The “Infidel” knife – dipped in pig’s blood during the forging process

Infidel Knife

A friend who knows about my interest in the whole ‘infidel’ phenomenon sent me this article from the Marine Corps Times last week (Marine vet’s ‘infidel’ knives a pointed jab at the enemy). The article is a profile of a USMC veteran who has started a small business making combat knives for a mostly military audience. A good thing, in and of itself. Check out his webpage or his Facebook page – the knives look gorgeous.

However, these knives are special. From his website:

Bates Tactical Knives are not for the politically correct. Every blade is stamped with the word “Infidel” in Arabic. During the hardening process the red-hot blade is pulled from the forge and immediately quenched in liquid with pig’s blood added to it, completing the “Infidel” touch.

Click here for a picture from the company’s Facebook page of Mr. Bates smelling a fresh batch of pig’s blood.

I’ve beaten the infidel subject to death, and I’ve made an argument that to champion the whole ‘infidel’ thing might put you in the extremist category, so I’ll let this stand here as is and let you be the judge. Kudos to Bryan Bates for separating from the USMC and starting his own business – the knives look great. But if I saw one of my guys with an ‘infidel’ knife that had been forged in pig’s blood, there would be a problem.

About these ads

Infidel Redux


Without question, my short post last year on why it’s a bad idea for troops to embrace the term ‘infidel’ has been my most popular. It has garnered the most comments and is usually the post that attracts the most viewers per day. Judging by the comments, people get very emotional about this topic and have strong, mostly unshakeable and extreme opinions. Those who are ardent advocates of the brand cannot be convinced otherwise and in many cases, take to insulting me, my writing ability, or my credentials to make or punctuate their argument.

The point I was trying to make in that post was to say that while troops are entitled to their right to free speech, it is unprofessional to embrace the term infidel for the reasons I outlined. In reaction to my opinion, in the comments section, I have been accused of being a sympathizer of the enemy, an incredible dumbass,” a poor writer, an empathizer, one who has a hidden agenda,” dishonorable, a fobbit, an embarrassment to our military and country,” someone who needs a kick to the balls with a spiked combat boot,” and most recently, a traitor.

There is something deeper underlying that kind of defensive behavior that has led me to re-examine this phenomenon.

When I wrote the post, I knew it might attract some opposing views. I had no idea, though, that it would be so pervasive, persistent, and filled with hate.

Now, over a year later, I’d like to revisit the topic to see what has changed – if anything.

There is nothing outright “wrong” in displaying an infidel bumper sticker or getting it tattooed on the body. The word ‘infidel’ or it’s Arabic counterpart, kafir (كافر), is not in and of itself, extremist. This is not to say that those who brandish the term are or are not extremist. Some might just like the pretty Arabic script and others might just enjoy how ‘cool’ the word sounds. But I think some use the fact that the word is not considered a ‘hate word’ in the same way as a racial or ethnic slur to barely hide an extremist viewpoint.

Now, seeing the response and having thought harder on the subject, and having dug a littler further into the regulations which cover extremist behavior, I think there may be a case for a closer examination as to whether this is appropriate behavior for service members.

The relevant portions of DoD Directive 1325.06Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces:


a. Military personnel must not actively advocate supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang
doctrine, ideology, or causes, including those that advance, encourage, or advocate illegal
discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, ethnicity, or national origin or those that advance, encourage, or advocate the use of force, violence, or criminal activity or otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.


a. Commanders should remain alert for signs of future prohibited activities. They should
intervene early, primarily through counseling, when observing such signs even though the signs may not rise to active advocacy or active participation or may not threaten good order and discipline, but only suggest such potential. The goal of early intervention is to minimize the risk of future prohibited activities.
b. Examples of such signs, which, in the absence of the active advocacy or active
participation addressed in paragraphs 8.a and 8.b are not prohibited, could include mere
membership in criminal gangs and other organizations covered under paragraph 8.b. Signs could also include possession of literature associated with such gangs or organizations, or with related ideology, doctrine, or causes. While mere membership or possession of literature normally is not prohibited, it may merit further investigation and possibly counseling to emphasize the importance of adherence to the Department’s values and to ensure that the Service member understands what activities are prohibited.

According to the directive, a service member does not have to be using direct hate speech or be an active member of an extremist group in order to warrant a command action, but merely be ‘in the orbit’ of such speech or behavior. I’d argue, given the vitriolic comments to my infidel post and the ease in which you can find extremist views just beneath the surface of a Google search for ‘major league infidel,’ that displaying these things just might warrant command action.

