We know that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other mujahideen feel that they are involved in a holy war. Do US military personnel also see themselves in this role?
Countless armed forces members have reached out to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) over the last nearly seven years to express their dire concern regarding the proliferation of literature, imagery, insignia, and much more which indicates that, indeed, some do see themselves as the Christian extremist counterparts of their Islamic fundamentalist, Salafi-Jihadist foes. This extremely dangerous Islamophobia, inextricably intertwined into the very fabric of the US armed forces, has reached such a dire level of toxicity that it caused America's highest-ranking soldier to actually DO something about it just last week on April 24, 2012. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued an unprecedented directive tasking the entire US military at all levels, top to bottom, to immediately review all of its official training and educational programs and to eliminate any anti-Muslim and/or anti-Islam bias that is currently present therein. Talking the talk is one thing that the Pentagon does well. It's cheap, fast and easy to seemingly balm the wounds of unconstitutional civil rights abuses by such idle and too-often disingenuous chatter. Walking the talk is quite another matter and one in which the Department of Defense has an absolutely abysmal and shameful record.
Case in point: the recent decision to rename Beaufort, South Carolina-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VMFA-122) the "Crusaders" and adopt the red cross of the crusading medieval Knights Templar.
This alarming decision to rechristen the jet fighter squadron as "Crusaders" threatens to reignite the explosive tension and anti-American rage that exists across the Muslim world. "Crusader" is an epithet that is routinely used to describe US military personnel throughout the Arab and Islamic world. A phrase which literally means "taking up the cross," Crusader recalls a history of colonization and campaigns of conquest and plunder spearheaded by European Christian military orders. Spanning three centuries and starting in the year 1096, the crusades viciously claimed the lives of millions of inhabitants of the Middle East. While motivated by the secular incentives of lucre and mammon, the Crusades serve as a hideous testament to the noxious danger embodied by the foreboding alloy of weaponized theology.
In March 2012, al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to International Security Assistance Force troops stationed in Afghanistan as "Crusader Swine." During last year's NATO intervention in Libya, then-leader Muammar Qaddafi referred to Western forces as a "crusader alliance." Likewise, insurgent forces in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan have regularly called US personnel "crusaders."
In 2008, the Marine's F-18 Hornet Fighter Attack squadron VMFA-122 was renamed the "Werewolves" after having borne the "Crusaders" label since 1958. With United States service personnel based across the Arab and Islamic world, the "Crusaders" name was dropped due to its clearly incendiary and offensive nature. At the time, VMFA-122's Squadron Commander Lt. Col. William Lieblein wisely stated, "The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn't float."
Confidential MRFF sources have conclusively confirmed that VMFA-122 F/A-18 Hornet jets have just been repainted to reflect last month's name change. Base commanders have confirmed that the new artwork is identical to that shown in images from 2004, which have been uncovered online, which depict designs on the vertical stabilizers (tails) of the Hornets boldly displaying a white medieval kite shield bearing the red Knights Templar cross against an Old Glory blue backdrop.
However, on the occasion of the squadron's 70th anniversary in March, present VMFA-122 Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Wade Wiegel stated that the "Crusader" label was "not politically incorrect," according to a story broken by the Beaufort Gazette. According to Wiegel, "It's a way for our Marines to draw on the service of the Marines before them and to make their own history under the same name ... the name change is a reflection of our heritage." Seriously, Lieutenant Colonel Wiegel? Have you bothered to review ancient history and even current international events on that point? Further, do you remember the oath you took to the US Constitution, which clearly mandates a separation between church and state as well as prohibits any use of a "religious test" anywhere in our federal government? These are fair, rational and reasonable questions to propound. And there is little time to answer them correctly.
Meanwhile, regarding "current" history, that very same red crusader cross was heavily utilized in the video "manifesto" of Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who claims to have carried out his gruesome attacks for the sake of advancing a "crusade" against multiculturalism and European Muslims. Breivik, who is currently on the dock for his gruesome attacks that claimed the lives of 77 people, has spoken of allegiance to a network called the "Knights Templar" and has stated that he aspires to a "crusader mentality."
Following the renaming, just over one hundred US Marines, the vast majority of whom are practicing Christians and multiple combat tour veterans who wish to remain anonymous for fear of universal reprisal, contacted MRFF to express their shock and concern at such a seemingly obvious, counterintuitive action. One "Crusader," a member of VMFA-122, expressed his disgust and confided that he expected MRFF, my civil rights organization that represents well over 27,000 clients within the US armed forces (approximately 96 percent of whom are Christian), "to do something about this" - and we did so swiftly. Other "Crusaders" described to MRFF being told by VMFA-122 Squadron superiors and supporters that "we've been losing this war because 'they' get to have their god (Allah) in the fight and we haven't been allowed to get Jesus into the same fight."
As is clear to our countless aggrieved clients such as the above "Crusaders," the only outcome of this needlessly provocative and unconstitutional renaming will be the egregious loss of service members' lives and limbs and the squandering of meager strategic gains across the theaters of combat within which the US is engaged.
Christian fundamentalist extremists eagerly anticipate a new, nuclear-armed crusade, believing that it fulfills blood-drenched, biblical end-time prophecies and eschatology. In August 2001, Protestant prophecy magazine The Philadelphia Trumpet published an article opening with the lines, "Most people think the crusades for Jerusalem are a thing of the past - over forever. They are wrong. Preparations are being made for a final crusade and it will be the bloodiest of all!" Immediately following the attacks on September 11, 2001, George W. Bush raised the hackles of European allies after referring to, "This crusade, this war on terrorism."
Some clearly nontrivial number of those with "shock and awe" power within the halls of the Pentagon seem to be addicted to a noxiously theocratic world view and modus operandi that is marinated in the superstitious, fever dreams of fundamentalist Christian Dominionism. Indeed, their itchy trigger fingers seem all too eager to fire the opening shots of a religiously inspired bloodbath of, literally, biblical proportions. Bewitched by this fatal theocratic nationalism, exceptionalism and supremacy, these modern-day Department of Defense Crusaders will stop at nothing - including trampling upon the US Constitution - for the sake of advancing toward this singular goal of Armageddon. As American citizens who have immeasurably benefited from the precious privileges and values bestowed upon us by our United States Constitution, it is our solemn duty, our most manifest calling to fight assiduously against those who are the sectarian, "homeland" variant of the very same Islamic religious extremists whom we fight abroad.
Frederick Douglas sagaciously said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand." Americans must unyieldingly demand that the Pentagon fight our wars not as sectarian warriors of old, but as balanced, secular men and women engaging in the honorable profession of arms to protect America's national interests pursuant to our nation's founding bedrock document.