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ICG Risk Blog - [ Qur'anic desecration: When does "a senior U.S. government official" merit sensitivity training and the understanding that "There are no rear areas in the media war"? ]

Qur'anic desecration: When does "a senior U.S. government official" merit sensitivity training and the understanding that "There are no rear areas in the media war"?

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The essential story of the Islamic firestorm that commenced with a Pakistani translation of Newsweek's Gitmo: SouthCom Showdown is not that Newsweek erred, although I believe that some grounds for investigatory rebuke exist (depending on a single source but saying "sources," not getting a leaked copy or a verbal reading of the supposed release text to insure correct fact and contextual relevance) or that excesses of various US soldiers and guards may prove to validate the spirit if not the fact of the SouthCom complaint, but that a "senior U.S. government official" could be so politically tone deaf as to not raise a flag within DoD or the administration, depending upon where this official resides, over what would be an explosive issue to Muslims, and that DoD could remain unperturbed over the probe for almost a week until Pakistan's most accomplished and charismatic cricketer, the smiling assassin, Imran Khan, could translate a brief item in Periscope, a short, speculative, but usually well-sourced Newsweek column.

Desecration of the Qur'an is a heinous affront to Muslims - far above the corporeal abuses of Abu Ghraib - and is a capital offence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Contrast that to US free speech laws that allow any religious document be it a Bible or Qur'an to be desecrated. In a form of Islamic extraterritoriality, the US is being called upon to "hand the culprits over to an Islamic country for punishment" lest a jihad be launched against the US.

It is conceivable that the US could have prejudiced essential Islamic cooperation in its GWOT (global war on terror) in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Muslim states while giving succor and recruitment to terrorists and insurgents. Yes, al Qaeda manuals coach detainees to make claims of US or coalition insults to Islamic institutions and religion, and yes, when US troops can call their own Muslim troops and translators sand niggers, we heap assumption of guilt upon ourselves, but in the case of the SouthCom article, DoD had some two weeks, possibly more, between Newsweek's sharing the article text with its source and the Pakistani translations to recover and get ahead of the media impact. I submit that the impact of such cultural breaches is so great that the military should treat items containing these presumed religious infractions with far more attention and classify traffic on such items at a much higher level.

It is this utter disregard for issues that inflame our erstwhile allies and adversaries alike that is the seminal failure. In There are no rear areas in the media war either (Jan 2005), I noted the overdue attention to media sensitivities for frontline troops, regular and reserve, down to the "strategic corporeal":

Given the media fishbowl in which the Iraq has long immersed, tugged at every turn by protagonists of every stripe, it is remarkable that US forces at the soldier level are joining the media war [nearly] two years in the Iraqi war, is now public: media training for soldiers going into the war zone has been stepped up, becoming mandatory for Army troops. "Talking point" cards for military personnel, meanwhile, are being updated regularly as the war progresses… What was once an elective available upon request to interested military units has become a mandatory requirement for all army troops deploying to Iraq, and its intent is to serve each individual soldier, not just officers and senior enlisted, as a "standard part of deployment preparation." [Where] would we be had we trained troops in basic prisoner treatment, especially when they are the common criminals of Abu Ghraib. I believe that those so concerned fail to recognize the military sea change. Media training, like basic training, has now a become necessary skill, a "common task, much like firing your rifle" for every soldier.

Media and cultural training must be applied to our senior ranks as well such that it becomes a "common task" to support a "necessary skill." I leave it to the reader to follow the following chronology back in time. Muslims have already died in rioting to date over the possibility of desecration. I suspect that some US troops, directly and indirectly, will also die for this lapse. While I did not think it possible that our image in the Arab world could sink below that of Abu Ghraib, we have done so in a manner that will translate into lessened advantage and higher cost to the US in achieving its anti-terrorist goals.

How a Fire Broke Out
By Evan Thomas
Newsweek
May 23, 2005 issue

The Editor's Desk
Mark Whitaker
Newsweek
May 23 issue

Shoura Demands US Apology
P.K. Abdul Ghafour
Arab News
Monday, 16, May, 2005 (07, Rabi` al-Thani, 1426)

Muslim World Protests Qur’an Desecration
Agencies
Arab News
Saturday, 14, May, 2005 (05, Rabi` al-Thani, 1426)

US Pledges 'Transparent' Probe of Koran Desecration Charge
By David Gollust
Voice of America
13 May 2005

Afghans Stage Protests Over Quran Abuse
Thursday May 12, 2005 5:28pm from our sister station WJLA-TV
Associated Press

Have we come to this?
Shireen M Mazari
The News
Wednesday May 11, 2005-- Rabi-us-Sani 02, 1426 A.H.

Riots over US Koran 'desecration'
BBC
11.05.2005 (May 11, 2005)
Afgha

Imran demands US Apology for Holy Quran desecration
Pak Tribune
Friday May 06, 2005 (1547 PST)

Gitmo: SouthCom Showdown
Newsweek
May 9, 2005 issue

Gordon Housworth



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