Jihadist Web site Uses Mass Baptism of Marines As Proof of 'Christian Crusade' in Afghanistan
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Titled "Marines headed for Afghanistan baptized in ocean off Camp Pendleton," the story described a mass baptism of marines from Lt. Col. Lawrence Kaifesh’s 3rd Battalion unit as “part of Operation Sword of the Spirit, a program meant to prepare the battalion for duty in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province." The piece was republished by the leading Jihadist Web site Ansar Al-Mujahideen, under the heading “Crusaders Baptized Before Leaving For Afghanistan.”
As Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Michael Weinstein quipped,
Surely the Taliban and Al Qaeda will be sending bountiful fruit baskets to Lt. Col. Kaifesh, and his entire culpable USMC/DoD chain of command, for so magnificently advancing the cause of their "U.S. as Crusaders" propaganda machine.
MRFF works to protect the rights of U.S. armed forces personnel to be free from unconstitutional religious proselytizing. Only a few days after MRFF’s research network picked up the L.A. Times baptism story, the MRFF has, according to Weinstein, picked up over new 30 clients, some at Camp Pendleton but also in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, who have turned to the foundation as a desperate last resort in reaction to what they feel is a dangerous climate of religious coercion. Weinstein says they’re all Christian Protestants, and he stresses that 96 percent of MRFF clients are Christians persecuted for not holding the “correct” sort of sectarian beliefs.
What’s really at stake is this: Pentagon policy prohibits military officers from endorsing particular religious beliefs, especially sectarian religious beliefs. Lt. Col Kaifesh’s prominent presence and high-profile participation at the mass baptism seems to indicate endorsement not just of Christianity but also of claims that Christian indoctrination, and building something called “spiritual fitness,” are valid and even indispensable to training American troops for combat.
There are in fact many atheists in foxholes in the U.S. armed forces, proportionally more than in the general American population, and there’s no evidence to indicate that lack of belief in a deity hinders combat readiness. But over the last several years, Christian “fitness” programs have sprouted up through the major armed forces branches, and high level officers in the Army Reserves have even asserted that “the application of the principles of [Christian] Scripture” can help returning vets to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.
So, if Christian beliefs are intrinsic and necessary to the U.S. military’s fighting capability, how would American military campaigns differ from crusades?
Editors of the internationally popular English-language Jihadist web forum Ansar Al-Mujahideen, which a February 2010 article published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point suggests is in the forefront of militant Islamic propaganda efforts worldwide, seem to have considered the implicit message of Lt. Colonel Lawrence Kaifesh’s baptism ceremony to be so obvious that, beyond the title change, they ran the L.A. Times report with no editorial comment whatsoever.
But chances are, that for most Muslim readers, no comment was necessary. On September 16, 2001 President George W. Bush set the stage by calling for a global “crusade” against global terrorism. Ever since, Pentagon realists, aware that the term “crusade” carries negative historical connotations, especially in the Mideast, have worked to undo the damage and persuade Afghans and Iraqis that the United States invasion and occupation of their countries does not amount to a religious war.
That’s official Department of Defense policy, at least. But a powerful renegade faction in the U.S. military seems bent on sending a radically contradictory message, as illustrated by examples in a book on diversity in the military, Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply about Diversity in the US Armed Forces, published in May 2010 by the USAF Air University Press.