On June 3, the Pentagon issued a "final" report on the issue, owning up to five events in which the Qur'an was desecrated at Guantanamo. The report variously characterized these actions as hare-brained, misguided, or accidental and ascribed them to a handful of thoughtless guards. In light of this official admission and the disclaimer, that while such things did take place, they are not countenanced by the U.S. government, a new line of inquiry needs to be opened.
Why? Because the report seems designed to dismiss the guards' actions as isolated and relatively minor. Nowhere does it address the fundamental, underlying issues of federal and military culture, or the role religion plays in the government and the armed forces today. To put it bluntly, the official report on Guantanamo completely ducks a pervasive political reality: that a significant number of congressmen, senators, White House officials, and members of the American military, right up to the top brass and the President's West Wing, are evangelical Christians with a mandate to save souls and "share" the "good news," which, unfortunately seems to be code for "actively proselytize and convert those who don't share our views."
With this point-of-view so prevalent in the halls of power, national leaders have been plainly granted permission to insult other faith communities from time to time, as we have seen in the past two years' worth of nasty denunciations of Islam, Muhammad, and Muslims in general. Pentagon official Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin made headlines two years ago when, appearing in uniform at a speech at an Oregon church, he said: "Why do they [radical Muslims] hate us? Why do they hate us so much? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we're a Christian nation." In another speech he recounted the time he chased down a Muslim Somali warlord who was bragging that the Americans would not capture him because Allah would protect him. "My God is bigger than his God. I knew my God was a real God, and his was an idol," Boykin said.
In other such incidents, Christian leader Franklin Graham, a spiritual counselor to President Bush, characterized Islam as "evil and wicked," and the Rev. Jerry Vines, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which also has close ties to the Bush Administration, called the Prophet Muhammad a "demon-possessed pedophile."
As early as 2002, the marriage of religious dogma and political ideology in conservative politics had become so complete that it was possible for Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma to tell the U.S. Congress that the current conflict between Israel and Palestine is not rooted in issues of politics and territory but rather is a "contest over whether or not the word of God is true." (He then quoted the Old Testament to "prove" that Israel alone should control the Holy Land.) With remarks like this, and the climate that supports them, we are, as Reza Aslan has argued in his new book, No god but God, speaking the language of the Crusades.
The latest instance of this institutional evangelizing is a series of articles in the national media concerning the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. These reports, based on insider whistle-blowing and quickly confirmed by the Academy's leadership, acknowledge current problems in the U.S. military far more candidly than the official picture we've been offered of Guantanamo.
What is the climate at the Air Force Academy? According to Religion News Service, "a pastoral care consultant from the Yale University Divinity School was asked to assess the Academy's chaplaincy programs" in 2004. The report, authored by Kristen Leslie, found "stridently evangelical themes" in the chaplains' programs. In a separate interview, Leslie remarked that similar themes resound throughout the Academy. In her view, one religious voice, "the conservative evangelical Christian voice...has decided that it has the right to lay claim to the environment, and it is able to do that by working with the Academy power structure."