The news was faxed to me by a stunned Muslim: according to the May 9, 2005 edition of Newsweek magazine, "Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash.?
These findings are expected to be published in an upcoming report by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Florida.
Unfortunately this was not the first incident of this nature. Other news sources like the Seattle Times and the New York Times have reported this abuse in the past as well. There has been an utter disregard for decency and rule of law when it comes to dealing with Muslim prisoners in America and the world, as reported by the Inspector General of the US Justice Department and Human Rights Watch.
The Quran has been abused in the war on terror to the extent that one of three hunger strikes by prisonsers at Guantanamo Bay, according to the New York Times, was because of the repeated disrespect demonstrated by the soldiers towards it. They tossed copies of the Quran into a pile and kicked them around.
This disrespect of the Quran occurred with the full knowledge of how much these actions will hurt a Muslim emotionally.
Soldiers knew what they were doing
Respect is something often understood differently in various cultures.
For instance, I was once walking close to Chicago's Lake Shore and almost fell down as I tried to stop myself from stepping forward. This was because I found the name of Jesus written on the sidewalk, peace be upon him. While here in the US having the name of Jesus written on the ground may be considered a sign of love and respect (think of the Hollywood Walk of Fame), you will never find the name of any Prophet on the footpaths of the Muslim world. In fact, stepping on anyone's name is considered disrespectful.
But this is no case of cultural miscommunication. The officers involved in this desecration of the Quran knew well what this Book meant for the prisoners. They intentionally adopted this strategy as a technique of psychological torture. These individuals understood this just as they know that flushing a Bible down the toilet is not an act of respect.
Religious Abuse of Prisoners is Not New
A new book documents how religion was used in a despicable way to humiliate Muslims. According to a New York Times book Review of "Torture and Truth" by Mark Danner: "One Muslim inmate was allegedly forced to eat pork, had liquor forced down his throat and told to thank Jesus that he was alive. He recounted in broken English:
'They stripped me naked, they asked me, 'Do you pray to Allah?' I said, 'Yes.' They said 'F - - - you' and 'F - - - him.' ' Later, this inmate recounts: 'Someone else asked me, 'Do you believe in anything?' I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.' '
Some soldiers in Abu Ghraib and in other detention camps became abusive because of US policies sanctioning torture and degradation of prisoners. This treatment was also facilitated by an envioronment of Islamophabia and the demonization of Muslims in the world. This is the same environment responsible for the virtual internment camp that we Muslims in America find ourselves in today.
America continues to lose in the Muslim world
Billions of dollars in aid to Muslim countries washes away when we allow disrespect and dishonoring to enter our arsenal in the fight against terrorism.
In the April 25, 2005 issue of the US News & World Report, an article entitled, "Hearts, Minds and Dollars? by David E. Kaplan noted that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent by America to win the hearts and minds of Muslims by establishing Islamic radio and TV shows, courting Madrassa teachers and setting up a number of other measures to make Islam more America-friendly. But all of this is worth nothing if we continue to do things like those described by recent investigations, especially flushing a copy of the Quran down the toilet.
One ironic development, according to this news report, is that despite the US government pumping millions of dollars into initiatives to change Muslim hearts and minds, the opposite is happening. In April 2002, 60 percent of Moroccans expressed anti-US sentiment. In two years the number increased to 85 percent. In Jordan it went from 60 percent to almost 80 percent in the same period. And in Egypt, anti-American sentiment rose from 78 percent to a whopping 98 percent. The governments of all these countries are US allies.
We can spend billions on carefully planned programs, but we cannot erase the damage we have caused to the psyche of Muslims through Abu Ghraib's prison abuses and now, the disturbing revelations that are coming out. There is no doubt that the latest news will only leave more Muslims seething in anger, disgust and outrage. At this writing, two people have already been killed in Afghanistan during riots to protest the disrespect of the Quran.
We Must Apologize & Investigate
Small statements by the State Department will not do the job. It is time for President Bush to apologize as Commander-in-Chief.
We destroyed our honor in the Muslim world with Abu Ghraib. Now, we have completely obliterated any respect for us by allowing our military officers to abuse the Islamic holy book. No wonder even Pakistan, America's top ally in the war on terror, could not but express its outrage at the abuse of the Quran.
The downward spiral will only continue unless we condemn this crime against the heart of the Islamic faith. We must send a clear message to Muslims the world over that such actions do not represent America or Americans. This can only be done by conducting an investigation into the actions of and suspending Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, under whose leadership such abuses took place.
It is time to save face to gain respect. If we do not act now, we will continue to reap the harvest of hate, misunderstanding and growing anti-US sentiment in the Muslim world.
We Must Repent as a People
My neighbors are people who know respect and honor. They showed up in my support when some fanatics attacked my office after 9/11 and offered to do groceries when it was difficult for my wife to do so. They are not the few. They are in the millions. They are the vast majority of Americans. Americans don't flush copies of the Quran down the toilet. Hundreds and thousands of them have actually purchased it to find out more about Islam.
This is the America I love.
However, like all people, we have our share of bigots and extremists. They are the ones who abuse Islam and Muslims on the airwaves of America. They are the ones facilitating the poisonous environment in which Islamophobia flourishes.
Unfortunately, our government is becoming more secretive and less accountable to its people. Government policies are perpetuating Islamophobia. The most recent case in point is that of two 16-year-old girls in New York who were detained for six weeks as "leaked? reports in media branded them "would be suicide bombers." Now released, they spent six weeks in detention without charges, and all proceedings were based on secret evidence and closed court hearings. Nobody knows what transpired. It looks like another version of what happened to Captain James Yee.
As Americans we must repent for what we as a nation are doing to ourselves. We are outsourcing torture; we lied about WMDs to attack Iraq; we are punishing soldiers for Abu Ghraib's abuses while ignoring the higherups who sanctioned the torture.
We teach children the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" but we punish people based on secret evidence, hold people in prison for years without charges, harass our peace activists, bar scholars from entering our country, ban charities without due process of law and profile our minorities.
We do all of this while claiming to spread democracy and freedom in the world.
We must repent. We must hold ourselves up to the higher ideals that make America great. President Bush loves God and he believes that the God of Muslims is the same as the God of Christians. He must consider what Jesus would do if he was in the situation the President has taken our country into.
Alexhis de Toqueville once wrote that America is great because it is good. If America ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great.
Have we ceased to be good?