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Sharia and the Marines

I find this fairly shocking, despite many warnings that should perhaps have mitigated the sense of shock. Our Marines in Afghanistan are being trained as follows:

Mubarak also said the Marines should never spit or urinate to the west, the direction of Mecca that Muslims in Afghanistan face when they pray.

In addition, when sharing a base with Afghan army troops, Marines shouldn't sleep with their feet pointed west, because that also is considered offensive, he said.

I hope I'm not the only one who reads that and says, "What???!"

This is outrageous. Our men in uniform should not be being forced to comply with the ridiculous sharia requirements in the tiny details of their lives concerning not facing toward Mecca when doing this or that. It's like we're trying actively to undermine morale and turn our military into a clown circus, while meanwhile risking lives. And risking lives specifically in this very search for cultural sensitivity:

Afghan compounds of tribal elders are always neutral ground, Mubarak said. There is no need to wear protective vests, because the custom is that any person inside the compound will have the full protection of the Afghans who live there.

In this post I said that empires are bad for the countries that have them. This is an example. An extreme one, to be sure, and one that isn't a necessary consequence of our having troops abroad. We could be sane rather than insane. We could refrain from training our Marines (as if they have nothing more important to think about) to worry about what direction they are facing when they sleep or commune with nature. Yes, it is buffoons in the military who are forcing our men to do this.

Nonetheless, it is a consequence of, inter alia, our never-ending quest for something-or-other by means of having troops all over the globe. I can't help thinking that a Marine being forced to use the bathroom in a sharia-compliant manner might prefer being deployed to deal with drug dealers invading the Mexican border. At least that would be a meaningful job.


Comments (75)

What is outrageous? If we are going to occupy a country then we should respect their customs. This is simply good manners.

I can understand why a person would be opposed to us being in Afghanistan, but given that we are it makes no sense to stomp around like we own the place and all those dumb Muslims better re-educate themselves.

I agree with Matt, we should respect other people's customs when in their country (and expect foreigners in America to respect ours, of course). Why shouldn't we, when it doesn't violate our own norms?

The only proviso I have in this case is that these really are their customs and that we have good reason to believe that they really expect US Marines to follow them. In other words, the proviso that this isn't something dreamed up by some Officer of Cultural Sensitivity or whatever.

Gentlemen, please. There should be _no_ requirement, either in good manners or otherwise, that completely non-Muslim soldiers be careful to remember at all times the direction of Mecca and not sleep with their feet toward it or urinate toward it just because they happen to be working _with_ Muslims. This is requiring that they behave as if they themselves are Muslims. If our so-called "allies" are not mature enough to understand and accept the simple statement, "Our soldiers are not Muslims and are not required to urinate away from Mecca," then we _definitely_ have no business putting our soldiers on bases with them. This is absurd. No culture has the right to put such minute physical religious requirements upon soldiers in the field with whom they have allegedly allied themselves.

You guys have had your absurd-o-meters removed if you can read this and respond, immediately, as if pre-programmed, "Hey, it's just good manners."

Our men are at least allegedly there on a military mission. I would like to say that a hundred years ago our military commanders would have understood the absurdity of cumbering them with such nonsense.

I still don't see it. I doubt remembering which direction is west is really that onerous. Urinating is usually done at fixed locations that are presumably already oriented correctly, and otherwise is normally a rather private affair. It's a similar task to set your cot up so that you aren't facing west. The soldiers aren't required to take part in Muslim rites, or pray to Allah, so they aren't behaving as though they are Muslims. Again, if we aren't going to respect local customs then don't invade. If we do invade, then respect them (or act like a conqueror, which we aren't willing to do). This is especially true given the stated desire to win the 'hearts and minds' of the populace. Perhaps it's a foolish strategy, but spitting at Mecca is a good way to fail at it.

The soldiers aren't required to take part in Muslim rites, or pray to Allah, so they aren't behaving as though they are Muslims.

Matt, I'm afraid that's a deliberately obtuse comment. The reason for caring tuppence about these minutiae is _precisely_ because of a special reverence for Mecca, which is a religious reverence. Observing this reverence in one's normal bodily movements and activities should not be required of non-Muslims.

This is especially true given the stated desire to win the 'hearts and minds' of the populace.

Given the apparent meaning connected to those words, it is _certainly_ a foolish strategy. Soldiers and diplomats are different types of beings. It's silly to treat an allegedly military mission as if every single Marine is an individual diplomat and must in his most private activities behave in a heavily Islamicized manner in the hopes that this will ingratiate us with the Afghanis. This shows a complete downgrading of the distinctively military nature of the military itself. If we set up military bases in a Muslim country we do not have to make them sharia-compliant down to the direction the sleeping cots are facing.

I don't know quite what you mean by "acting like conquerors." There's a pretty big difference between, I dunno, laying waste the fields, forcing the natives to feed your troops at their own loss, confiscating livestock, or making passes at their women (or worse)--four activities that might normally come to mind with the phrase "acting like conquerors"--and simply *allowing our soldiers to face whatever way they please when they spit*.

To imply that we're "acting like conquerors" if we don't force these minute requirements on our military men even on military bases (much less in the field!) shows a real lack of a sense of perspective.

Right, a special reverence for Mecca that our allies hold. They consider it disrespectful to do certain things, therefore it is foolish to do them. Notice that these strictures only hold when in the presence of Afghan soldiers or citizens? It's just common sense to avoid needlessly offending allies.

You say that there's no point because they will never like us. Well then, your real problem is that we are over there at all. If they will never have any respect for us then the whole mission is a fool's errand. I agree! But if we are going to be there, then we should avoid giving offense wherever possible.

What I'm really seeing here is that some people, like Auster, don't like Islam and don't want us involved with it in any way. That's fine with me, but if we are not going to be involved in Islam then let's get out of Afghanistan.

By acting like conquerors, I meant acting towards Islam like e.g. the Romans did towards Druidism. We're not going to do that, as we don't have the stomach for it. In empire building, though, you either go big or go home.

Is it still okay for American soldiers to verbally acknowledge the divinity of Christ? Or is that bad manners?

What if the locals believed that sleeping with your feet pointed west disturbed the magnetic field or something, thereby bringing misfortune onto the camp (remember, this is when Afghanis are present)? If I understand Lydia, she'd still be against it even though it wasn't religious. How about eating from a common serving dish with your right rather than your left hand? (I'm reminded of that scene with Jimmy Stewart in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much.) I still don't see what's so onerous about these requirements; again, it's only in the presence of the locals.

On "acting as if they were Muslims," we went over all this about those kids on that mountain in Australia, so I won't repeat my comments here.

About soldiers being warriors and not diplomats, well, this isn't 1941. Counter-insurgency is largely about getting along with the local population.

About "acting like conquerors," remember that Josephus wrote that a certain Roman legion removed something from their helmets (an image of Caesar?) whenever they entered Jerusalem because the image offended the locals' religious sensibilities. So if this kind of consideration wasn't too touchy-feely for the Roman empire, I don't think it's too touchy-feely for us.

Actually, I might have been misremembering that bit from Josephus. According to some web site (I don't know if it's reliable), Pilate did send soldiers bearing that image into Jerusalem, offending the locals. But I'm almost sure I remember that the Roman practice, until then at least, was to honor local religious sensibilities. Actually, it might have been that that particular division (which had the emblem on their helmets) had been deliberately removed from the rotation of service in Jerusalem.

