Onward Christian Soldiers

by Henry Farrell on May 14, 2005

It doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable to guess that there’s an indirect link between this “NYT story”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/15/national/15chaplain.html?hp&ex=1116129600&en=00e6129405ca2b50&ei=5094&partner=homepage on evangelizing Christians making life uncomfortable for non-believers in the armed forces, and the “riots in Afghanistan”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/13/AR2005051300301.html that followed a _Newsweek_ report that a copy of the Koran had been flushed down the toilet by Guantanamo interrogators. Other services than the Air Force have a spotty track record in the area of Christian-Muslim sensitivities; to the best of my knowledge, “General Boykin”:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/16/attack/main578471.shtml was never disciplined for the flagrantly offensive comments that he made in 2003.

This is important stuff; as Robert Kaplan “said”:http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200307/kaplan in the _Atlantic_ (sub required) a couple of years ago, the US armed forces are what administer the American imperium, such as it is. Kaplan claimed that this was a good thing, pointing to the positive role that army officers could play, and quoting Winston Churchill’s dictum that the Americans were ‘worthy successors’ to the British Empire. However, the inheritance may run in different directions than those that Kaplan highlighted. What’s happening in Afghanistan is reminiscent of the rebellion of 1858 in India, where false rumours that the British were issuing cartridges smeared with the body fat of cows and pigs were lent credibility by the efforts of Company officers from Britain to evangelize among their troops. There’s no evidence whatsoever that fundamentalist Christians were responsible for any decision to flush Korans down the toilet. Indeed, I suspect that they weren’t; if the _Newsweek_ “story”:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7693014/site/newsweek/ bears out, this is more likely to be a general cultural problem in the military than something that can be specifically attributed to a sub-group of officers. But still, an organization’s culture is in part a product of the actions that are tacitly encouraged or discouraged by its leaders. A military establishment in which extremists who believe that Allah is a “false idol” can not only survive, but prosper and reach high military rank, and in which non-Christians can experience systematic bullying and intimidation, is likely to have problems when it not only has to deal with “idol worshippers,” but has to take their beliefs seriously. Certainly, I can’t imagine that interrogators in the US military would ever have flushed a Bible down the toilet to shock a Christian prisoner into cooperation, regardless of whether this was likely to have worked or not.

Update: _Newsweek_ is now “saying”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/15/AR2005051500493.html that it erred in its report.

Massacre in Uzbekistan

by John Q on May 14, 2005

The news on the massacre in Uzbekistan is sketchy, but it seems clear that troops fired on a protest meeting, killing dozens.

The massacre followed violent protests in which government buildings were taken over, and prisoners, including alleged members of Islamist groups, were set free, but it appears that the protestors were simply listening to speeches when the troops attacked them .

The best information seems to be at Registan, which I found through the relatively new system of Technorati tags

The US currently has an air base and around 1000 troops in Uzbekistan. They can’t be regarded as neutral, and their presence clearly supports the mass murdering and torturing dictator Karimov, someone who appears indistinguishable from Saddam circa 1980. A literal reading of Administration rhetoric would suggest that the US should use its power to overthrow Karimov , but there’s zero possibility that this will happen (the official US response is an appeal for restraint, directed mainly at the protestors). But the troops should be withdrawn immediately, and all ties with this evil regime broken.