What Are We Saying?

In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

I wonder how the Pentagon is going to squirm out of this one? Caught on video tape, U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan faced the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters toward Mecca and set them ablaze, seemingly mocking Islamic burial traditions. The video was broadcast on Australian television, and according to the report, five troops stood around the fire, and two of them read messages through loudspeakers, trying to provoke other militants.

The U.S. soldiers reportedly said that they burned the bodies for hygiene reasons. Separate investigations have been launched both by the Afghan government and the U.S. Army, and Maj. Matthew McLaughlin, spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Florida, said, “The incident, if true, is repugnant, and we look forward to getting to the bottom of it.” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also said, “What we see in this tape is not at all reflective of the values of the military or of the United States.”

I know this to be true and totally agree. Yet, still, I can not help but wonder what is going on in the minds of these soldiers. Is it a result of the stress of combat and having to facing death each and every day? Or – more sinisterly – is it because these soldiers hate Islam and Muslims? I hope and pray it is the former.

What if, however, it is the latter? What does this mean? What will happen when these soldiers come back home? Will they bring this negative attitude toward Islam and Muslims home with them? Will they treat their fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim in a negative, or even hostile, manner? I hope not.

PLEASE NOTE: these concerns are not an indictment of the entire U.S. military. Like I said before, those brave men and women are doing a duty that, in reality, should be discharged by every citizen of this country. Ideally, each and every one of us should have to serve in the Armed Forces. The defense of our country is one of the most important duties of citizenship, and it should not fall on a small minority of the population. Yet, in our country, it does, and we all owe those who serve our immense gratitude.

That being said, it always gives me pause when I learn about incidents such as this one, or what happened at Abu Ghraib, or what is currently happening at Guantanamo Bay. Our actions speak louder than our words, and incidents such as these send the message to the rest of the Muslim World, however inaccurate, that America hates Islam, that America is fighting against Islam itself. What an unnerving message to send, indeed.

So, what should be done about this? First, we must all wait for the facts to borne out of the investigations currently ongoing. But, more importantly, the Pentagon needs to examine itself and take a hard look at whether or not there is a deep-seated anti-Muslim sentiment that is pervasive among the troops. If there is, however disturbing that may be, the Pentagon has to work to eradicate it.

We Americans pride ourselves at having open minds, at living in a society where people of all ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds are able to live together in peace. This noble aspect of our culture and people must also be present among our troops – all of our troops – abroad. Our soldiers are the face of America to the rest of the world, and most especially the Muslim World. If they present an ugly face, no amount of diplomatic dispatches will be able to reverse the damage done to our reputation. And we will all be the worse off because of it.


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