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Not long ago, we had an admin hearing aboard the CARL VINSON, in the chaplain’s workspace.  An interesting chart on the wall informed the roughly 6, 000 sailors and Marines on board of the denominations of their assigned chaplains.  For other faith communities, lay leaders were listed.

What amazed us was the extremely wide range of religious persuasion — Buddhist, Wiccan, even atheist.  The world has changed radically since the 1951 Manual for Courts-Martial enjoined those in the sea services to attend Sunday divine worship.

We wondered whether an  ”outsider”  facing a court-martial today  would be treated equally with someone  considered more ‘mainstream.’

What about disparate sentencing for, say, a young Muslim sailor who punched out his CPO ? Would a harsher sentence follow?    [Isn’t that the track records of various other minorities  in the past?  Consider the unequal treatment of black military members in World War I during the so-called Houston TX riots.  Some 110 blacks were convicted by court-martial, with 63 receiving life sentences and 13 hanged].

These musings led us to pick up  INFIDELS,  Andrew Wheatcroft’s interesting in-depth history of the conflict between Christendom and Islam.

The author surveys three eras of friction between the two communities  — the Crusades; “Moorish” Spain; and the Balkans.

Some interesting tidbits of the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions between two complex “worlds” :

·         An Islamic promise of virgins in paradise?  What about the Pope’s promise that Christian Crusaders would avoid Purgatory?

·         At times, the two communities managed to live in relative peace.  Other times, those in power performed dreadful  crimes upon the minority.  Islamic soldiers castrated captured Christians.   Christian kings  branded Islamic believers  and abducted their children to be raised as Catholics.

·          Each side tried to destroy copies of the other’s Holy Book.

·         Spanish Moors had to wear identifying medallions  in the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella.

·         Each side demonized the other as barbaric.

·         Religious leaders for each claimed it was a soldier’s duty to kill ‘the enemy’ without compassion.

·         Jihad?  Was it not another name for Crusade?    And vice versa?

·         Does the Koran  preach jihad, whereas Christianity is grounded on love?  Consider Ephesians 6: 11- 12, often quoted to Crusaders and Knights Templar prior to actual fighting:  “Do not engage in a war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

·          Mr. Wheatcroft points out that some politically arch-conservatives and religious extremists assure readers it’s “kill or be killed.”  David Frum and Richard Perle , with strong ties to the Bush administration, wrote AN END TO EVIL: HOW TO WIN THE WAR ON TERROR.  They insist “there is no middle way for Americans.  It is victory or holocaust.”

·         Memories of severe mistreatment were passed by word of mouth from one generation to another on both sides of the Islam/Christian bridge.   Author Wheatcroft suggests that the word “malediction” is an appropriate description of all this.

·         Christian art typically portrays “the Turk” as an individual of violence, threat, and danger.   Sometimes, says Mr. Wheatcroft, sexual excess and perversity were emphasized.   Many Europeans were convinced that Muslims were pederasts and sodomites; or at least lustful “animals” with many wives.

·         Saracen –Moor  – Bedouin  — Arab  — these words can suggest evildoing to the West.  One overheated writer centuries ago warned against “The Turk, wherever his scimitar reached — degraded, defiled, and defamed — blasting with eternal decay Roman, Latin  civilization until when all has gone he sat down satisfied with savagery to doze into hopeless decrepitude.”

After 9/11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,  much of all this remains embedded in the American psyche.

So back to the original thought:  What about a young American Muslim sailor who gets in trouble for punching out his CPO?

Suppose his name is  Ab al-Rahman .  The crew calls him “Abe” which annoys him a bit because they think Abraham is a “Jewish name.”   He was born in Lebanon; his family has been devoutly  Islamic for centuries.  He too is a believer, and often is accommodated by getting time off on Fridays to pray and attend Islamic services on board the VINSON.    Ab al-Rahman has a good record.  He has been diligent   and won good evals, a 5.0 sailor.  His English is not perfect, he speaks with an accent.   A picture in his workspace shows his mom and dad back in Lebanon — decent, hardworking people but they aren’t typical Americans.   He has a photo in his wallet of a girlfriend back in Beirut; she is dressed modestly and wears a head veil.

What are the odds Ab al-Rahman will be measured [and, if found  guilty, sentenced] based on purely objective standards?

We suggest that a good, vigorous defense must begin with some pointed voir dire questions.

We’ll speak to that next time.

In the meantime:  A few years ago in Istanbul, we visited the Roman Catholic church in the French embassy  compound.  Believers were at Mass, said in Turkish.

Question: What is the  Turkish Christian name for God  in the Our Father?

Answer:  Allah.

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