are what you are – a fundamentally second-class and misplaced citizen of a country that is hostile at the level of the state and of the individual to your professed faith.

    a shill and a sellout.

  3. RHG says:

    Actually, if you read the articles and coverage carefully, you’ll see that the U.S. military apologized rather profusely for this incident. It’s quite true that some Americans are idiots, and sociopaths, like _any_ society. Clearly, the military understood the gravity of this situation and made efforts to try to resolve it.

    To “sq” – you are just wrong. Get your facts straight before you go off with your idiotic statements. As for not electing someone who is a Muslim to power, that’s right: the U.S. has always been stupid that way. It took 150 years for a Catholic to get elected president. But there’s a half a good chance that the son of a Muslim will get elected president this year. The U.S. is far from perfect, but it’s far from your hateful and stupid characterization. Go be a troll elsewhere…

  4. Subman says:

    Wow, the action of a single soldier, in your mind, is a “clear message coming from America”?

    When will people stop generalizing the feelings of hundreds of millions of people, based on single actions?

    You could just as easily pointed to the General’s reply as the ACTUAL message coming from America, but then you can’t use that as an excuse for your claimed indignation.

    Why only pointing to the actions of one horrible soldier? You wouldn’t have a particular ax to grind, would you?

    Shame on you for being so close minded, unwilling to look at the whole picture, and happy to make a caricature out of an entire country.

  5. MR Bill says:

    Mash, I wish I could apologize to every Muslim in the world for the idiocy and bigotry of too much of my country. And sq, Mash is as American as you or I. This country is NOT at war with a religion or a people. And American Muslims are Americans.
    As are a lot of idiots and bigots. Those people betray the ideals of the Founders.

  6. A non-American says:

    to sq and those of his ilk,
    ‘overeducated’ people like Mash would prefer a written critique of Islam more so than half-wits blowing up a Koran.
    I understand where Mash is coming from, as an American he has no intention of seeing non-Americans thinking of his fellow Americans as morons. And believe me, a lot of us outside of the USA aren’t impressed with US foreign policy.

  7. Cali Tejano says:

    sq — Minnesota elected Keith Ellison to Congress. Case closed.

  8. Mash says:

    Clearly this has generated some passionate responses.

    I think sq and subman should get together and have a party.

    sq, I was born a second class citizen in a military dictatorship run from Pakistan by a supposedly Islamic country. So I call your bullshit. I will take my freedom to vote and my rights under the Constitution any day of the week over your brand of nonsense. Call me a “shill” – I will wear it as a badge of honor.

    subman, you mean generalizations like tarring the entire Muslim world with the acts of 19 lunatics? You mean that kind of generalization? Yeah, that never happens. I write about how this act will be perceived and you call me close-minded. Perhaps you should consider rereading the post with a more open mind.

  9. And while the American military apologizes profusely for the act of one soldier, the policy of Saudi Arabia is to run the Bible through shredders and destroy Christian jewelery. And yet somehow the single act of a single soldier doing something against orders elicits a much more outraged response from you than the daily offenses committed on the orders of the Saudi government in the name of Islam.

    Might I suggest that you — as well as all those moderate Muslims you claim to be speaking for — grow a sense of proportion?

  10. Mash says:

    Rhymes, keep it up. You are making my point well.

  11. Cali Tejano says:

    Rhymes — So let me get this straight. The Saudis shread the Bible, and instead of getting upset over this practice President Bush has to appease them to get more oil?

    I don’t get it. Why are we friends with the Saudis again?

  12. zm says:

    This is preposterous!

  13. Ingrid says:

    those soldiers got sent home, no doubt because their leaders realized how they, with that act of stupidity, endangered their whole platoon. As for the Saudi remark, I lived in SA and there’s a big difference between not allowing christianity and destroying the bible. Btw.. I find that hard to believe because inspite of their intolerance, the Bible IS considered a holy book by Muslims.
    Anyway, I do have to say that I hope nothing comes out of this. The actions of a few should not reflect on the majority but I understand your weariness when it comes to being between two cultural and religious worlds where one does not understand the other. As an immigrant, I can understand that conceptually. As a non-Muslim I cannot so much. I think that must be the ‘Dutch’ in me where ‘we’ have had a history of religious wars even though it was between Protestantism and Catholicism. Spanish Inquisitition, killing people in painful ways because they were considered ‘heathens’.. going in Catholic churches because of their considered idolatry and destroying their ‘idols’, we’ve seen it all. Not to offend you because you mentioned how you reacted to this whole thing but Mash, when the symbolism or even considered literalism (how Muslims view the Koran) is attacked, it really is only that and ‘only’ that by the few not the many. I think with that kind of history in Holland ‘we’ are kinda blase about the reaction to anything religious.
    This particular incident is ‘one more thing’ for many people, but there will be always ‘one more thing’ until this war in Iraq is over and done with. There are plenty of ‘one more things’ to go around, even between the Sunnis and Shiites. On the face of it, it might have hurt you and other moderates, but perhaps that is more because you are between two cultures, more so than the act itself. The soldiers were swiftly sent home, and hopefully this will be the end of it. Like you said, those people who are prone to violence will find an excuse in anything.
    That said, I do not mean to discount your reaction, I guess I ‘tire’ from the reactions to real and perceived offenses by a few when reasonable people know (on either side of the cultural divide) that is not reflective of the whole. One can keep score on all kinds of stupidity and mindless cruelty on both sides.
    just my two cents,

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