Anyone who remembers The Jewish War better than I, please set me straight on this.

PC 'crap' is getting our BEST killed and only the Constitutional blog world seems to notice!!!!!

And for all that appeasement, the Romans STILL found themselves embroiled in a war, in which victory required the slaughter of over a million Jews, enslavement of 97,000, the razing of Jerusalem to the ground, destruction and looting of the Temple, and the rooting out of every stronghold of resistance with brutal and unceasing force. This was done with absolutely no concern for Jewish sensibilities, and it was yet further necessary that Jews be denied entry into Aelia Capitolina, the Roman city built over the ruins of Jerusalem. Even then, the fighting was not over.

Indeed, let us consider what lessons can be learned from that time and apply them to our current situation with Islam.

What is outrageous? If we are going to occupy a country then we should respect their customs. This is simply good manners.

Funny how it often works out to be tyranny when a host a country tells Muslim immigrants to adapt or leave.

My understanding is that Pilate couldn't stand the Jews and pretty much tried to stick it to them whenever he could. It makes his actions in the Gospels a lot clearer when you realize he is just trying to annoy the Jewish leadership.

I agree with Lydia. But does Lydia agree that "Our Marines" should also not be forced to comply with Christian beliefs? Or, to phrase the question differently, do you support the evangelization of the U.S. military? See: http://www.instituteforscienceandhumanvalues.net/pdf/Position%20Paper%20ver4.pdf

I tried to find that passage I remembered from Josephus. No luck, but I think Chris is right that Pilate did try to stick it to the Jews. Among other things, he tried sneaking effigies of Caesar into Jerusalem in the middle of the night. It didn't work. According to Josephus (not necessarily a reliable source), Jews protested, Pilate threatened to massacre them, they stood their ground, and Pilate finally backed down and had the images removed. This suggests to me that before Pilate, images of Caesar were deliberately kept out of Jerusalem.

On the thing I couldn't find, I now think maybe it was about a Roman legion with some offensive image (Caesar?) on their banner (not helmets). The Jews didn't want it in Jerusalem, and the legion refused to go anywhere without their banner, so the legion was removed from the rotation of service in Jerusalem out of consideration for local religious sensibilities. Maybe I didn't read that in Josephus at all, I don't know, but I'm sure I read something like that somewhere.

One thing is clear, though: Except for a few bad apples like Pilate, the Roman empire was just a bunch of politically correct, sensitive, multi-culti liberals. By Lawrence Auster's standards, anyway.

Atheist Missionary: I don't have time to read the entire paper. There are lots of things that could be said about the parts I have read. Here are a few of them, in no particular order:

1) It's not a good idea to make U.S. military members who aren't Christians go to _actual_ Christian worship services, though going to services where a Christian prayer happens to be led at the beginning and all they have to do is stand there and have their ears "assaulted" by it isn't the same thing.


2) That's not nearly as nit-picky and pervasive to their daily life as forcing them constantly to be aware of the location of a far-away city and literally orient their physical acts (such as spitting, urinating, or sleeping) in relation to it. That would be more like forcing them all to observe detailed super-orthodox rabbinic rulings on what counts as "work" on the Sabbath--e.g., not combing your hair. (That is a real example of a rabbinic ruling on what counts as work, though of course our non-Jewish military are not required to follow it.)

3) It's just a fact that more people in the military actually are Christians than are Muslims, so even going to such services is going to be forcing a lot fewer people than forcing them to go through silly Muslim ritual positioning in going to the potty.

4) Atheists really do have exaggerated complaints (almost as exaggerated as those of Muslims). When I skimmed through part of that paper, I found a complaint, literally, about the fact that Christian evangelical chaplains offer Christian counseling to military members. This is simply silly. They're _Christian chaplains_. What sort of counseling do you expect them to offer? Even if the military member is in a personal crisis, that doesn't mean he has to listen to the chaplain. I might say that we shouldn't _have_ Muslim imams as military chaplains (yep, I have no problem with that type of discrimination), but I wouldn't expect them, once they are there, to offer some kind of contentless interfaith counseling!

Aaron, if anything, the stormy relationship between Pilate and the Jews supports my point. They were constantly threatening to riot over nothing-stuff, sometimes alleging that there were images around when there weren't. The Romans did try to accommodate them in some of these exaggerated upsets, and it never worked out. They were always threatening to riot about something. Moreover, they really _were_ a conquered people, and the Romans were not in general or in many ways trying to "win their hearts and minds." In the end, well, see Patrick's comment above.

By the way: The article doesn't just say that it is only in the actual physical presence of Afghani allies that our soldiers have to observe all of this. In one place it says that this is when they are "sharing a base" with Afghani allies. I would take that to mean just the mere fact that they are sharing a base is to change their whole behavior in this area, lest some Afghan ally have his world rocked by seeing a U.S. Marine spit or sleep with his feet in the direction of Mecca. I stand by my comments above.

Of course, if I had time, I could give link after link after link that shows this to be part of a pattern of foolishness. Our men are sometimes killed by those "Afghani allies." The Afghani allies engage in heinous acts which I'd rather not go into, towards children, on Western military bases (I've read definitely on Canadian bases and also that our soldiers are taught to be "tolerant" of these acts), and our cultural "sensitivity" is such that they are not stopped even within that ambit. Our soldiers are being told to carry out their patrols on foot and are getting their legs and lower bodies blown up by hand grenades in the name of showing all that trust to win "hearts and minds" rather than making patrols in vehicles.

And on and on it goes. In short, our military men are getting the short end of the stick. Their commanders don't care about their morale, their safety, or the professional nature of their mission in comparison to all this multicultural junk.

Let me add, too, that I think it pretty obvious that the Romans would not have put these kinds of detailed personal restrictions on the moment-to-moment bodily movements of their soldiers. Yes, they tried to remove images (or alleged images) that the Jews threatened to riot about (and that didn't work out too good), but it's roll-around-on-the-floor-laughing territory to imagine the Romans solemnly exhorting their soldiers not to offend the locals by the direction in which they went to the bathroom. They were also not stupid enough, as far as I know, to set up joint bases with Jewish soldier "allies." That, too, would have been to laugh at.

True story from Roman-Jewish history (don't have time to look up the link): Roman fortress overlooked the court of the temple. Roman soldier on the walls got bored and, er, made the gesture of the moon towards the worshipers in the temple. Caused a riot. Bunch of Jews got killed.

I don't know much about the Romans and the Jews, but their attitude towards the Druids was something like their attitude towards Carthage. Another example would be how the Turks dealt with Constantinople. Brutal, to be sure, but there are no Druids anymore and the Hagia Sophia might be lost forever. Our mission in Afghanistan is something different, to try to turn it into a Westernized liberal democracy. In other words, to get them to emulate us. In order to do that they have to like or at least respect us, and constantly annoying them by violating customs they hold dear is not the way to do it. As Mike T points out, think of how annoyed we get when Muslim immigrants flagrantly violate our customs.

I still don't see what's got Lydia so offended. Our troops aren't in Afghanistan on a religious crusade. (Given our Constitution, they'd better not be!) So offending the locals' religion is not an intrinsic part of the mission. (If it were, then peeing towards Mecca wouldn't matter.) So why should our troops, through simple carelessness, take a political fight and make it religious?

