Just reading a report on BBC this morning (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6964564.stm). The US military has distributed footballs (what Americans would call soccer balls) to Afghan children, something to play with, they say. A good thing. These footballs are covered with flags. Quite international, yes? Nice global touch, there. And remarkably silly. How so, you ask?
For those who know American history, recall how often Americans have objected to the burning of the American flag, which various politicians have sought to outlaw. Even Hillary Clinton came out in favor of protecting the flag. In 2005 she joined – dare I say it – Robert Bennett of our own Utah to propose a flag protection act that called for one year in jail and $100,000 in fine for anyone who would dare to desecrate the American flag. Gotta wonder what Bill thought of that. After all, Bill Clinton was quite centrist in many ways, while flag protection and imprisonment for an act of symbolic speech sounds, well, pretty far to the right, doesn’t it?
I still find it utterly bizarre that every year, particularly around 4 July, Americans blow all kinds of money on disposable flags. US flags on the bumpers of SUVs, which become splattered with mud. US flags on paper plates, which are covered with greasy meat and beans and unthinkingly tossed into a trash can. US flags on – oh, yes indeed! – underwear, which is then soiled with … well, you get the picture. But those same patriotic Americans who don’t think twice about soiling the flag (or a fanciful rendering of it) with sweat, grease, feces, and God knows what else … vehemently defend the flag from being used as a constitutionally protected act of protest by those leftist, pinko bastards that the right has striven so hard to defend this great country from. Double standard, I think. So long as you have the correct political beliefs, then you can do whatever you want with the flag. Otherwise, we will lock you away where no one will ever find you. (I know – hyperbole. Happens when I’m upset.)
But the protest sparked by this apparent act of kindness by the US military in Afghanistan had nothing to do with sensitivities over flags as symbols of nations that must be protected at all costs. No, no, no. You see, included among the flags that Afghan children were supposed to kick around on a soccer field is the flag from Saudiyya. Hmm, you say – what’s so special about the flag of Saudi Arabia? Take a look at it. It includes the shahada. My last few journal entries sought to explain the five pillars of Islam, including the importance of the shahada – the declaration, the testifying that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His Messenger. Absolutely the cornerstone of Islam. The US military might as well have drawn a picture on the footballs of a venerable old man with a white beard along with the caption: “This is a picture of God – come and get ‘im, boys!”
I’m sure there will be those in this country who respond to this protest (if they are even aware of it) with the same disdain they expressed over the vehement reaction of some Muslims to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. “Oh, God, here they go again – those crazy Muslims!” But you see, for Muslims the word of God is sacred. The Qur’an is believed to be the word of God. Everything in it is sacred. You don’t just take down a Qur’an and start reading it. You cleanse yourself – physically and spiritually – before you lay a hand on it. The Qur’an is kept wrapped and secure when not in use to protect it from any harm. In other words, Muslims treat the Qur’an in a way that actually reflects their belief that they are interacting with God through His words.
In contrast, every year that I attended the University of Utah, there would come a day when I would walk into class and find little Bibles spread out over the tables. I assume they were left there by someone who felt this was the best way to reach the people. Same type of approach that the US army has used in wartime – blanket the area with leaflets dropped from planes. If some of them land in garbage or mud or feces, so be it. So long as we reach just a few. And I know that the same fate befell those Bibles. I would watch as some were pocketed by students entering the classroom while other Bibles were simply dropped into a trash can. Is that how you treat the word of God?
So before you assume that Muslims are overreacting yet again, I ask you to consider what status the word of God should have in our lives. How it should be treated. Do you honestly feel that the US flag should be protected, but that the word of God should be kicked around a soccer field? In the end, a spokesman for the US military has apologized. Not for the first time. Rather than having to apologize again and again for such an “oversight,” why can’t our leaders take the time to hire men and women who are specially trained in these matters. People who know about the Middle East and Islam. There are a lot of us out here. And who knows? By respecting others, our nation just might manage to retrieve some of the respect it was once shown by others. The very respect we lost when we allowed our leaders to shame us before the world.