Weaving the Crusader Quilt

Drone carpet Afghanistan
red-drone

Through the magic of hyperlinks I found myself on the personal blog of David Perry. I read what I came to read, and then just before I clicked away I saw a “Crusaders in Iraq” link floating off to the right. While I’ve focused my efforts on continuously exploring and unpacking the self-identifying ‘infidel’ movement in the military, there is another corollary which revolves around “crusader” imagery.

I clicked the link.

It’s interesting to see other folks who have also caught glimpse of this trend and find themselves troubled by it.

Like I’ve written before, the strangest part of it is the legacy it’s leaving behind. As we extract ourselves from Iraq(?) and Afghanistan, there is still a large swath of both the military and civilian population that self-identifies as infidels and crusaders through imagery, social media, or by brandishing knives forged in pigs blood. Of course, there is a growing number of businesses that have stepped up to fill the space and provide an ever-growing supply of infidel and crusader-inspired gear for a demanding public.

While free speech is protected, military members who fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice come dangerously close to falling into the “extremist organization” orbit when they brandish these things.

I continue to think that the esoteric nature of understanding the crusades and the Arabic required to really know what the hell you’re talking about when it comes to defining what an ‘infidel’ is and how that may or may not be a helpful term, is the reason there isn’t a more hard-line on managing the phenomenon within the military.

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Return of the Infidel

The other day, a reader who named himself كافر (infidel) left this comment on my post Infidel Redux:

I’m curious to know if you still think that things shouldn’t be looked at in a religious sense, now that ISIS is beheading Christian children. I for one am a proud Christian infidel, and IMHO this battle is religious in nature, whether you want to see it or not.

There’s been a lot of traffic to my infidel posts over the past few weeks, no doubt spurred by interest-based on the lightning advance of ISIS in Syria and Iraq (see here for a good documentary on the group from Vice News). To answer the question the reader raised – has my position changed now that ISIS is beheading Christian children (an un-verified accusation, by the way), my answer is “no.”

The tragic news of James Foley’s gruesome murder also does not change my position. To summarize, I am of the belief that proudly wearing, displaying, or seeing oneself as an “infidel” is unprofessional in a modern military force (and potentially punishable under UCMJ), colors the conflict in religious hokum that doesn’t have a place in our war rhetoric, and plays directly into the enemy’s plan.

One of the smoldering remnants of the Global War on Terrorism is the way troops have embraced the term “infidel” as a kind of scarlet letter. Tattoos, t-shirts, bumper stickers, custom patches, knives forged in pigs blood – a whole industry has cropped up around the term. Dehumanization in war is normal – it happens in every war.

That, however, is not an excuse for it.

From Foreign Affairs (ISIS’ Gruesome Gamble):

If the United States decided to step in on behalf of its allies — as it did — then ISIS must have believed that it would be able to strengthen its position within the jihadi camp. ISIS could use the bombings as evidence that the United States is waging a war on Islam, and to portray itself as the defender of Muslims from “Crusader” aggression. In other words, ISIS would steal a page right out of al Qaeda’s playbook.

I'll see your jihad

The advance of ISIS, their brutal behavior, and the language they use themselves (constantly referring to others as infidels) has revalidated those who have embraced the infidel term. It’s an affirmation of their beliefs and it’s convenient to cast a conflict in religious terms – a cosmic struggle where both sides have the backing of God. On social media and on the web, outrage is spilling out – rightfully so – over the behavior of ISIS. But among military folk, that response is often being colored through “proud infidel” language. “I’ll see your Jihad and raise you a Crusade” is a popular phrase, often coupled with an image of a fantasy medieval knight.

It’s unlikely that the infidel trend will dissipate any time soon. Troops are still rotating in and out of war zones in the Middle East and there is an aggressive market ready to cash in on t-shirts and patches. No matter how nasty things get, and no matter how much “they” call us infidels, wrapping ourselves in their terminology plays into their own twisted fantasy while putting ourselves at risk of further dehumanization.

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