Put another way, "Don't offend people gratuitously" seems like a no-brainer tactical doctrine to me, and the particular issues mentioned don't seem to me to rise to the level of requiring that our soldiers "behave like Muslims", even if the underlying sensibilities are based on religion. (Not one of the Five Pillars is involved here, folks.) Let's face it—if our soldiers do their jobs properly, they're going to offend Afghans. When you knock down doors to search a place, the inhabitants are going to get offended (and their neighbors probably won't be too thrilled either). When you kill people, their friends and relatives are going to get offended. It's going to happen. So—given that insurgencies feed on resentment—why should our troops add gratuitous insults to the necessary ones by being careless about which way they spit?


Lydia, I'll take your word that Roman soldiers wouldn't have been restricted the way Americans are. Sounds reasonable. Since this seems to be a where-do-you-draw-the-line question, I'm just curious, where do you draw the line? Would you be OK with the equivalent of Roman soldiers not allowed to bring images of Caesar into Jerusalem? Or is even that too much?

My impression from Josephus is that the Jewish rebellion was largely a result of real abuses by a sequence of bad Roman procurators. As Chris suggested, some of them really went out of their way to oppress the locals. That might not be much in the way of a lesson for today, though: For one thing, back then most people were OK with being ruled by foreigners, as long as the foreign rulers were reasonable (like the Persians). Today, even good foreign rule will be resisted.

You're right about that incident at the Temple courtyard; I do remember that from The Jewish War. In fact the gesture was even somewhat ruder than just mooning the worshipers. (Of course you meant the worshipers in the Temple courtyard, since regular folks weren't allowed inside the Temple.) But that was just one undisciplined Roman soldier, so I'm not sure it's relevant.

So offending the locals' religion is not an intrinsic part of the mission.

You guys are just amazing. You'd think that all that was being done here was to tell the men, "Hey, guys, don't go burning any Korans in pig's fat, now."

Please. We are not talking about mere rules against "gratuitously offending," as if this were going out of one's way to offend.

It's _precisely_ that analogy that is being exploited here, and I cannot believe people are unable or unwilling to see that it does not apply.

We're just talking about *going to the bathroom the way you otherwise would* or *sleeping the way you otherwise would* as opposed to taking the trouble to make sure you aren't facing Mecca!

It isn't rocket science to see that not going out of one's way to _observe_ Muslim customs in these nit-picky areas is different from "gratuitously offending."

It's really quite dense not to be able to see this.

Aaron, I don't think there's a ready recipe for "how far it's reasonable to go" in respecting local customs. As a general rule, I'd say that if you're going to have troops in another country, they should be able to carry out their military mission and live normally as they would anywhere. That is, I think it's generally a thankless and pointless task to try to go out of one's way modify _normal_ procedures and living accommodations in order to appease the natives. Of course, there might be perfectly good independent reasons to modify the way one's military men behave. For example, it's morally bad (also spreads disease, etc., etc.) for soldiers to be going to prostitutes, so if going to prostitutes offends the natives, hey, the guys shouldn't have been doing that anyway.

The Jews were pretty patently unreasonable in their demands, and this was of course just part and parcel of the fact that they hated the Romans and didn't want the Romans to be there anyway. They made allegations sometimes (I'm pretty sure this is the incident you're thinking of) that Pilate had been displaying shields with "images" when in fact he hadn't. If a rumor spread to that effect, they got all riled up. They rioted at the drop of a hat. They were a heck of a people to rule. This is not to say that the Romans were nice guys either, and I'm no fan of empires anyway. But my point is this: The Romans _thought_ they were just being pragmatic and utilitarian by deciding not to have this or that kind of shield hanging up. That's what they were aiming for--an ad hoc, case-by-case approach to the effect that "Okay, this isn't worth fighting over. We can compromise to that minimal extent, even though these people are being unreasonable." If one is going to have a troops in a country, I can to some extent see having that attitude. But by and large, it was hopeless for them anyway. The Jews still hated them.

_All the more so_ is our _general_ approach of "winning hearts and minds" in Afghanistan--which is really nothing remotely like anything the Romans aimed for--foolish and pointless. That it results in this kind of absurdity, this kind of micromanaging of daily life for our soldiers, is really not all that surprising. It's insane for _many_ reasons to have "Afghani allies" on bases with our soldiers. This is just one of them.

What you don't seem to realize is the extreme compromising of the general military focus here--which, for whatever practical-wisdom-points "credit" this is worth, the Romans would not have been guilty of.

Do they HAVE to urinate towards Mecca? I mean, someone made a point that probably the "urinating places" are already facing another direction...so unless they are just...being gross and urinating somewhere unspecified, I can't see why it's a problem.

Someone brought up their testimony. Now, if they required our military to pray to Allah or to renounce Jesus Christ, please, get angry I'll be right there with you! But this seems a little more "custom" oriented than anything else. For example, when I was in Berlin, the Germans don't like you to talk to much on their buses. I was silent on their buses. Am I free to talk all I want? Sure, but why would I do that?

I mean, we are supposed to be allied with them, I don't know why we'd go out of our way to offend them. Another example, if they came here and wanted to perform their morning ablutions in my church sanctuary on Sunday morning, that would be rude because it would ruin our carpets. We'd probably ask that they not do that. They should respect that rule. So, it definitely goes both ways.

I hope I'm not the only one who reads that and says, "What???!"

No, you are not the only one. I hope I am not the only one reading the Sgt. Schultz "I see nothing!" responses and saying, "What???!"

Heather: Do they _have_ to stick their elbows out at just a certain angle? Do they _have_ to drink their water using an odd number of gulps to finish it?

Why am I bringing these examples up? Because they are similarly stupid and nit-picky. No, you don't _have_ to live in the normal physical way that a normal, physical, non-Muslim human lives. But childish allies who are going to get mad if you point your toes in the direction of Mecca when you sleep need to by-gosh-golly grow up or go home.

And again (again): All this talk about "going out of our way to offend." I don't know why I always seem to have to repeat myself gazillions of times on these threads, but here goes, again: We are talking about *going out of our way* to do stupid, nit-picky things in stupid, nit-picky ways because of too-easily-offended allies. We are not talking about merely refraining from "going out of our way to offend." Sleeping with your feet facing west is not "going out of your way" to do _anything_. It's just sleeping.

Another example, if they came here and wanted to perform their morning ablutions in my church sanctuary on Sunday morning, that would be rude because it would ruin our carpets.

Sleeping with one's feet happening to face West on a U.S. military base has zilch to do with going into someone else's house of worship and ruining his carpet. Newsflash: It is not the case that every square inch of dirt in Afghanistan is tantamount to a mosque on which we must all point our toes like Muslims point their toes.

so unless they are just...being gross and urinating somewhere unspecified, I can't see why it's a problem.

This is the military. Out in the field, um, yes, they might very often have to urinate somewhere "unspecified." And if we're dumb enough to have Afghan allies, one might even be within a stone's throw of such a shocking event taking place towards Mecca.

In any event, the idea that when setting up latrines even on bases the U.S. Marines have to orient the toilets away from Mecca is absurd.

I cannot believe people cannot see this.

Here is just one, and not the only, instance of our "Afghani allies" murdering our soldiers:


We are not serious. We are so not serious.

