Apologize for burning Qurans?

(Author’s note: The following is an unedited response of mine to an editorial recently published in my regional newspaper. Here’s a link to the edited version published in Newsday on 3/7/12 http://www.newsday.com/opinion/letters/letters-pulling-out-of-afghanistan-1.3583573 )

Dear Editor,

Your editorial in the Tuesday, February 28 issue of Newsday, titled “Afghanistan: Get out soon; Quran burning, killings of U.S. soldiers underscore hostilities between ‘allies,’” makes it sound as if we don’t have troops in 70 other countries, CIA in over 90 countries, and Diplomatic Security Service in over 200 countries, in our struggle against Islamist extremists.  Iraq and Afghanistan amount to the high ground in this struggle, much like Germany and Japan were the high ground in World War II.  Would you have us leave those places, too?

The fact is there are still many people out there who very much want to kill us.  Our ability to project power and influence through places like Afghanistan help keep us safe here in the U.S., just like staying in Germany helped protect us against the Soviet threat, and a presence in Japan helps us deter a Chinese threat.  Our presence in those two countries allowed them to rebuild, retool, and focus on social and infrastructure priorities, while we subsidized, and still do subsidize their defense.

There is now pressure from NATO to invade Syria to stop the now year-long bloodshed; the death toll of innocent victims approaches nearly twice that of all the American deaths associated with ten years of battle in Iraq.  Since Barack Hussein Obama insisted on an untimely withdrawal from neighboring Iraq to please a hungry election year electorate, we now have no adjacent physical military presence with which to directly influence the ongoing tragedy there, or with Iran.  Our troops in Afghanistan dwindling and scheduled for full withdrawal, have no hope of influencing actions in Iran, which threaten to worsen, and invites an Israeli pre-emptive strike.

As for the desecrated Quran burnings, you know, but did not put in your editorial, that detainees had written in the books, which is strictly forbidden in Muslim teachings and against camp rules.  Although it is permissible to burn a damaged Quran, it is not preferable, and would require “rubbing out” references to Allah, His Angels and His Messengers before burning.  The Qurans had been deemed classified material because of the detainee writings in them, and were probably therefore scheduled to be destroyed along with other classified documents.

While serving at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2002, I received briefings on the Muslim faith, which included cursory information on the proper handling of the Quran, but they did not include how to properly dispose of one.  Such details would be left for the U.S. Navy Muslim Chaplain on duty there.  I doubt the soldiers tasked with disposing of the books had any clue what they were doing would upset anyone.

I agree that we should apologize for inadvertently desecrating the Quran, precisely when all Taliban and al Qaeda apologize for every single American and other innocent human being they have killed, from Marine CPL Stephen Crowley, a Long Island native, and U.S. Embassy Guard in Islamabad, Pakistan, the first American casualty in the Global War on Terror, killed on November 21, 1979, to the victims of 9/11/01, whose numbers keep growing from the hazards of the response and clean-up at the World Trade Center, to Daniel Pearl’s video taped beheading, to the execution of the two U.S. Army officers you mention in your editorial.  When they do that, we should apologize for the books, not before.

The reality is that al Qaeda and the Taliban and their ilk will never apologize for anything they do.  As the Barbary Pirates before them, they are set on death and destruction in order to influence weaker forces into their realm of influence.  The murderous Islamist extremist protestors in this case have seized the President’s premature and unwarranted apology as a weakness, and have exploited it with the help of a traitorous media.  In what sane world to we excuse the murder of innocent people because of the incineration of paper?  Sincere religious followers understand that the sins of an individual are atoned between that person and their God, not avenged through a murderous crowd or individual.

NOTE: I am a three times mobilized retired U.S. Army Reserve Major, who served in Cuba and Iraq, and am the author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior.”

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