While free speech for service members is protected, hate speech or extremist views are not.

To quote Army Pamphlet 600-15Extremist Activities, “Our soldiers do not live in a vacuum.” Individual soldiers have a responsibility to understand the things that they do and the potential consequences, on and off duty.

I do not think that everyone that slaps an infidel bumper sticker on their car is an extremist or holds extremist views. But I know some of them do. It’s evidenced right here on this blog, by those who said as much in the comments. While soldiers have a responsibility to know what they’re getting themselves into when they start marketing an idea on their body or property, commanders have a responsibility to remind their soldiers that we are a military with values, and that extremist behavior is not compatible with those values. Additionally, given DoD Directive 1325.06, commanders have the authority to lean in if they suspect a soldier of being in the orbit of extremist activity. The way that the term ‘infidel’ is slung around, there is a good argument that brandishing it puts a person in that orbit.

Lastly, the thing that really bothers me about this theme is how it looks like it will endure longer than the actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a brand, an image. They sell ‘infidel’ shirts at the PX. What value is their as self-identifying as an ‘infidel’ if you go fight in some other war? It’s troubling to me, because a soldier should not be self-identifying as anything but a soldier (or marine, airman, what have you).

And with that, bring on the hate.


Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff. Seriously, stop.

[Update 16 July 2013: I've addressed this topic again in a post titled Infidel Redux.]

[Update 19 October 2012: It looks like removed the article I've linked to. I found the article here in this forum, so if you're interested, you can read it there.]

I keep a list of things I plan on writing about and they sit and wait for me to get to them. One of them that has been sitting there for awhile is a blog post about the way some troops embrace enthusiastically the title ‘infidel.’ Well, I missed the ship on this one and there was actually a great article on this topic over at It’s worth the read and I’d be happy if you stopped here and just read that article, but there are a few things I would like to add.

First, this is a topic that I naturally gravitate to because it sits at the intersection of my two lives: the infantryman and the Middle East Studies student. Without question, Middle East Studies and studying abroad has made me more sensitive to things in that orbit. And having been an 11B for five years, I feel confident that I understand how the infantryman’s culture works.

Second, I see this stuff everywhere. Bumper stickers on post, t-shirts in the gym, posts on Facebook. Without question, there are a number of people in the military who enthusiastically embrace the term ‘infidel.’ And there are a host of companies out there ready to cash in on the trend.

I get it. The word infidel sounds cool, and there is something neat about repurposing a supposedly negative title and owning it. When I speak with people on the subject, enthusiasts of the term usually speak in generalities (“That’s what we are to them, infidels. So it’s not like we’re saying anything outrageous.”) The problem is that when people say “them” they are usually referring to jihadists (a problematic term itself). But enthusiasts are using a term that is generally religious but not necessarily tied to Islamic terrorists. Yes, there is an Arabic word كافر and it means a number of things to different people, with varying degrees of intensity. That is, just like there is no such thing as one Islam (just as there is no universal Christianity), there is no one way in which the idea behind the term ‘infidel’ is understood or used.

My problem with this phenomenon is twofold: 1) whether people mean it or not, the word casts a conflict in religious terms, which is what we don’t want, and 2) the brand is worn to be antagonistic, not simply factual.

More importantly, what are people trying to communicate by wearing a t-shirt that says كافر or a bumper sticker, like the photo above, that says ‘Major League Infidel?’ The word كافر (kafir) can mean a number of things: irreligious, unbeliever, infidel, atheist, ungrateful (Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, 1976). Since I haven’t seen any shirts with the word ‘atheist’ or ‘unbeliever’ paired with كافر, I would assume most of the time people are aligning themselves with the word infidel: “a person who does not believe in religion or who adhere’s to a religion other than one’s own.” (Oxford Dictionary). So by using the term, the person is declaring themselves an atheist or some religion other than Islam, since that is where this is directed.

The word is completely wrapped in religion and doesn’t belong in our discourse on war, officially or unofficially, seriously or playfully.

Just like Vibram Five Finger shoes (104 comments!), this is a topic that attracts strong emotions. Look at the hundreds of comments and some of the vitriol over at the article on It’s bad. Why is this the topic that people want to get excited about or hold strong feelings on? I don’t know the answer to that, but it must get to something at the core of people to pull such bitter feelings.

I’m doubtful that this will be going away anytime soon. I’m hopeful though that people will keep writing about it and exploring the topic. I know I will.

arabic, film



I’m writing my dissertation on the Iraqi military experience during the Iran-Iraq War and the invasion of Kuwait. In Iraq, the war is called qadisiyat saddam (قادسية صدام), or Saddam’s Qadisiya.