Let me add here that one would normally expect some distinction to be observed between restrictions on behavior in, say, the middle of a busy city surrounded by natives of the country and restrictions on-base, much less in the bathrooms and sleeping quarters on-base. If Afghanis want to participate with our soldiers and be quartered on bases with our soldiers, they need to be able to accept some sort of "cultural diversity" in foot direction in sleeping! We aren't talking about going out into the middle of an Afghani city street and deliberately going out of one's way to make some gesture deemed offensive. Or even talking loudly on a public bus. We're talking about making U.S. Marine bases sharia-compliant zones right down to the direction in which our soldiers sleep and go to the bathroom.

If one were ignorant of a custom and broke it, it would not be a deliberate offense. But if you are familiar with a custom, and choose to flout it anyway, that is what is described as 'going out of your way to offend'. This isn't really that difficult. If we are to work with Muslim allies in their countries, then we are going to have to have respect for their customs, no matter how foolish they are to us. What else can be said?

But if you are familiar with a custom, and choose to flout it anyway, that is what is described as 'going out of your way to offend'.

Not if the "custom" that you're "flouting" says that you have to go out of your way to do some ordinary, frequent, even necessary action in a way that is highly unusual for most of the people of the world!

This definition of "going out of your way to offend" of yours, Matt, can be counterexampled six ways from zero. I just gave a couple of such counterexamples to Heather. Suppose that the "custom" is that every time before you go to the bathroom you have to clap your hands ten times and do your best to stand on your head. Does it then become "going out of your way to offend" to go ahead and use the bathroom without going through this little ritual, simply because you have been informed of it? What if the custom is that you have to go 24 hours a day with your face covered with a mask? Are you "going out of your way to offend" if you don't go around all day, including on-base, with only your eyes showing, after being informed of this custom? What if the "custom" is allowing your left elbow to point toward Mecca while saying the word "latrine"? And so on and so forth. I could give examples like this all day long.

The problem with counterexamples is that they are made up. If there were a custom that said you had to shoot a little kid in the face every time you sneeze, then no one should follow it. But what does this say about anything, other than that customs are subordinate to moral truth? Or why stop at clapping ten times and standing on your head when going to the bathroom? Why not clap 1000 times and recite all of King Lear? Obviously there is a point at which any custom can become an unreasonable burden.

But not pointing west? It just ain't that hard. If you are in your Afghan army base, setting up your cot, just check where the sun is or look at your compass. Or heck, just check where Pvt Muhammed's cot is pointing and do the same thing. The toilet is probably already facing the right way, so you're covered there. If you find yourself in the field with Afghan soldiers, and for some reason they are paying attention to you when you pee, use that compass again. It takes two seconds--I think even I could remember it.

Now, the one about not wearing body armor in Afghan compounds of tribal elders should possibly be ignored, for obvious reasons.

How easy something is to remember or how long it takes to do are not, by a long shot, the only ways that "unreasonableness" can be gauged. I've already given quite a few other ways. After all, my example about not letting your elbow point west when saying a particular word is also easy to remember and doesn't take long. Perhaps, Matt, you have no category for unreasonableness in virtue of triviality, nit-pickiness, and life-pervasiveness, not to mention intimacy of the activity, but I do.

The astonishing thing is that you don't seem to think Pvt. Mohammed needs to be able to handle anything at all, including happening, horrors, to witness his non-Muslim allies spit out their gum while facing west!

The almost amusing thing here is that one would think "having to use a compass before using the bathroom" would _be_ a reductio ad absurdam of all this "cultural sensitivity during military actions" idea. Instead, it's supposed to be the reasonable thing, and we have to come up with other reductios. Satire is dead. It's almost unbelievable.

The other thing that just kills me is the complete lack of imagination. I've never been in the military, but I'm thinking here of conditions of physical stress, exhaustion, and danger. Here you're exhausted at the end of the day, maybe you've had to spring up in the middle of the night, or maybe you've been on watch at some ungodly hour. Maybe you saw your buddy's face get blown off today. You've been in dangers of all kind. And when you lie down to sleep, you have to worry about whether you *lay down the wrong direction on your cot* because of some dumb rule set up to satisfy Afghani allies!

There's just a total failure here to recognize all of this. These guys are not there on a multicultural field trip. This is not supposed to be some kind of cultural immersion activity for ivy league rich kids who want to put it on their CV. This is the Marines. Just lying the heck down and sleeping when it's time to sleep should be priority #1. They should not have to worry about all this total garbage. They are in a more serious situation than any situation where you would play around with those kinds of cultural let's-pretend games.

The astonishing thing is that you don't seem to think Pvt. Mohammed needs to be able to handle anything at all, including happening, horrors, to witness his non-Muslim allies spit out their gum while facing west!

Who is in whose country again?

I believe the impasse has been reached. Again, I think most of this has to do with it being Islam more than anything else.

Again, I think most of this has to do with it being Islam more than anything else.

Well, no, if we invaded a country full of people who believed they had to wear aluminum helmets to keep off the pyramid rays, I would also have a problem with our forcing our guys to adopt their minute practices w.r.t. spitting out their gum and going to the restroom just because we happen to be "in their country."

Several years ago, I spotted a hadith at a B&N bookstore. I looked though it and came to the chapter on 'elimination'. It was the funniest thing I've ever read in my whole life! Not only did it dictate directions, it also told you how to clean yourself afterward, what prayers to say after the dirty deed was done, whether one goes to hell if they wet themselves ad naseum. And these Armed Forces leaders want to burden our already hard-press servicemen with this 'crap'? Give them a break!

Who is in whose country again?

Matt, let's recall WHY we are there. We were "invited" (so to speak) into Afghanistan by the Taliban when they decided to give aid and comfort to terrorists, including those that made war on us. We took up the Taliban on their back-handed invitation, sent through Bin Laden, to jump in and deal with their failed-state approach to international relations.

Now, it is a matter of debate, and somewhat of semantics, as to whether the Taliban's insane theories about religion are inherently part of the trouble we had to take on, or are only associated with that trouble. But we didn't go there to be nice and cozy guests to _ask politely_ if they would pretty please consider a new way of looking at international relations.

Matt, what you are asking is for us to tell our soldiers to be diplomats. I find that silly and counter-productive. Soldiers are supposed to be highly motivated, highly capable deliverers of violence at specified targets as directed. Secondarily, they are also agents that instigate respect and caution among those who are uncertain they wish us well, so that there are fewer occasions we need to use them for violence. These men are not called to be diplomats, they are called to be SOLDIERS.

If you are suggesting, indirectly, that we should get the soldiers out of there and replace them with aid workers, well that's another idea altogether. If we send in aid workers, those people ought to accommodate themselves to the local customs to some extent.


I wasn't going to check this post's comments because I thought to myself "oh how boring -- even though Lydia and I tend to disagree about U.S. foreign policy, she is once again making totally sensible and unassailable arguments about our goofy policies over in Afghanistan. Ho hum." I then I noticed this post had attracted over 35 comments and I thought to myself "am I missing something?" I then I started reading this madness and like Scott W., I'm just baffled. However, this does give me a chance to share one of my favorite Mencius moments. The counter-insurgency folks over at the left-wing Center for a New American Security were blogging about the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan (they were worried we were killing too many bad guys or something) and Mencius popped up in the comments to give everyone a lesson on Pink's War. Here is just a sample of some Mencius prose from the back and forth on that thread:

Pink's War. It's really too perfect. I mean, just the little Wikipedia war box is unbeatable:

Date: March and April 1925
Place: South Waziristan
Result: Tribal leaders accept terms
Strength: Three aircraft squadrons
Casualties and losses: Two personnel killed and one aircraft lost

By my mathematical calculations, Pink's War is roughly four orders of magnitude more successful than USG's present efforts in the area. Perhaps as many as five. Or maybe just as few as three. The error bars, I fear, are wide.

