Weaving the Crusader Quilt

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 continuosly 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.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Mad Max, ISIS, and the Psychological Aspects of War

MAD_MAX_FURY_ROAD_sci_fi_futuristic_action_fighting_adventure_1mad_max_apocalyptic_road_warrior_1624x900

I saw Mad Max over Memorial Day weekend. The reviews do it justice, and it was a fun movie. The whole film is an ode to our baser desires; adrenaline, rock and roll, and killing.

There’s an egregious amount of skulls on display throughout the film. Skulls are used as ornamentation on the grills of cars, as masks, and as the chief symbol of the War Boys.

The movie prodded me to write about something in a more forward way than I have before. I’ve always been interested in the question “why we fight.” I’ve tackled it before and have always hinted at the fact that some people (lots of people) do it because they like it. They want to do it because it’s fun. This is a psychological aspect of war that is often ignored or dismissed.

Seeing all of the skulls in the deserts of Mad Max reminded me of my ISOF GOLD posts, especially the ones where the operators are wearing skull masks. If you scroll through the pictures on the ISOF Facebook page, you’ll notice they’re trying to project an image of their military that isn’t simply professional; they are attempting to instill fear into their enemies. There are no FRG updates or holiday BBQ plans – just war. The skull mask imagery is all over the place, and it’s not uncommon to see an ISOF soldier wielding an axe or machete. On some of the “unofficial” ISOF pages – and occasionally on the main page – you’ll find pictures of ISOF soldiers posing triumphantly over the dead bodies of supposed members of ISIS.

A recent article about American forces in Iraq assisting with training highglighted the phrase “kill Daesh” as being the chant used by Iraqi recruits as the de-facto motto, the thing they scream when they’re called to attention or stick a bayonet into the chest of a training dummy.

The skull mask, the chants, wearing an infidel patch – these are all small aspects of the psychological draw to war that are stymied by the modern profesional military. Which, by the way, I think is a good thing. Emotion in war leads to war crimes. The professional military is clinical, and emotions are supposed to be controlled. Others have tackled this issue by highlighting our own military’s obsession with referring to ourselves as warriors instead of soldiers. They argue (and I agree) that to think of ourselves as warriors is unprofessional at best, and dangerous at worst.

But the thing that draws a professional soldier to urinate on the dead bodies of his enemies, to slap an infidel patch on the front of his body armor, or pull a skull mask over her face before a patrol comes from a real place in the human psyche. It’s part of the same base emotion that has us cheering when the opposing side’s star quarterback is carted off the field with a game-ending injury. It’s emotion and absence of mind.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recently attributed the Iraqis’ inability to hold Ramadi to a lack of will. He said “What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force.”.

The psychological aspects of war, having a reason to fight, even if for the most base reasons, might be necessary if you lack a more sophisticated reason for getting in the arena.

Having introduced this topic on the blog, I’ll try to come back to it from time to time when something comes up. As always, I welcome your comments.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

American Infidel

American Infidel M4

Week ending August 31, 2014

The top search of the week was american infidel. As I’ve written before, most of the traffic that comes to this site comes through my posts about the use of the word ‘infidel.’ A variation of the search term is usually responsible for bringing people here.

This is the first time that american infidel topped out the list. A quick Google search shows that the top hits are a clothing line, a motorcycle club, and a Facebook page for the clothing line (with over 350,000 ‘likes’). You can click through all that if you want. You’ll find exactly what you’d expect, if you’ve been following this trend the way I have.

What’s becoming more interesting about the infidel  phenomena is how it is spreading outside of the military realm. Most of my posts on the subject have been geared towards the military and veteran community. Looking through some of those sites, it’s clear that regular joe-schmo Americans are starting to identify themselves as infidels, which is both absurd and troubling.

On the topic, On Violence had a post last week that gives a nice shout out to Carrying the Gun. It’s worth checking out, as their analysis is always good and usually more biting than mine.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Return of the Infidel

The other day, a reader who named himself ÙƒŰ§ÙŰ± (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.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Infidel t-shirt

Week ending July 27, 2014

Infidel t-shirt was the top search of the week, and while I normally ignore the infidel search terms that bring readers to the blog (since it’s usually the top term), this one is appropriate only because I found this below t-shirt for sale at a bazaar here in Afghanistan.

IMG_3593

The war has jumped the shark.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Babies, guns, and infidels

Over on ‘hawgblawg‘ Ted Swedenburg posted the below picture that was sent to him by a friend:

huh

Ted is an anthropologist and author of the book “Memories of Revolt: The 1936-39 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past.” One of the themes of his blog is to point out places where the kufiya – the scarf synonymous with Palestinian resistance – is being used for some other purpose, usually fashion.

On this particular picture, Ted writes:

The baseball cap says ‘kafir’ in Arabic, which is correctly translated as infidel. A synonym is unbeliever. I believe that Islamist insurgents in Iraq fighting against the US occupation would have used this term fairly routinely to describe the US military forces. I did not know that (some) US troops had embraced the term.

Readers of this blog know all too well how the term infidel gets slung around in military circles. It’s interesting to see an anthropology professor who focuses on the Middle East catch wind of it in this way, years after it became “a thing.”

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Infidel Patch

infidel patch

Week ending January 5, 2014

The top search of the week was actually ‘carryingthegun‘ which makes me happy. But as there really isn’t anything to write about that, I’m bumping down to the second most frequent search. Incidentally, the next 4 out of 5 searches were ‘infidel’ related.

When I search for ‘infidel patch’ my blog post ‘Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff.’ Seriously, stop.’ is the number two hit. I can only imagine that most people searching for infidel gear are people who support the wear of it. I further imagine my post(s) on the subject are likely very agitating.

I followed up the first post a year later with ‘Infidel Redux‘ where I took a deeper look at where ‘infidel’ gear might sit in terms of keeping good order and discipline.

What bothers me right now as I finish this post is the market that has been created by this. The picture that leads the post is a screenshot of the image search for ‘infidel patch.’ Companies have cashed in on this thing. I wrote about the former Marine who now makes ‘infidel’ knives that are forged in pig’s blood. I’ve seen ‘infidel’ shirts sold at the PX. It’s all pretty disgusting.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Infidel

pershings-crusaders-movie-poster-1918-1020174144

Week ending December 8, 2013

It was a tie between infidel in arabic and infidel. Since the first was already a top search of the week, the winner is infidel.

I suspect most folks who are searching for ‘infidel’ click on the image of the Major League Infidel banner in an image search and then land on Carrying the Gun. There was a couple of comments yesterday on Enough with the ‘infidel’. It is still my most popular post.

You can read about my infidel crusade here (Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff already. Seriously, stop.) and here (Infidel Redux). If you want to see it all, check here.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

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. 

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Infidel Redux

Hipster

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 its Arabic counterpart, kafir (ÙƒŰ§ÙŰ±), 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 little 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 1325.06, Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces:

8. PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES

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.

9. PREVENTIVE ACTIVITIES

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 600-15, Extremist 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).

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.