Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
British army shoots itself in row over Afghan “mosque” models ?
The British Ministry of Defence has apologised after Muslims complained that it was using replicas of mosques at a firing range in northern England to train soldiers ahead of deployment in Afghanistan.
Relations between Muslims and the military are already fragile, so what’s the point of testing them even more by suggesting that mosques were places of danger, the Bradford Council of Mosques said, according to The Independent. The green-domed structures erected at the end of the firing range in north Yorkshire must be taken down, the council said.
A British military source told Reuters that the one-dimensional hardboard structures are not used as direct targets but are intended to provide a more “realistic” background for soldiers training ahead of deployment in Afghanistan. Other “generic eastern silhouettes” used include palm trees and irrigation ditches to recreate the Afghan setting soldiers would face there. It was never the intention for the structures to look like or replicate mosques, the Defence Ministry said, offering an apology if any offence had been caused. It said it had sought a meeting with the representatives of the community to find a way forward.
It’s not like they recreated a whole Afghan village with a mosque in it to familiarise soldiers, says Ishtiaq Ahmed, a spokesman for the Bradford Council of Mosques. “If they had a replica of a street or a village in Afghanistan with a mosque as a kind of location point we would understand that, but these are simply six or seven structures in the direct shooting line which anyone looking at would come to the obvious conclusion that they are mosques.” Community leaders are even more angry because the provocation comes just when they were trying to help the army recruit more Muslims, the BBC said.
Is it really the best way to win Afghan hearts and minds for soldiers starting their tour of duty ? Or a staggering own goal ?
Some people think its a bit of an over-reaction and even misleading. Douglas Murray, writing in The Telegraph blog, said the fact is that British, and U.S. troops for that matter, are forbidden to fire at mosques or other places of worship under the rules of engagement. But that will be forgotten in the current uproar, he says and instead the idea that soldiers are trained to shoot at mosques will get embedded.