Monday, May 4, 2009

On Proselytizing

Al-Jazeera English reports (via Jawa Report*) that a video has surfaced showing U.S. soldiers at Bagram in Afghanistan in possession of Bibles in Dari and Pashtu, and discussing how to be a "witness". A few thoughts:

General Order No. 1 forbids active duty deployed military personnel from "proselytizing". On the other hand, I'm not sure what most Christians -- particularly military Christians -- understand by "witness" necessarily qualifies. I've had a good amount of experience with the Army chaplaincy, and heard a lot about witness from them, but the focus has always been on witnessing to our fellow soldiers. Simply due to the nature of military life, the constant admonition of the chaplaincy is that a loving heart and clean living are a powerful witness in and of themselves, and honestly, the politics of the chaplaincy prevents them from encouraging any more active evangelism. Though the Al-Jazeera story would love to insinuate otherwise, nothing quoted of the chaplain strikes me as encouraging anything beyond this.

...Except for the Bibles. While I don't agree, I suspect the Department of Defense would consider handing someone a Bible, though no other action be taken, to be an act of proselytizing. If these soldiers at Bagram really were handing out Dari and Pashtu Bibles, they would be in violation of the regulations governing deployed military personnel. Of course, it's an open question how many of the soldiers in attendance would ever get outside the wire. My guess? Few, if any.

I'm particularly interested, of course, in the circumstances of this being made into a story. Al-Jazeera English, which is in fact far closer to the caricature of anti-Western terrorist apologists than the Arabic-language operation, got a hold of the video from a documentarian, Brian Hughes, who had this to say:
The only reason they would have these documents there was to distribute them to the Afghan people. And I knew it was wrong, and I knew that filming it … documenting it would be important.
Why, exactly, would that be important? To reveal the dastardly deeds of U.S. servicemembers who dare to undermine an Afghan censorship regime that considers the very existence of Dari and Pashtu Bibles a threat? Because you, a former U.S. servicemember yourself feel the need to play handmaiden to those who would execute people for the unpardonable crime of converting religions? Even assuming the "worst" of these Christian soldiers, that they were actively and quite foolishly proselytizing Afghans, who precisely is served by releasing this video to feed the Crusader-victim narrative that is already so popular in this part of the world?

Jawa sums it all up pretty nicely:
If Muslims demand that U.S. soldiers be subjected to sharia injunctions while in their countries ostensibly trying to help liberate them then at some point we are going to have to ask ourselves just what the point of that liberation was?

No, we didn't really go into Afghanistan to make it the Switzerland of Central Asia. But is, say, Mexico too much to ask for?

*Jawa is a hotbed for the freelance online anti-jihad. Fair warning, it can get pretty rough.

UPDATE: The offending Bibles have been confiscated. Hooray for not making waves.


Evan said...

Actually, and I'm not joking, the title of "Switzerland of Central Asia" has already been claimed by Kyrgyzstan. I think they've got a few fair arguments for that claim.

Elephantschild said...

It's like Switzerland, only cheaper! And with less vowels!

While I'm first in line to argue the critical need for Bible translations in local languages, truth is, a person doesn't absolutely NEED a Bible to "witness." And I hate that word, too. "Witness," blech.

Like Rosebrough always says, "I don't have to serve my neighbor, I get to." That serve and love your neighbor part gets trampled on routinely in what passes for "evangelism" in much of Christianity, sadly.

I'm sure the evangelical crowd would hold the Bible-passer-outers up as heroes, but I'm not sure this is an appropriate situation to be violating the Fourth Commandment (Honor your Father and Mother, and by extension, those in authority over you.) since the Great Commission can be attended to without doing so.