Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jesus and the Burka

Well, I am not an expert on French politics or the fine print of weapons purchases. Every now and then I feel obligated to point out something good that happened in the country of my passport (the US) and examine something unfair or bigoted in another country (in this case, France, altho I would really like the French approach to food--fresh!--to take root in the States).

Also, I did not grow up in an Abrahamic faith (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), so forgive me if I make mistakes in some terminology in this post.

After the embarrassing news coverage that US soldiers carry guns with Christian scripture on them (the now-infamous Jesus Rifles), will now have the scripture removed. I think this is a very good step forward. I think its pretty inappropriate--in terms of our constitution, the structure of our military AND especially in terms of our current two wars. If we're 'winning hearts and minds' and 'engaging with the Islamic world' and trying to 'support moderate Islam,' then then we need to also not be (or perceived as) radical Christians. So bravo to the US government for making some progress on separating Church and State.

Now, on the other side of the Pond and this conversation. A French parliamentary panel recommends that France ban burka/burqa (the veil that a Muslim woman can choose to wear across her face to be modest before God) in public places (hospitals and schools), but not in private buildings or on the street (which would be even a more gross violation of a person's religious rights. What's next? Removing a nun's robes? The Pope's garb? Tell Orthodox Jewish women to wear miniskirts? I feel like this is a double standard poorly masking a bigoted bias against Muslims. Are the veils harming anyone? I know plenty of strong-willed, independent Muslim women who choose to wear the veil, or the hijjab...sometimes from families who were very moderate and were surprised their daughters chose that path. I think these women should be allowed to wear what they want--plenty of people wear offensive clothing all the time without fear that the government will not allow them to wear it into hospitals...

Radicalizing religion does not help. Neither does abusing human rights and choices.



  1. First off, I blame the scope company for the biblical inscriptions, and kudos to the military for asking them to take it off.

    However, a ban on burqas, hijabs and other such garments is about as ridiculous as banning minarets. It's a lazy governmental approach to quelling the racist fears of the populace without directly banning a religion. Absolutely absurd. Instead of treating the problem with dialog, reason, and understanding, it's easier to ban parts of other cultures under the guise of "security" "aestetics (minarets)" "women's rights"

  2. Hey Alena!

    Great commentary on this subject. I agree with you wholeheartedly. From a liberal point of view, to proscribe the burqa and the veil in public places is no different than a clerocratic regime (such as Saudi Arabia or Iran) requiring such things in the public sphere. The New York Times actually wrote a perspicacious editorial on the subject, arguing that Sarkozy's government is trying to distract the French people from pressing economic concerns by directing attention to a small minority of women among the Muslim population who wear these garments.


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  4. If a rifle scope cannot carry an inscription, can a soldier? It is both ridiculous and shameful that soldiers are being told what can and cannot go onto the gear they carry with them into hellish combat. If a soldier carries a comforting religious phrase in his pocket, is he a religious zealot come to convert the wicked?

    The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees no such separation of church and state, especially not a one-way separation where state can only remove and berate church in the lives of individual persons. Allow soldiers to bear their personal effects proudly on their personal gear, so long as it does not clearly distinguish them from their brothers in arms and preserves uniformity.

    If they want a couple of letters and numbers stenciled in behind the serial number of their equipment, so be it. Let them also remove it or alter it if they want. Soldiers of the United States are both human beings and volunteers. They should be allowed the dignity of their individual religions within reason, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

  5. Alena,
    You make some great points in this post. I think you pretty much covered the France/burqa issue, so I won't belabor the point there. I would like to comment on the "Jesus rifles" though. I was surprised (and slightly amused) when I saw the article on the weapons scopes, and I'm glad the mistake was caught and the company is providing kits to remove the scripture. Your first anonymous commenter was correct about the company being at fault. The military did not ask for scripture to be printed on any of its equipment, and it is a good thing that it is being removed.

    I also feel compelled to respond to davidylin's comment on the separation of church and state. There is a distinct difference between government-issued equipment and a Soldier's own personal gear. These were not religious phrases Soldiers chose to carry in order to give them peace of mind. Not only were the rifle sights in question government-issued, but all Soldiers are required to carry their rifles everywhere they go while deployed to a combat zone. There is nothing barring a Soldier from carrying a Bible in her pocket while on patrol (trust me, I did!), but at the same time there is nothing requiring that she does so - unless of course she was issued a rifle with one of these sights. Would it be okay if a Muslim or Buddhist Soldier was issued a sight with Scripture on it? Or if a Christian Soldier had to carry a rifle with Q'uranic verse inscribed on the upper receiver? The constitutional concept of secularism prevents the government from forcing Soldiers to carry equipment inscribed with religious verse.

    Outside of the constitutional issue, here's another way to think about it: much of the Muslim world already looks at us as crusaders. How smart is it to aim weapons at them mounted with Scripture-inscribed-sights while we are trying to convince them our war is not against Islam? The government does regulate what Soldiers put on our weapons and uniforms, and it is right to prevent us from displaying items that will be deleterious to mission success, as is clearly the case here.

    My $0.02,

  6. Jackie,

    I agree that perhaps government issued equipment would be best off without religious inscriptions on them. But if you look at what exactly they did, use two letters and some numbers at the end of the serial number - you could hardly tell. Furthermore, yes, equipment and uniforms should not be modified in such a way that disrupts visual uniformity amongst the troops. Spot the guy in the ranks with the special serial number on their scope, and you need to work for the CIA strapped to one of their drones.


  7. 2 comments:
    First, the IDF also uses Trijicon sights, so on behalf of the Chosen people, I demand we get Old Testament verses on ours!
    Second - forget gun sights, when are they gonna issue the troops the Hold Hand Grenade? |:-)

  8. It's very liberal in here. Can you hear the echo?