Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

With Friends like these?

2005 

Islamic countries apply a double standard on [the] treatment of “Holy Books” and people who differ in faith and practice from Islamic dogma. While Islamic groups in the United States are engaged in “sensitivity training” sessions for non-Muslims that have included federal workers, the Ohio National Guard and U.S. Air Force Academy, there are no such sessions for Muslims to teach them tolerance for non-Islamic faiths. Quite the contrary. (Cal Thomas, The Washington Times.) 

Opinions about America’s place in the world, especially its role in Afghanistan and Iraq, are bitterly divided. 

Americans are suffering from the same division so that pro and anti-war factions have split the nation into two antagonistic camps. In Europe, the clamour against the U.S. is overwhelming, though not in the countries recently liberated from their previous Communist masters.  In Canada, opponents, especially among the political, media and academic elite, outnumber supporters of America. 

Desecrating the Koran

This is the context in which the arguments about the war are now being played out in the world press.  The problems faced by the Bush administration are exacerbated by a press that for the most part is not only critical but even venomous.This fact has again surfaced in the controversy surrounding a story that American guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison had desecrated the Koran by flushing it down a toilet. 

This story first reported in the May 9 issue of Newsweek spread like fire in tinder-dry grass. The result was a storm of outrage and demonstrations in the Muslim world that reportedly led to the death of 16 protesters and injuries of many more in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

It made little difference that the Newsweek story was soon retracted, since many did not believe the retraction. Instead, in the mainline Western press and even more so in the Muslim press, the reasoning went that even if this particular case of Koran desecration did not happen, abuse of prisoners and offending their religious sensitivities are occurring on a large scale. 

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times: “ I am talking about the war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp at Guantanamo Bay. Just shut it down and then plow it under. It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. president, just shut it down.”   

Democrat Senator Joe Biden said, “ This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world.” 

Amnesty International’s 2005 report on the state of human rights in the world claimed that the  detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times….” It also accused the U.S. of war crimes, and its executive director of AI – USA called on foreign governments to prosecute American officials traveling abroad. 

This odious comparison with the Soviet Union’s death camps where millions were killed is deeply insulting to the memory of those who perished, their families – and now to the U.S. military. But this kind of outrageous attacks on the American attempt to destroy one of the most murderous bands of terrorists is a telling indication of the state of mind even among leading human rights “experts.”. 

The Canadian Islamic Congress, led by Dr. Mohamed Elmasry – famous for his public statement that all Israeli citizens are legitimate targets of Palestinian killers -- declared that Newsweek had merely caved in to pressure from the Pentagon and the White House. Elmasry demanded that Newsweek, since it “plays a significant role in forming North American public opinion…. “do the right thing and stand up for the truth,” by recanting its earlier recantation. 

The Council of American-Islam Relations (CAIR) weighed in: “The allegations, if true, can only serve to fuel anti-American sentiment. Vague assurances of a military investigation are insufficient to keep this incident from being used to further harm relations with the Muslim world. We urge President Bush to initiate an open probe of the incident, make public its findings and punish those responsible.” 

CAIR helpfully offered its services to the government in conducting its investigations. (Readers should know that an Al-Qaeda  manual instructed its trainees that in captivity they  “must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them “ and “complain to the court on mistreatment while in prison.” 

Playing the Islamophobe Card

Dr. M.A. Muqtedar Khan, in an article posted on the CAIR website, “Why Koran Desecration is Worse than Abu Ghraib,” wrote that the desecration of the Koran “represents a spiritual, emotional and psychological torture of all Muslims.”

 He explained that Muslims revere the Koran because they accept it as the literal word of God, the eternal miracle of Prophet Muhammad, their direct link to the divine, and the most important symbol of their religion. 

Dr. Khan, a Fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote that this episode of reported desecration, despite Newsweek’s retraction, is more proof that under the cover of the war on terror the U.S. has made Islam and Muslim religiosity its real target. He claimed:  “It will take more than a retraction and another empty ‘Pentagon enquiry’ to ameliorate the anger, the hatred and the disgust towards the US that is now felt widely in the Muslim world.” 

