The US military apologized, and rather profusely, for the actions of one soldier who used a Koran for target practice in a suburb of Baghdad. How big of an apology did tribal leaders from Radhwaniya receive from Major General Jeffrey Hammond? Hammond presented them with a new copy of the book, freshly kissed by another military official, and pronouced himself humbled:
A soldier used the Quran — Islam’s holy book — for target practice, forcing the chief U.S. commander in Baghdad to issue a formal apology on Saturday. ….
“I come before you here seeking your forgiveness,” Hammond said to tribal leaders and others at the apology ceremony. “In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers.”
Another military official kissed a Quran and presented it as “a humble gift” to the tribal leaders.
The soldier claimed that he didn’t know the book was the Koran, which seems a little hard to believe. Someone wrote an expletive in the book and it had been shot several times. Iraqis found it later when the military snipers left the police shooting range in Radhwaniya, complete with a target drawn on it.
The apology was necessary, says Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, but overdone:
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. …
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?
Shooting a Koran for target practice is simply a stupid thing to do under any circumstances. Doing it in an Iraqi police shooting range and leaving it behind for the Iraqis to find is more than just stupid, it’s a deliberate insult to the people we want to trust us. That shows a real malevolence rather than just thoughtlessness, and almost a desire to undermine the hard work done by the American military in getting the Sunni tribes to align themselves with the US against their more lunatic co-religionists.
I understand what Robert says about the impression of submission and agree with him, but General Hammond has to walk a tightrope in Radhwaniya. He needs to make an apology that shows real remorse and appreciation for the disrespect shown to the Iraqis by his soldier, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as to how best to express it. If the Iraqis received the impression that Robert explains in his excellent post, it will only exist in reality in their minds, and burdens Hammond not at all. Hammond also has to consider the difficult position into which this puts the tribal leaders who threw their lot in with the US among their own people; they need a strong expression of humility to salvage their own standing.
In the future, let’s hope American soldiers pick better titles for target practice. I’d suggest anything by V.C. Andrews or Karl Marx. Do HA readers have any suggestions?