National Security and the Qur'an

Barack Obama’s new national security team is a "Best and Brightest" group as befits an administration that is pledged to being super-competent and smart, the implication being that George W. Bush’s foreign policy has been incompetent and ham-handed, his ideology over-riding his sensibility. I do not believe "ideology" is a bad word if by ideology you mean the promotion of Western values. And diplomacy is a tactic, not a strategy. But, there can be little doubt that Bush’s prosecution of the war on terror has suffered from the kind of neo-conservative myopia that was utterly absent from the stage in Chicago yesterday.

The group could start by reading the current issue of Commonweal where Michael Peppard has an article about religious abuse of Muslim detainees both in Iraq and at Guantanamo. Specifically, Peppard relates how U.S. guards have desecrated the Qur’an in front of Muslim detainees and explains why this is an acute form of torture from the perspective of the detainees. They view the Muslim holy book as itself divine and so stomping on it is like stomping on God. We may think this is ridiculous, but it is what they think that matters.


And not only to them. Moderate Muslims may not view the Qur’an in the same way as these detainees but they, too, will draw conclusions from American behavior such as this. The episodes lend credence to the fanatics’ claim that the war on terror is really a war on Islam. If we wish to be seen as champions of freedom, including religious freedom, desecrating anyone else’s sacred texts or symbols is counter-productive. We want moderate Muslims to see the detainees as fanatics, not us.

There is a deeper reason these actions are so awful. Showing disrespect for anyone’s religion is a betrayal of our Western values, of those values we are supposed to be fighting for in the first place. This desecration of the Qur’an is a victory for the terrorists who can only win if they convince us to change ourselves, to let fear turn us into something repugnant, to become the caricature these fanatics have said we truly are.

The good news about the terrorists is that they are few in number. The war on terror is not like World War II; Osama bin Laden does not have the military-industrial might of a large nation to call upon. The terrorists can disrupt our lives but they can’t subjugate most of Europe. The only way they can win is if they terrorize us into changing who we are and how we behave.

Obama’s national security team can begin demonstrating their non-ideological hyper-competence by striking a blow for America’s ideological devotion to the First Amendment’s protections of religious freedom. Stop desecrating the Qur’an and punish those who do so. It is the smart thing to do. It is the right thing to do.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

 10.17.2018 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2018
Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018