Naturally, I'm sure all the historical experts out there in the PC-COIN community have studied this conflict in exhaustive detail, and have a straightforward explanation of why Wing Commander Pink's approach to counterinsurgency, if used 80 years later against the basically the same people, would not be similarly effective - but in fact profoundly counterproductive. Science, boys and girls! Better foreign policy, through science!

And then when "Margaret" claims that "Blackstone" wouldn't allow something like Pink's War today, Mencius responds with this:

Blackstone was an expert on the common law, not the law of nations or the law of war.

I stand by Grotius, Vattel, Henry Maine, Francis Lieber, and George B. Davis. In other words, by the standard authorities of classical international law. If you can show me where Wing Commander Pink or his general approach violated the letter or spirit of any of these authorities, I'd be pleased to hear it.

What you'll find is quite the opposite. Reprisal, including reprisal by bombardment, is a perfectly legitimate tactic under classical international law. Moreover, reciprocity holds; the laws of war do not protect those who choose not to observe them. Eg: savage Pathan hill-tribes.

The result is that civilization wins, savagery loses, and wars end. Insurgency is ineffective and basically unknown under these rules, which I suspect would put Margaret out of a job. Instead, people die, and keep dying. And she eats. She is not alone in this.

I mean, how exactly did the 20th century decide that Grotius, Vattel, Lieber, etc, were morons? Did someone watch The Princess Bride too many times? The result of our foolish, counterproductive sentimentality has been exactly as all the notable experts of previous centuries would have predicted. Again, there is something really, seriously crazy going on here.

And then when someone else suggests, horror of horrors, that Pink was only able to do what he did because the British were running an Empire and were evil colonial masters of the Afghans, Mencius responds:

You don't even need a pith helmet and a lisp to understand how a civilized nation can subdue and govern savages and barbarians. You can stay on our side of the Atlantic and our century, and look at the US experience in the Philippines or Haiti. You can read any pre-1945 field manual from the US military. PC-COIN basically consists of taking every known axiom about how to solve the problem properly, and reversing it. Instead of constantly demonstrating strength, for instance, it constantly demonstrates weakness. This masquerades as counterintuitive, which masquerades as smart. Indeed, one cannot defend it without being pretty damned smart.

And it's not even the willingness to bomb villages from the air, or whatever, that generates victory. Since we have way better gear than Wing Commander Pink, we can be way more subtle. All that is needed is that USG demonstrate to the Afghan people that it has chosen to rule them by force and without their consent, as a result of their actions in harboring Osama, KSM and their nasty friends. Seal the border, register and tax the population, impose indirect rule. Find some modern equivalent of Lord Cromer to run the whole thing.

Instead, we create the ultimate in passive-aggressive goverment. We whine and wheedle and curtsy before the savage tribe, pay it welfare for its misdeeds, apologize at every possible opportunity. At the same time, we hunt it with Predators. It's like a bad episode of "The Dog Whisperer," with the Pashtoons instead of the dog. Couldn't we get Cesar Millan to run Afghanistan for a while? His skin is about the right color, and he could hardly do worse.

In other words, to respond directly to Matt, Aaron, and Heather; history and common-sense suggest that the Afghan people will respect the U.S. military and the United States in general if we stop catering to their every goofy whim and start demonstrating who is in charge.


I see that as I was writing my last comment, you got one in right before me that makes the same point as Mencius! You should know that given my strong respect for Mencius when it comes to this topic I can only marvel at your own acute good sense!

I tried reading a couple of Mencius Moldbug's posts once; I just found him unreadable. It's also really annoying when writers try to claim authority or coolness or whatever by writing things like "USG" instead of "the US government" - look, it's just like they do for real in diplomatic cables! What is this, a pulp spy novel?

Anyway, all of his tough-nerd talk is pretty silly and not even entertaining. In fact, war historians (real ones) have given various reasons why these things are no longer effective. But tough nerds are not interested in reading or engaging opposing views. The question is what the US should do now, not what the US should do five hundred years ago.

I definitely see your point, Lydia. I think it's just that I'd draw the line at a different place that you would, but we'd each draw the line.

I still disagree with this rhetoric that soldiers are there "to fight," not to be diplomats or whatever. Again, that goes against counter-insurgency theory, where the goal of all this "diplomacy" and "aid work" is to defeat the enemy, not to be all warm and multicultural. If you've got a substantial objection to that practice of counter-insurgency, fine, but "our soldiers are there to fight, not do social work" is not a substantial objection.

Tony, we don't consider ourselves to be at war with the entire country of Afghanistan. Not offending military allies is not asking soldiers to be diplomats, it's asking them not to offend military allies. What's going on in Afghanistan isn't a war anymore, it's an occupation with counter-insurgency maneuvers. I think it's a hopeless boondoggle, but a failure of strategy doesn't imply a failure of tactics.

Reductio ad absurdum doesn't work in this case because no one is actually defending the customs in question. I agree they are absurd, much like many of our customs here in America, albeit in a different way. But this is irrelevant--if the Afghanis want us to abide by them then we ought to make a good faith attempt to do so. I remember when 'when in Rome do as the Romans do' was considered good advice, but apparently it's now political correctness run amok.

I actually do agree that the Afghanis should just chill out and stop worrying about our soldiers orienting themselves correctly (in fact, I wonder how many of them actually care), but they don't take advice from me so my opinion is irrelevant.

It's all a moot point, because we shouldn't be in Afghanistan anyway. It's become clear that no one really knows why we're there anymore.


If Lydia will indulge me once more, because I don't want this thread turning a discussion of Moldbug (I have my issues with him as well), your objection to the quotes I provided were practically repeated verbatim to Moldbug in the blog post I have been talking about (by a chap named "WsL") so I thought it only fair to have you read his response:

Pretty much no one living today knows anything about "the experience of imperialism." What you are listening to is old myths and propaganda, dating to the early postcolonial era. The source of much of this propaganda was a giant intellectual anticolonialist noise machine, centered roughly around the remnants of OWI in the United States. With a significant annex, of course, in Moscow.

To say that the US occupation of the Philippines "did nothing" for that country, borders on the delusional. No. Actually, it doesn't border. It is well past the delusional. Have you ever read anything about the Philippines, circa 1900-1940, that wasn't written by postcolonial propagandists? Even at your "fairly conservative" graduate school?

This is basically your problem: your education is constructed entirely from secondary sources. If you had actually read the American authors of our own imperialist period, or the Brits, there is no way you could possibly hate on them so much as you do. You are obviously not a hater in general.

Moreover, you accept bad firsthand evidence. Of course Afghans tell Westerners such as yourself that their main reason for hating on us is the civilian casualties. This is exactly what you want to hear. Certainly, for both parties - them and you - there could be no more effective message. Thus, it is conventional. It's like saying hello, or inviting you up for tea.

As MikeF noted on this blog, when you actually get these dignitaries in private, you can sometimes get them to say things like "follow every Taliban and kill them all." Ie: be the biggest tribe. What do you think the British did in India? Wank all day, in their pith helmets? No - they kept the peace in India (and the NWFP, and even Afghanistan, whose monarchy was a more or less compliant satellite), by being the biggest tribe. They dominated it and kept in peace.

