Last Saturday, Major General Jeffery Hammond, commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, issued a formal apology to leaders in Radhwaniya, in western Baghdad, after an American soldier used a Qur’an for target practice.
The soldier said he didn’t know that the book he used was a Qur’an, but military brass rejected this and announced plans to reassign the soldier to duty within the United States.
During what CNN called the “apology ceremony,” Major General Hammond told the assembled Iraqis: “I come before you here seeking your forgiveness. In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers.” A member of Hammond’s staff kissed a Qur’an and presented it to the Iraqi leaders, calling it a “humble gift.”
Assuming that the soldier really did know that the book he was shooting at was the Qur’an, this story illustrates many things:
1. While the President and the military brass are anxious to deny that the War On Terror has anything to do with Islam, many rank-and-file soldiers can’t help but notice that the fiercest enemies they encounter are also the most devout in their Islam, and that the jihad terrorists quote the Qur’an copiously to justify their acts of violence.
2. That noticing things like this may have led one soldier to use a Qur’an as target practice is unfortunate. If he knew what the book was, the soldier was stupid, because even if it is true that the Qur’an contains mandates for violence against unbelievers, and it is true, doing something like this will only turn into enemies some people who might otherwise not be your enemies. This is not the same thing as the Dinesh D’Souza argument that we must not speak about the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify violence and supremacism, because doing so will turn “moderates” into “extremists” – D’Souza in that is asking us to ignore and deny the truth, which is never an effective strategy in wartime or peacetime. But that is not the same thing as avoiding unnecessary provocation that will require you to fight battles that you otherwise would not have to fight.
3. The reactions of Major General Hammond and his staff were understandable, but excessive. They don’t want to alienate people they believe they have won over, or whom they hope to win over, in Baghdad. They had to disavow this soldier’s action. However, kissing the Qur’an and begging for forgiveness – and holding an apology “ceremony” in the first place – are gestures that spring from a misunderstanding of how they are likely to be perceived by the “tribal leaders and others at the apology ceremony.”
Major General Hammond is anxious to show that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. Fine. But to kiss the Qur’an and to beg for forgiveness are signs that one accepts its authority and the authority of those before whom one is begging. Coming from non-Muslims, it is likely that they will be interpreted as gestures of submission, and the submission of non-Muslims to Muslims is a significant concept in Islamic law – although I am sure Major General Hammond and his staff are unaware of this. Given that, is it wise to be giving such impressions? Are such impressions not likely to create even more tension in the future?
4. “Sheikh Hamadi al-Qirtani, in a speech on behalf of all tribal sheiks of Radhwaniya, called the incident ‘aggression against the entire Islamic world.’” This is simply hysterical. It was a boorish, stupid act, but it was a boorish, stupid act by one individual soldier. If he has shot up a Bible, Christians who knew about the incident might have regarded him as something of an idiot, but that would have been the end of the story. No apology ceremony, no military brass kissing the book, nothing.
Of course, we are not engaged in a war in a country where the majority of people revere the Bible, but that doesn’t completely account for the difference. The possibility that Muslims worldwide might be incited to murderous rage because of an incident like this can never be discounted. Major General Hammond and his staff are trying to head that off. That’s fine, but it also just plays into the mentality that to riot and kill because of something like this is a perfectly natural and rational reaction to it. At a certain point, someone is going to have to have the guts to stand up and say, “Wait a minute. The incident that set you off may indeed have been offensive, but your reaction is insane. If someone insults you, that is no justification to kill him or anyone else, or to destroy anything.”
But we are a long, long way at this point from that kind of common sense.