This message of hatred and contempt for the U.S. has been drummed into the minds and hearts of the Muslim community in the U.S. and the rest of the free world.  The Islamic leaders are remarkably adept at exploiting the freedom of thought and the press in the U.S. to foster distrust and hatred toward that country. 

The stark reality is that these same Muslim critics would not have the slightest opportunity similarly to attack and demonize governments anywhere in the Muslim world. In fact, it’s much worse than that. In all the countries controlled by strict Islamic law, Christians and other non-Muslim citizens are stripped of their rights and freedoms, and Muslims who convert to a different religion are committing a crime punishable by death. 

Ironies Galore

The facts are very different from what Islamic leaders would have their followers believe. Though individual cases of abuse have occurred, such instances are not systemic. U.S. authorities have conducted numerous investigations, laid charges and issued sentences against service men and women who have abused and cruelly humiliated prisoners. 

The military has also issued strict instructions to those in charge at the Guantanamo Bay prison, now housing some 520 men. The government has gone out of its way to accommodate the religious convictions of the prisoners. 

They are each supplied with a copy of the Koran, their prayer and dietary requirements are respected, they are well fed, and provided with medical care. Here are some instructions to the guards for treating the Koran, as reported by Diana West and posted on the townhall.com website. 

She writes that guards are required to handle the Koran “as if it were a fragile piece of art.” According to the prescribed operating procedure, guards must “respect the dignity of the Koran” and when a copy needs to be moved by some one other than the detainee or a fellow believer, then a guard must put on clean gloves in full view of the detainees. He must use two hands when handling the Koran “in a manner signaling respect and reverence.” But then he is instructed to take care that the right hand “is the primary one used to manipulate any part of the Quran due to the cultural association with the left hand.” No detail is overlooked, for the guard is instructed to convey the book inside a “clean, dry detainee towel.” 

West reminds us that these elaborate instructions for showing respect to the Koran has to do with the fact that according to Islamic teaching, Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims are unclean and therefore unfit to handle the Koran. Hence the call for gloves and clean towels. 

Where in the annals of all wars throughout history has ever such consideration been shown to enemy combatants and to their religious sentiments?  But that makes no difference to the Muslim critics; for this is a war that is different from anything most people can understand. It is suffused with religious fanaticism that easy-going and secular Westerners cannot fathom. 

There are at least three ironies that should not be overlooked. 

One. The anti-American press pretends to want to protect the U.S. from the fury of the Arab/Muslim community. But its spin on the events surrounding the war on terror is such that it fuels that fury. They are arsonists who pretend to be firefighters. Just read the comments of Friedman, Biden and Amnesty International. They lend a kind of legitimacy to those who daily kill and maim innocent people in order to sabotage the attempt at re-building Afghanistan and Iraq into free and open societies. 

Two. The same press that incessantly hammers the U.S. for its efforts to defeat a deadly terrorist force, in contrast is deferential to the Islamic faith. This is why they do not vigorously pursue the link between radical Islam and oppression in a number of countries where there is no freedom of any kind and where departure from Islamic doctrine and practice meets with harsh punishment. Curiously, the steady drumbeat of anti Americanism orchestrated in the Western press serves as a protective umbrella for those same Islamist oppressors and killers. An extreme instance of this are the pundits, including Americans, who have stated that the U.S. has brought the horrors of 9/11 on itself. 

Three. There is another deep irony at the heart of this controversy that is mostly ignored in this debate. The very book that we are demanded to treat with respect and even reverence instructs the faithful to despise and subjugate non-believers, especially Christians and Jews. Diana West is right when she points out that the Islamic concept of najis - the unclean infidel - is ”a barbarous notion that has helped fuel the bloodlust of Jihad and the non-Muslim subjugation of dhimmitude” 

These are indeed perverse and fateful ironies. More about them next time.