Believe it or not, before Woodrow Jesus Wilson came and made foreign policy one with Bible studies, for all recorded millennia of human history, conquest happened and conquest worked. In this pagan era, conquered people could be easily forced to submit, because they had no reason to resist, because they knew they could not succeed in resisting, because their ass would be tamed as brutally as necessary and busted into submission.

Hence the Indian Mutiny, after which rebel chiefs were blown out of cannon, which kept India at peace more or less until 1947. Hence Tiananmen, in which a mob was machine-gunned or something like that, which has kept China at peace since 1989. And hence operations on the NWFP in the late Raj - when "subduing the wogs" by indiscriminate bombing of their villages seemed to work quite well.

So what changed? What caused the dramatic psychological change in the population of Waziristan, between 1925 and 2009? Because frankly, to me, it strikes me that these are some of the people whom the 20th century has changed the least. Perhaps you could give us the benefit of your highly-subsidized graduate degree in Pashtoonology, and tell us what.

If you want to know what the Pathan was in 1925, for instance, the world now has Google Books and you can read everything pre 1923.

Pink's War was after 1923. I bumped into it on, of all things, Wikipedia. I love your deprecation of the result. Tell me, WsL - what successes this successful have you had? How many biplanes did you lose in the process, and how many thousands of pounds has it cost?

More generally: if you are actually interested in having an opinion, which is your own opinion, on the merits of imperialism and colonialism, I recommend you at least start by reading the imperialists and colonialists. In any case they are far more personable and interesting than their bureaucratic descendants.

And I certainly would avoid coming to any judgment about any case on which I had heard from the prosecution, but not the defense. So: what was the last book you read by an imperialist or colonialist? Or, for heaven's sake, racist?

But no - you get your interpretation of the British Empire from Mike Davis, like everyone else. Heck, you probably read Mike Davis in your "fairly conservative" graduate school.

So thanks, but I'll stick with my insanity. Maybe you can make me drink some kind of Internet hemlock, like Socrates. Did you know he was a democracy-hater, too? As were Plato and Aristotle, of course. You're more of a Vizzini than you may know, WsL...

I think that [urinating, ed.] in any direction is showing that you are one with the whole world. [ed.] Perhaps this should be explained to the 13th century barbarians, many of whom are in a state of depression over missing their saturday afternoon throat cuttings at the soccer stadium. We might elucidate the differnces while informing them that inferior, ignorant, hate filled, and of course murderous savages,ought not attempt to lecture their betters on what in their bizzare eyes constitutes protocol.
P S, did you ever hear of the quaint custom of the flesh sweater? Our "allies" when not at the soccer stadium, would upon occasion cut the flesh off a person,living, from the waist up, then pull it over his head. This may have been a nod better than skinning said person from head to toe, but who knows or can tell. There are all kinds of customs, guess we can't observe them all.

I gather that Matt is saying that this "counter-insurgency" idea means by definition that all our soldiers really are diplomats.

I'll bet that's actually how the military leaders do think about the matter.

In that case, and given that definition, down with the strategy. It's obviously a mess and a disaster. And it explains a lot--e.g., the orders to our men to walk about and get their legs blown off by land mines in order to win hearts and minds.

It's all a moot point, because we shouldn't be in Afghanistan anyway.

That I can believe. We need to wage war when we declare war, and be done with it when we have won. We would be home by now if we followed that.

Matt, please tell us: do Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and Iraq impose the same "expectations" on our troops about spitting, urinating and sleeping orientation? We have never heard about it, and for the moment I am going to assume the answer is no. In which case, this silly nonsense isn't a real Muslim expectation, it is another facet of the ridiculous Taliban religious idiocy rearing its ugly face, and it needs to be cut off just as thoroughly as the rest of the Taliban's religious nonsense. Remember, we went into Afghanistan because the Taliban's religious theories are abhorrent. This new idea is just part and parcel with that nonsense.

In which case, this silly nonsense isn't a real Muslim expectation,

Or, if it is, we're ignoring it and somehow managing to continue whatever-it-is that we're doing in those other countries.

I have heard that female soldiers in Saudi Arabia have been asked (don't know if officially required) to wear hijab off base. I do consider this problematic in various ways, and besides, we shouldn't have female soldiers anyway, so the point should be moot. But *at a minimum* it's only when they go into town, for what that's worth, not on-base.

I assume this is an Afghanistan thing as well. Other Muslim countries don't seem to care, or if they do no one has ever said anything about it. I don't know if I'd say it's a Taliban thing though. It probably originated with the Taliban, but by now has likely taken some root among the general populace. I mean, we wouldn't call wearing a white wedding dress a silly Victorian thing.

Otherwise, if you can convince the government that our mission in Afghanistan is to end religious idiocy, then go right ahead. But that's never been the actual position of the government or the military with respect to Afghanistan. Dubya went to lengths to emphasize that this was no religious war, and that we were only concerned with the Taliban's support of terrorist activities. Which direction they sleep is of no concern to us.


In case you didn't already figure it out, everything after the block text is also part of Mencius' quote. I need to be more careful with my html tags.


Again, you and I probably disagree with our mission in Afghanistan. That said, if we are to remain, we can agree that our current strategy is ridiculous and should be changed immediately.

Yes, Jeff, I have to admit there is _one_ thing Vizzini says that I'm inclined to agree with: "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." ;-)

(Chess players love the follow-up: "Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line." There's a well-known chess opening called the Sicilian.)

Watch who you are calling a hippopotamical land mass, bub. :-)

Matt, in case you didn't notice we don't think much of the liberal claim-victim-hood status mindset, or even when it shows in in people who aren't liberals, for that matter. This is an example. What we have here is a little, inconsequential, picayune detail of daily life, something that MUSLIMS think is inconsequential, and yet we take it seriously enough that we are expected to order troops to abide by it? Spare me the tale of woe, death, destruction, world-wide calamity that comes about because an Afghanistan native's very minor sensibilities are bothered at seeing a soldier asleep, after 18 hours on patrol, with his feet toward Mecca.

How about this: we let the soldiers know that the natives have this funny habit about Mecca. When the soldier happens to have a spare moment to think about it, and it doesn't affect his performance of anything important, he is encouraged to be kind to the natives and comport himself without irritating them. And then let them know there will be no official notice of whether they do anything about it or not.

Speaking of respecting customs, here's one of many examples that you can easily find of Muslim organizations in the US showing absolutely no respect for our system:


I suppose they're showing enough respect to not simply use overt threats of violence up front.

The Jews were pretty patently unreasonable in their demands, and this was of course just part and parcel of the fact that they hated the Romans and didn't want the Romans to be there anyway. They made allegations sometimes (I'm pretty sure this is the incident you're thinking of) that Pilate had been displaying shields with "images" when in fact he hadn't. If a rumor spread to that effect, they got all riled up. They rioted at the drop of a hat.

Today, Muslims carry on that proud tradition in many countries where all a religious minority needs is for a bitter Muslim to make the wildest of accusations and a mob will form up and be ready to torch that minority's homes and temples. The Ahmadis and Christians in Pakistan or the Copts in Egypt are frequently victims of this.

Again, that goes against counter-insurgency theory, where the goal of all this "diplomacy" and "aid work" is to defeat the enemy, not to be all warm and multicultural. If you've got a substantial objection to that practice of counter-insurgency, fine, but "our soldiers are there to fight, not do social work" is not a substantial objection.

Perhaps, but then none of your objections to points raised by others on this site have been substantial (or tried to be substantial).