The Battle of Qadisiya was a 7th century battle between the Arab-Muslim army and the Persian-Sassanid army.

The Battle of Qadisiya became the theme du jour in Iraq. It was referenced in speeches, stamps, money, monuments, and most notably, film.

Saddam Hussein commissioned a film to be made commemorating the battle in 1981. It is purportedly the most expensive Arab movie ever made. I just found it on YouTube.


Collecting the Arabic nom de plume

As a Middle East studies and Arabic student, I can’t help but notice the growing number of academics, think-tankers, students, and others who have taken Arabic pen names for their internet personas. A few years ago, when I first started college, I was intrigued by it. It seemed pretty cool. Like call signs in fighter pilot movies or the strange nicknames from Vietnam (Um al-Heyawan, anyone?). I wanted one, but couldn’t think of of a good one. Now, I’m less interested in having my own. I just want to catch ‘em all.

First, a little background. I am not an expert on Arabic naming conventions, but the gist of it goes like this: Muhammad has a son and names him Ahmed. Muhammad can now be called Abu Ahmed (“the father” of Ahmed). Ahmed can now be called Ibn Muhammad (“the son” of Muhammad). This, of course, is a very simple explanation.

Second, a little history. Adopting Arabic pen names is not a new phenomenon. Orientalist Edward Lane did it. Explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton did it. British Army officer T.E. Lawrence did it.

The difference is, they never did it on Twitter.

My intent with this post is to collect figures who have adopted an Arabic pen name, whether it is used to attain anonymity, demonstrate understanding, or just for fun. Where possible, I try to use information they have provided for the descriptions. If you have any more information on the names I have already collected, or find a new one, please let me know by posting in the comments. I’ll update the list as I learn more.

This is a work in progress.


Arabic Name: Abu Aardvark (father of “Aardvark,” reference to Cerebus the Aardvark, an independent comic. Name adopted 2004[?])
Name: Marc Lynch
About: Director, Middle East Studies at GW; Editor, Middle East Channel at
LinksTwitterGoogle+Typepad (discontinued), Foreign Policy Blog

Arabic Name: Abu Muqawama (father of “resistance,” a nod to the content of the blog, adopted February, 2007)
Name: Andrew Exum
About: Senior Fellow at CNAS
LinksTwitterAbu Muqawama (blog)

Arabic Name: Ibn Siqilli (son of Sicily). From C. Anzaolone:  I originally chose “Ibn Siqilli” because I didn’t always include my actual name in blogging. I chose it because my father is actually Sicilian by descent, thus the pen name.
Name: Christopher Anzalone
About: Ph.D. Student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University
LinksTwitterViews from the Occident (blog)

Arabic Name: Abu Hatem
Name: unknown
About:  Libertarian politics

Arabic Name: Abu Bokemon (for real – father of “bokemon,” mispronounced Pokemon [there is no 'p' in Arabic)
Name: unknown
About: Haven't dug deep yet, but it looks like a blog that takes a humorous look at Islam through the use of Legos.
LinksOld blogNew blog

Arabic Name: Abu Zilif
Name: Max J. Rosenthal
About: Former Army linguist (Arabic), aspiring journalist.

Arabic Name: bint battuta (daughter of 'battuta' - I'm guessing this is a reference to the famous traveler, Ibn Battuta)
Name: unknown
About: translator, writer. i post links mainly about books, culture, language, history, ideas. (from Twitter profile)

Arabic Name: Abu Banda (father of 'Banda' meaning Panda - another mispronunciation using a 'p' word as there is no natural 'p' sound in Arabic)
Name: Darryl Li
About: Graduate student, Anthropology & Middle East Studies
LinksTwitterHarvard University

Arabic Name: Abu Pork Chop
Name: Jorge S. Harland
About: Just a fun Twitter handle, I think.


Out of Service

Arabic Name: Amina Arraf (the famous gay girl in Damascus)
Name: Tom MacMaster
About: Student
LinksA Gay Girl in Damascus (blog, discontinued[?])

7/31/11 – Deleted thumbnail pics (too ugly). Added ‘Abu Hatem.’ Added explanation of origin of ‘Ibn Siqilli.’
8/1/11 – Changed “Profession” to “About.” Added ‘Abu Bokemon.’
8/25/11 – Added ‘Abu Zilif’
9/4/11 – Added ‘bint battuta’ and ‘Abu Banda.’ Edited text. Removed picture.
1/29/12 – Added ‘Abu Pork Chop.’