May 3, 2009

The Crusading Troops in Afghanistan

A year ago, the Los Angeles Times broke a story about how Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse and the Southern Baptist International Mission Board were poised on the border of Iraq ready to enter when it was safe, in order to carry out their proselytizing. A couple of adventuresome Christian fellows were also trekking through South Asia looking to bring the message of Christianity to these Muslim countries. You might remember how former President Bush and some higher Pentagon officials would slip, now and then, and refer to our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a Crusade.

Now, from
Al Jazeera's veteran reporter on Afghanistan, James Bay, we find further evidence of what must be called "institutionalized" missionary work. Bay obtained video footage taken by a former soldier at Bagram, showing that US soldiers are not only carrying out missionary work; they have been encouraged to do so by their commanders. In fact, the video is from about a year ago, which may only be coincidental with the proselytizers reported on in the LAT in 2008.

Bibles have been translated into Pashto and have been made available for distribution by our soldiers. Here's a snippet from the article:

In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him".

"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," he says.

"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business."

I urge you to read the article in its entirety. Those of us who have been following this issue for a number of years now should be more concerned than ever, because the actual translation and printing of the bibles into the chief Afghan language shows not only an official approval of the proselytizing, but also gives the lie to the continuing denials of the Pentagon and the Chaplains' corps that any proselytizing is going on.

"Why do they hate us?" was a question that was all the rage after 9/11. Those of us, libertarian, conservative, liberal, progressive, socialist, green, and sane--all of us questioned the crime and pointed to the United States' continuing exploitation and manipulation of other countries. This information shows that we have to add evangelical manipulation firmly into the list. This boneheaded collusion of our Armed forces with Evangelical Christianity is a further indication that apparent gaffe about Crusaders in the Middle East was something to be taken seriously.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been warning for years about the open proselytizing among our troops and how some units look upon these wars as if they were Crusades. (After adverse publicity from the MRFF, one Air Force Unit finally took the Christian symbolism off its particular attack group.) Go to the MRFF website to check out their articles and their ongoing attempts to have the United States Military actually conform in practice to their constitutional duty to separate church and state. Order a copy of Michael L. Weinstein's book, With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military (available through a link on the site) to read about why he thinks this is a very serious problem for all Americans, whether in the services or not.

President Obama's War in Afghanistan now has another element to deal with. The proselytizing is really just part of the American exceptionalism manifesting itself again. We have the religion of Democracy, the religion of unbridled capitalism, the religion of religion, the religion of advanced technology. As if we always know best what goes for other countries, the majority of whose citizens want us to get the hell out of their country and start sending them real aid and assistance and reparations.

Praise was recently given in Congress for our National Guardsmen on special agricultural duty to teach farmers in Afghanistan"modern methods of farming." Nice of them to do it, and praiseworthy, better than more drones or attack helicopters, but those fellows should be going over as true farmers only, not as part of the military. In a pinch, they will be forced to choose between the seed bag and the rifle. And the rifle will win to their detriment. That's all the Afghan farmers need, modern farming, with no money to buy fertilizer or genetically modified seed. (Perhaps it will be another replay of the "green revolution" in India, whose modern corporate farming pressures and patented corporate seed have helped to create high rates of suicide among poor Indian farmers.) Orchards and farmland in Afghanistan have been ruined by our military presence. The vast majority of the Afghan people want us to make sure the door doesn't bang us in the butt on the way out. Get the troops out, let the Afghan people call their
loya jurga and carry on their own society.

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