The problem with counter-insurgency doctrine in this case is that it was originally developed for fighting against political ideologies. Most people weren't Communists in the countries for which it was originally developed. Religion, especially the dominant religion, is a different beast. The average Afghan exists on a continuum with the Taliban. That was not true in the jungles of South East Asia and Latin America viz a viz the Communists and average peasant, some common values aside. The US military is very politically correct when it comes to not facing the fact that Islam itself is the problem and that any individual Muslim can be radicalized. That's a very different proposition than existed before with political extremism; a non-Communist would have to become a Communist which is a wholesale conversion for most people.

Then there's the story, true, of the British counsul being told that the Indian custom of suttee is to be practiced and honored despite British objections. The counsel then responded that they also had customs, one of which was to hang murderers. Or has the Romans, always good for a quote, would put it,"let them hate us as long as they fear us".
Perhaps we could arrive at a compromise with our allies[?], we will face the directions they wish if they can capture and kill those who bomb our truck convoys, killing 17 of our men. We have to start somewhere and I don't think that's asking to much.

johnt that's exactly what I was thinking: If they are true allies, then they want the remaining Taliban hold-outs gone even more than we do, and they should be willing to put up with a few of our foibles while we bear the brunt of rooting out those terrorists. If they aren't really allies to that extent, then it's closer to an out-and-out occupation, and Jeff's comments come to bear.

JS, that actually was not my objection to that Moldbug thing, though part of his annoying reply was to my point anyway. I don't doubt that harsh repression often (not always) worked in the past.

MM asked rhetorically what changed in the population of Waziristan between 1925 and 2011. My point is that there's been an enormous change in the Western world over that period. Even before 1925 there was lots of sympathy for savage populations, but now it's way over the top, as we all agree. As scholars of war point out (Martin van Creveld and William Lind, to name a couple I've read), the moral aspect of war is at least as important to winning as is the straight military aspect.

That's what makes MM's proposals irrelevant to our world. What would Americans say when they see the kind of stuff that MM is recommending? How does the president defend it on TV? When our European allies balk at the video footage, do we conquer them the same way? Or do we just set up our own empire against everyone else in the world?

This tough-nerd strategy couldn't be implemented without first creating an alternate reality. That's what I meant about it not being relevant to 2011.

How about this: we let the soldiers know that the natives have this funny habit about Mecca. When the soldier happens to have a spare moment to think about it, and it doesn't affect his performance of anything important, he is encouraged to be kind to the natives and comport himself without irritating them. And then let them know there will be no official notice of whether they do anything about it or not.

That sounds fine to me. My entire point is that there is nothing really outrageous about this, and the motivation is a sound one. We really don't know what sort of orders have been given about this. The NCtimes article describes Mubarak as an advisor making recommendations, not a CO giving orders. When it comes to tribes and customs, it sounds like he knows what he's talking about.

I say leave Afghanistan, but if we are there we may as well listen to the people who know the terrain.

To me, the problem is a simple one.

1) Does the U.S. want do win in Afghanistan?
No --> Leave.

2) If yes, there are two possible ways of doing it:
2a - killing every opponent until the population is cowed into submission (in other words, go for unconditional surrender);
2b - getting the support of a significant part of the population in order to make the other part realize it can't win and submit.

Given the areas controlled by the Taliban, and Pashtun demographics, I fair bet would be that half the population of Afghanistan opposes the American occupation and/or the government installed in Kabul by the United States. So, option 2a has the U.S. committing to kill some 15,000,000 people. Is the U.S. willing to do that? Say this number is too large, and killing 1,000,000 would do it - is the U.S. willing to do that instead?

That leaves option 2b, or retreat. If, in order to get YOUR victory which YOUR interests demand, you have to get the support of (a significant part of) the a foreign population, it's wise not to piss them off (pun unintended) with minor details such as the placement of beds or urinals - or the wearing of aluminum hats if that were the case. Personally, I don't think this will work: Afghanistan was in civil war for decades before the 2001, and it will continue with or without American troops there. But if the military receives the mission to stay there (i.e. no retreat), not commit genocide AND win the war, this is the only option they have left. It's up to the civilian leadership to untangle the mess; the military's job is to do the best with the constraints at hand, and this they seem to be trying to do.

By the way, Lydia, your comment about Rome and the Jewish revolts gives the impression (certainly unwarranted, of course) that you're rooting for the Taliban. After all, the Roman Empire is long gone, and the Jews are still around...

By the way, Lydia, your comment about Rome and the Jewish revolts gives the impression (certainly unwarranted, of course) that you're rooting for the Taliban. After all, the Roman Empire is long gone, and the Jews are still around...

I don't even claim to follow that. Perhaps you mean it gave the impression I was rooting for Rome? I was simply pointing out that the Jews never accepted Roman rule and that all attempts to be sensitive to their sensibilities (which would never have gone this far anyway) were pointless. I also said that I hold no brief for empires anyway. The Romans just tried a lot harder than we do to be practical, sometimes to the point of brutality. Of course I don't approve of brutality.

Between our present non-strategy idiocy, on the one hand, and brutality, on the other, there is so much space that one side of the gulf cannot be seen from the other side.

Matt, if you think that this Muslim consultant's instructions are entirely optional for the Marines in question, I'm afraid you're definitely missing something. And the article isn't unclear on that point, whatever you may say to the contrary.

I find myself agreeing with Lydia. There is a big, big difference between asking someone--soldiers, or anyone--to respect a religion and asking them to follow it.

Our soldiers should be trained not to mock people for following their religious beliefs, nor to make it difficult for their allies to follow their own beliefs. Our soldiers should not be trained to follow religious rules, no matter how insignificant or petty those rules seem.

The problem, though, is that zealots don't see the line where their religion ends and other people's religions begin. So, pointing away from Mecca is framed as "respecting local custom" instead of "following religious law"--because the concept of religious freedom is not a local custom.

Phil, you make a point I was thinking of trying to make, though I doubt it will be appreciated by those who have been disagreeing with me. Islam is one of those religions that really does encompass the whole life of the believer even in minute ways. I do not say this per se as a criticism, though of course I am very critical of Islam. In this case, though, I say it as an observation, and an observation that multiculturalists don't seem to understand. Even more so than Judaism (which in this respect Islam resembles), Islam regulates all aspects of the worshiper's life--tiny matters of bathing, multiple prayer times a day (with special bathing before them), of course diet, the minute issues described in this post. The worshiper is in this way wholly and continually devoted.

To say that only prayer, or only the Five Pillars, or something of that kind are customs of the religion and that these minutiae are not is completely to misunderstand the situation. These things are performed because the performer believes.

Of course, one place where the resemblance to Judaism ends is that no Jewish person expects a Gentile to keep kosher or to refrain from working (where "working" includes an astonishing array of ordinary behaviors) after sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday.

I would guess (trying to be fair here) that there are Muslims who take exactly the same attitude to what are self-evidently minute aspects of their religious observance and would not expect a non-Muslim to face away from Mecca while spitting anymore than they would expect a non-Muslim to face toward Mecca while praying. The whole thing is obviously of a piece and equally obviously not binding on non-adherents.

