Juan Cole recently wrote Top Ten Ways the US Military Can Avoid Teaching Hatred of Muslims
Juan Cole’s ideas are always valuable, but I’m not certain that he understands the full scope of the issue. Yes, there are intelligent and honorable people in the military. But if they speak up and criticize leadership, hiring, and even course content, they can be derailed from their next appointment, or banished and shunned for life.
Here are my thoughts on the same topic:
Top Ten Ways the US Military Can Avoid Teaching and Demonstrating Hatred of Muslims
1. Leave the Qur’an alone! Don’t circulate articles about the hatred taught in the Qur’an. Do Jews read the Talmud or Torah without guidance? So, if religious principles are discussed either by the military, the CIA, Homeland Security or any other agencies exercise some vigilance about the ideas being presented. Don’t shoot the Qur’an pee on it, or flush it down the toilet. Don’t tell Muslims which version of the Qur’an they are allowed to read on federal facilities (this I say to directly to Carlisle Barracks and the U.S. Army War College) and don’t threaten those who will not cooperate with your effort to force Muslims to use one or another edition of the Qur’an.
2. Cancel the Human Terrain System (training located at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas). In this program, anyone with a college degree, military or not, can be promoted as a “social science” expert who will actually work as an intelligence-gatherer without the benefit of intelligence training or specialized knowledge. HTS was active in Iraq and Afghanistan and is scheduled for use in Africa. This program opens with instructors’ statements and briefs about the “blind faith” of Muslims and the dangers that their faith represents. Differences between groups, areas, and cultural practices are not explained because most of the trainers are unfamiliar with them. Those with a military background are team leaders, but they are as unfamiliar with the cultural codes they are supposedly revealing as the others. HTSers are encouraged to reach back and get information from a US-based contracting agency, so they are operating essentially with a Wikipedia-or-less framework. HTS will hire non-Muslims from the region but is essentially suspicious of any normal aspects of practicing Muslims. Six minute interviews by non-experts pretending to be experts is leading to Muslim civilians deaths (and deaths of some in the HTS program as well as US troops).
3. There are Muslim “guest” officers (international fellows) in many short or longer-term training programs in the United States. Don’t insult them or Muslim employees by not allowing or suggesting that they do not pray. Do provide pork alternatives! Don’t expect them to stand in for Ph.D. level experts on countries, movements, or aspects of Islam by providing presentations to help them improve their English, as they are not subject matter experts, but rather, military, or affiliated-professionals (medical).
4. Expand the review of materials hateful to Muslims to the contractors and
contracting groups who work with the military (often including military retirees). Their programs are not subject to the same scrutiny or level of review as TRADOC’s, for ex. Sometimes, military institutions deliberately contract programs so as to hold them at an off-site and air views that would be anaethma elsewhere. Consider the Long War conferences, the counterterrorism network and Stratcom meetings where those with Minerva funding have proposed that (dead) Muslim terrorists be branded homosexuals to taint the allure of radicals, or that Muslim beliefs
5. Stop treating American Muslims like a fifth column. They are not the same as
foreign officers and their religious rights are supposedly protected by the U.S. Constitution. Stop firing them if they pray, fast, participate in Muslim activities or at the drop of a hat if someone complains about them. A large percentage do not list their religion if they currently serve in the armed forces – can you guess why?
6. More carefully examine both official manuals, periodic reports, security officials’ presentations and what becomes informal and recommended as well as required reading. The previous Army Counterinsurgency Manual contained a truly shocking chapter on Islam and Muslims. (Someone should leak the draft copy). Also, consider the security briefings and trainings to entire facilities or posts. Some discuss the “threat level” in terms of the actions of local Muslims, or locations of mosques. What if an entire university were assembled and told to beware of the Jehova’s Witness temple located on street X adjacent to the campus? Documents, monographs, articles and sometimes published military students’ materials include statements that indict Muslims, their texts and practices. These are circulated via email throughout DoD and no-one takes responsibility for what is in them. This is how Robert Spencer, MEMRI and others have become more powerful than course materials.
7. Don’t fail to cover Islam altogether. Most Americans completed no history or world religion requirements in high school and few took any relevant courses in college. Officers believe that the information they received as cadets or in lower levels of operational training were sufficient, but many misconceptions remain. This is why qualified experts are necessary. That faculty member you hired who worked with State Dept. in Tunisia, or wrote about conflict X, may not really know how to explain the differences between Shi’ism and Sunni Islam. Do not, I repeat, do not as Juan Cole suggests turn to local imams for this coverage. Some are extremists (still). Some are simply not well-educated. They aren’t necessarily leading prayer on the basis of extensive Islamic knowledge, although they may be. There is no Pope and Islam and no coordinating center for “imam appointment.” It should be helpful for officers to visit a local mosque if they have never done so, but Muslims are also wary of FBI and other surveillance, and many mosques are merely prayer locations with little information.
8. Don’t censor to the point that radical Islam cannot be covered at all, but obtain some advice on the curricula! By the same token, “moderate Islam” and “moderate Islamists” do exist and are going to be new allies or foes of the United States. Yes, Erdogan and others dislike the term moderate Islamists and prefer to simply be called Muslims. But if you can’t differentiate Muslims from each other, you need instruction. Those of us who lost our jobs for saying so tried to introduce you to materials about Islamists and attempted to explain why they had public support.
9. Please don’t forget that Muslims are not just representatives of a religion (and some don’t wish to be representatives of their religion), they are human beings with political, economic, artistic and other sensibilities. Strategic, operational or educational engagement with Muslims means considering them as economic, political, and social beings and the requisite expertise on these matters cannot be provided when religious ideas/actions/programs are the only aspects reviewed.
10. Do not censor or disallow discussion of Muslim civilian deaths (name ALL not just AQ operatives) or extrajudicial U.S. practices, uses of state terror or other failures in foreign policy. You need to include and understand what about US foreign policy is horrifying and terrifying Muslims around the world and not obfuscate the negative aspects of policy. Likewise, if Muslim allies engage in state terror, or severely restricted human rights policies, this must come into the discussion of the operating environment.