(Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)
As the streets of Afghanistan ring out with cries of anti-American outrage, one is compelled to pause and reflect on the toxic environment which catalyzed the ugly incident of the mass-burning of Korans at Bagram Air Base. This astonishing act of either malfeasance or misfeasance by our American armed forces represents an unparalleled affront to over 1.5 billion adherents of the Islamic faith worldwide. However, notwithstanding the egregiousness of the foregoing, it does far more than that. Indeed, it once again reveals a noxious undercurrent of fundamentalist Christian supremacist exceptionalism, which is inextricably intertwined in the ranks of the United States armed forces. It is undeniable that US efforts to win hearts and minds have been reduced to ashes by a smoldering, self-defeating subordination of Afghans' universally recognized religious priorities and sensitivities.
The last several days of furious protests in the streets of Afghanistan have been the inevitable outcome of a culture of utter impunity within the US military. This culture of religious bigotry is fueled by militant, unchecked Christian fundamentalism. Its attendant Islamophobic racism is carefully coddled and nurtured. The result is total disdain and denigration of the values of the Afghan nation. Events of the past month have revealed a pattern of surpassing arrogance on the part of US military personnel in the country. This "Hall of Shame" ranges from the bestial act of videotaped Marines urinating on the corpses of dead irregulars to the mind-ripping display of the Nazi SS flag by United States Marine Corps Scout Snipers.
This unthinkable sequence of events has proven fatal, first and foremost, to Americans serving in Afghanistan. As of this writing, six US troops have been killed by allied Afghan security forces, while seven were injured in a grenade attack launched by civilian protesters. On Thursday, two Americans were killed at a joint NATO-Afghan National Army base by a group of Afghans, including an allied soldier. This past weekend, two senior American military officers were shot and killed within the Interior Ministry in Kabul by an Afghan colleague, who was allegedly provoked, according to Afghan government sources, by the Americans' open mockery of the protests.
The foregoing starkly illustrates the demeaning manner in which the US has thoughtlessly and carelessly alienated the people of Afghanistan from ongoing efforts to establish peace in the region. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was the first to report past incidents of this tragic ilk, such as the filming of a fundamentalist Christian reality-TV show in Afghan villages. This TV show featured uber-proselytizing missionaries distributing Dari-language New Testaments under the approving gaze, protection and support of US armed forces personnel. There are innumerable additional incidents of such ignominy. Most never make it to the fickle stage of viral international news. As difficult a pill as it may seem to some to swallow, an activist "Christian Taliban" meme permeates the spectrum of all ranks of US military leadership. This unconstitutional, fundamentalist religious supremacy has generated a bloody "us vs. them" culture, which has sabotaged and tortured public perceptions of our already difficult-to-discern mission in Afghanistan.
Additionally, in the past week MRFF has been literally inundated by a torrent of communications from its Muslim-American military clients further buttressing the disgraceful fact of Islamophobic abuses within the ranks of the US armed forces. Many of these reports describe actions taken in reprisal and retribution for the Afghans' rage at the Koran burnings. MRFF represents a client base of approximately 500 Muslim-American service members, totaling about 10 percent of all Muslims in the military. Their unanswered pleas for redress testify to the formidable scope of this ongoing civil rights catastrophe. Good order, morale and discipline within the United States military requires recognition of the crucial strategic mandate for religious tolerance and respect for human rights. They're not "human privileges." They're "human rights"; everybody gets them. It ought not be such a hard and bitter task with which to whole-heartedly comply. After all, these bedrock, foundational principles are embodied by the US Constitution which all service members have sworn an oath to uphold.
A dangerously contemptuous, arrogant and callous approach to the indigenous Muslim culture serves only the most desired interests of those forces opposing our now decade-long presence in the region. From Iraq to Afghanistan, the militant, fundamentalist Islamists' propaganda narrative has been one of "Crusader Occupation." However, any impartial observer would be forced to conclude that a fatal attitude of patronizing colonial hostility has indeed been allowed to hijack the US mission in Afghanistan. By adding grist to the mill of escalating regional resentment, America's own religious extremists, racists and anti-Muslim bigots within the military have ensured that they and their comrades in arms will continue to pay the awful price in spilled blood.
Disingenuous mea culpas excusing these hideous acts as "accidental" or "unintentional" literally strain credulity. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's toothless and oft-repeated promises to launch investigations are now impossible to take seriously. President Obama's apologies have only served to highlight, once again, the yawning gap between words and deeds in regard to the United States' overall approach to the Muslim world, particularly in those Islamic lands saturated with American military troops. Walking the talk is the only way to rebuild credibility at this late hour in Afghanistan. The question must be asked: is it now too late?
We must repeat that the real-world consequence of this intrinsically ingrained religious prejudice and bigotry is the loss of service members' lives and limbs. The Pentagon must launch a profound and comprehensive investigation of these extremely grievous offenses and swiftly court-martial those responsible. It must be impartial and genuine.
It will be neither. Why? Because the root of this ongoing national security crisis is extant all over the Pentagon itself. It is the unchecked, fundamentalist Christian extremist scourge within our own nation's armed forces. This tragic metastasizing trajectory has led to the mindset and mantra that non-fundamentalist Christians are unworthy of basic dignified treatment as human beings and that their sacred texts, in this case the Holy Koran, are undeserving of the slightest respect.
We are staring into a terrifying abyss of our own making. Were the Korans burned by accident or not? Does that really matter anymore? The following truism is all that matters; any sufficiently advanced incompetence is completely indistinguishable from malice. Ten years of brutal war, hundreds of billions of dollars expended, thousands of lives lost and destroyed, and we still have not learned the sine qua non of that most basic maxim.