But if there are others, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, who do try to bill facing toward Mecca while spitting as "offensive" in our troops, then it's equally self-evident that they are attempting a fairly blatant form of religious supremacism, to force others to comply with these minutiae of their religion. This isn't surprising, especially considering that something in the same vein goes on in businesses and schools all across America, where "accommodation" to Muslims amounts to a serious warping of normal business hours and practices to accommodate extremely long, repeated, daily worker breaks for washing and prayers, providing special prayer rooms devoid of other religious objects (a Catholic college is now being criticized for not providing a special prayer room with no Catholic objects in it for Muslims to pray in), etc. The demands on both sides of the ocean are, again, of a piece.

Lydia, I agree, although I would say when it comes to examples of expecting nonbelievers to follow one's chosen, personal religious faith, the most frequent offenders in the United States are Muslims and Christians. Christian customs often don't strike us as strange because they're arguably the majority religion in this country*, so, like Muslims in the Middle East, we are unaccustomed to separating religious practices from cultural practices.

(*I say "arguably" because, although a majority of Americans claim to be Christian or Catholic, I contend that anyone who doesn't hold the belief that contradicting beliefs must be wrong is actually agnostic, regardless of what they claim.)

Hmm, I suspect there would be multiple points at which we'd disagree, here. For example, I think it's ridiculous for stores to refuse to say "Merry Christmas." It's not as though anyone is forcing anyone to do something there.

Lydia, I would list blue laws that forbid certain types of business practices on Sunday as an example of certain Christian groups expecting nonbelievers to follow their religion, instead of just respecting it.

And you're right: I do think that when Christians get up at arms about stores or other businesses saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," they are engaging in exactly the kind of behavior that you decry in the original post. Christmas is a holiday, and it is obvious that the intent of someone using the phrase "Happy Holidays" is to include Christmas along with other possible days of celebration. To raise a stink about the inclusive phrase is to say, "No, no! You must kowtow to my personal faith and leave the other ones out!"

It is no excuse, in my view, to argue that the majority of people in an area follow a particular religion. What matters is that they have a right not to follow it, and it is abusive to say, in effect, We are a powerful majority, so it is justified that we further marginalize people who don't believe as we do.

Jews, given their history, have always struck me as less likely than Christians or Muslims to try to force other people to follow their religious rules, but it is entirely possible that is simply my own experience and not a scientific sample.

To raise a stink about the inclusive phrase is to say

I raise a stink partly because I think the stores just think they have to do that "inclusive" thing. That is, I think the pressure is coming from the other side. To the point that grocery bagging guys, etc., who would _like_ to say "Merry Christmas" are told not to. It's a private business. If they want to say "Merry Christmas," it shd. be no problem to atheists, etc., for them to do it. They're not making anyone do anything by doing so. Besides, as a sheerly historical matter, the other holidays around that time have in fact been made a big deal in America because Christmas already was a big deal. So it's falsifying cultural history.

All of which is essentially to say: I have no problem with stores in Afghanistan having signs or something for Ramadan, if they're Muslim. (Of course I'd rather they became Christians, but that's obviously not just something that one can wave a wand and bring to pass.) Their having Ramadan signs (if they do) or saying something about Ramadan in a greeting in that month (if they do) isn't at all like asking non-Muslims to face a certain direction when they spit.

But if there are others, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, who do try to bill facing toward Mecca while spitting as "offensive" in our troops, then it's equally self-evident that they are attempting a fairly blatant form of religious supremacism, to force others to comply with these minutiae of their religion.

Yes, that's right. That's what I was trying to say - incoherently - in referring to the remains of Taliban approach to religion. These people are not "just" Muslim, they are Muslim with a twist: if you don't follow the minutia of their particular brand of Islam, you are "disrespecting" their religion in an intolerable affront. They are, in fact, working with the same mentality that is perfectly fine with converting "by the sword", it just so happens that we have the stronger sword at the moment. I don't think that we should cater to this sort of twisted mentality that is the root cause of our needing to operate there to begin with.

Phil, if you think that their approach is perfectly analogous to our encouraging stores to respect Christmas precisely as "Christmas", you need to do some more thinking. We are, effectively, asking simply that stores and businesses and offices be free (if they wish) to return to the same cultural heritage that brought about the Christmas holiday to begin with, a cultural heritage that belongs to all of us in this (formerly) Christian country by right. To "be free to show" Christianity is a far cry from being ordered to show Christianity or be punished. (That's not to mention the fact that no 2 religions are co-equals in their closeness to the truth, and in this they are fundamentally not analogous. Those with stronger rationally supported claims to substantiated historical truth and to philosophical truth have better claim on socio-political support: no society should be religiously "color-blind" to the point of disregarding objective evidence. But that's another thread.)

Lydia and Tony, you are mischaracterizing the position of many (though not all) Christians who bloviate about the "War on Christmas." Certainly, I think that storeowners and private organizations should be free to say "Merry Christmas." But that's not the extent of the message. The message is not, "Hey! Don't punish stores that say 'Merry Christmas!," but rather, "Hey! Let's punish stores that say 'Happy Holidays!'" There is an effort afoot to prevent stores from recognizing Christmas in addition to other holidays, and try to coerce stores into recognizing only Christmas.

That's not to mention the fact that no 2 religions are co-equals in their closeness to the truth, and in this they are fundamentally not analogous. Those with stronger rationally supported claims to substantiated historical truth and to philosophical truth have better claim on socio-political support[...].

Then would it be accurate to say, Tony, that you believe your religion is different from other religions because your religion is true? I certainly don't want to argue whether your religion is true or false, but surely you can recognize that anyone who really believes their own religion is true also believes that other religions are false? I mentioned earlier that zealots don't see the line where their religion ends and others' religions begin. It might be more accurate to say that zealots don't see the line where their religious beliefs end and others' religious beliefs begin, because to a zealot, personal religious beliefs are not "beliefs."

As scholars of war point out (Martin van Creveld and William Lind, to name a couple I've read), the moral aspect of war is at least as important to winning as is the straight military aspect.

_The Transformation of War_ is an insightful and interesting book, but I think it deserves to be pointed out as often as possible that van Creveld makes numerous factual errors that ought to disqualify him as an authority.

Absurd. Why does urinating toward Muslim Mecca make any difference. This Islam religion is a lie anyway, and is insane. Christ came and died and rose from the dead to put an end to all these false religions. May the Gospel go forth in Afghamistan and may our Lord have mercy on millions and millions of souls. Amen.

Perhaps a more analogous example would be efforts of American politicians to prevent military chaplains from performing same-sex weddings. Since chaplains perform all kinds of duties that do not result in federal government recognition of the religious act being performed (baptisms, or the sacrament of confession).

Since military chaplains are permitted but not required to perform sacraments and similar duties based on their own religious beliefs, would you agree that efforts by politicians to ban certain religious ceremonies but not others represent an example of forcing members of the military (in this case, chaplains) to follow the rules of someone else's religion?

Note that one can recognize that Congress is wrong to coerce (based on Christian rules) chaplain behavior in this instance while still believing that people ought not choose to enter into same-sex weddings. It's not a contradictory position to hold.

It's not just a religious ceremony but a civil one, as you quite well know. Besides, on-base, the issue shd. be a moot one, for many reasons.

Chaplains are currently free to perform ceremonies that do not carry civil weight, as I'm sure you know. Restricting their ability to do so based on the rules of a different religion forces them to follow someone else's religious rules in a very real way.

Are you really unwilling to acknowledge that it is ever wrong when Christians attempt to force other people to follow their rules? Obviously, Muslims do it (and some of our leaders do it on behalf of Muslims). But I don't think you're being logically consistent.

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