U.S. troop conversion allegations diplomatic minefield
U.S. President Barack Obama may face a new minefield on the battlefields of Afghanistan — one that combines a potent mix of religion and culture.
Explosive allegations have emerged that U.S. soldiers have been attempting to convert Afghanis to Christianity, a scenario sure to stir passions and even anger in the overwhelming Islamic country. You can see our story on the issue here by my colleague Peter Graff in Kabul.
The U.S. military denied Monday it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, after a television network showed pictures of soldiers with bibles translated into local languages.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera television showed footage of a church service at Bagram, the main U.S. base north of the Afghan capital Kabul, in which soldiers had a stack of Bibles in the local languages, Pashtu and Dari.
A military chaplain was shown delivering a sermon to other soldiers, saying: “The special forces guys — they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down.”
Critics have long contended that parts of the U.S. military have been unduly influenced by a powerful evangelical Christian wing which has pressured men and women in uniform to convert or conform.
Many U.S. military events often feature public prayers which some also say blur the line they say should be drawn between church and state. We have blogged on this issue before.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has for years tried to raise public awareness about this issue and has in the past accused the military of sanctioning missionary activity in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Headed by former U.S. air force judge advocate Mikey Weinstein, it said on Monday that: “His (Weinstein’s) calls for action have been met with a full assault of denials, baseless and anti-Semitic accusations, and most recently imprecatory prayers against him and his family. But now there is VIDEO PROOF that Mikey has been right all along.”
The U.S. military has said that the comments from the sermon shown in the video were taken out of context and that it firmly prohibits soldiers from proseltyzing while on duty.
Whether this is true or not, there is no question that at least some damage has been done.
Here’s the Al Jazeera video:
(Photo: U.S. Marines bow their heads in prayer before the arrival of President Barack Obama at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, February 27, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES))