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The 'Secular Crusader': Former Air Force JAG Looks to Drive All Christian Symbolism from Military

Persecution of Christians worldwide, particularly at the hands of Muslims, is a well-documented phenomenon despite the successful attempts by most major Western and American media organs to ignore it.

Persecution of Christians in the United States — a country where almost 80% of the population, some 240 million, is of that faith — is deemed, ipso facto, an absurdity by some and an undeniable fact by others. As a conservative yet non-fundamentalist (Lutheran) Christian, Army veteran, and former academic specializing in Islamic history, I agree that Christians are not currently being persecuted in this country. I do discern, nonetheless, a worrisome growing intolerance of the majority faith coupled with a kneejerk support of minority religions.

Particularly, and unsurprisingly, Islam.

This year alone, there have been four prominent attacks on Christian connections to the U.S. military:

— Charges of neo-Crusaderism against military supplier Trijicon for its gunsights inscribed with New Testament verses.

— Charges of neo-Crusaderism against an Army unit for daring to have a cross as part of its unit insignia.

— The branding as “a hate crime” the placing of a cross next to the the Air Force Academy’s neo-pagan worship site.

— The Army’s decision to disinvite prominent evangelical Franklin Graham from speaking at a Pentagon prayer service on the National Day of Prayer.

These four incidents all have one major factor in common: the involvement of Mikey Weinstein and his “Military Religious Freedom Foundation” — which was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last fall.

Weinstein is a former member of the Air Force JAG (Judge Advocated General’s) Corps — an attorney — and a self-proclaimed secular crusader for rebuilding what he calls the military’s “obliterated wall separating church and state.”

Since Weinstein blames evangelical Protestants for allegedly breaching this wall, he directs most of his ire against them. They don’t hesitate to return fire, often citing Weinstein’s own intemperate, crass words. Weinstein gets plenty of support from the media, as is obvious from a sympathetic 2009 Harper’s article with an inflammatory title: “Jesus Killed Mohammad: The Crusade for a Christian Military.” The piece quotes him at length and takes his assertions at face value.

I will leave it to Weinstein’s evangelical Protestant opponents to question his salvation status; however, his misrepresentations of history — Christian, American, and even Islamic — are certainly fair game and call into question his logic and motives. If Weinstein were simply the head of a “religious watchdog group,” working out a personal animus against Christians and Christianity in the military, we could perhaps ignore him, but his views appear to be not just influential but gaining traction among some elements of the Obama administration.

Weinstein’s favorite trope is that the American military is somehow being turned into a “Crusader” army by the nefarious Protestants within its ranks, as exemplified by the “Crusader” unit heraldry which, according to him, “continues to add more fodder to the argument that we are Crusaders. … It’s exactly what fundamentalist Muslims want.”

Here is the unit symbol for the Army hospital at Ft. Carson, CO, which so offended Weinstein on behalf of the world’s Muslims:

Note it’s inscribed with “For God and Humanity” — not “For God and Americans” or “For God and Christians.” And it’s a hospital, not a combat unit.

I must confess my doubts that Weinstein found 43 people on Ft. Carson, as he claims, who are somehow offended by a cross being connected to a hospital.

I endeavored to scrutinize all the U.S military’s unit symbols and insignia at its heraldry site, but gave up after a few hours and only being able to check perhaps 20% of just the Army’s units. Even that small statistical sampling came back with dozens of U.S. Army units whose official symbols include crosses, such as the 5th Air Defense Artillery:

And the 112th Infantry Regiment, which sports not just one, but two crosses:

These examples could be multiplied a hundredfold, all of which would undermine Weinstein’s implied position that evangelical Protestants within the ranks are fomenting religious war via psychological operations involving such nefarious Christian symbolism. Crosses have been part and parcel of American military units’ insignia for centuries — unsurprisingly, since this country was founded by Christians from Europe and is an integral part of Western, Christian civilization. The 164th Aviation Group even has a quote from Isaiah 6:8 (“Here am I, send me”) on its unit crest! (One wonders if Mr. Weinstein will file suit against that unit for imposing Judaism on its members!)

Also, and perhaps more importantly, Weinstein’s allegations that such unit symbolism is especially offensive to Muslims smacks of disingenousness at best and ignorance at worst. While Bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and a whole legion of jihadist clerics speak and write often about their war against the “Crusaders,” none has ever, to the best of my knowledge, adduced American unit insignia as evidence thereof.

Bin Laden’s argument is, rather, a perverted historical one, in which American toppling of dictators like Saddam and intolerant, fundamentalist Muslim regimes like the Taliban equates to the Frankish Catholic attempts between 1099 and 1291 to take back the Holy Land following Muslim conquest and 400 years of rule (and not all of it, contra conventional wisdom and media spin, tolerant of Christians).

Weinstein, whether willfully or ignorantly, agrees with Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, actually supporting their jihad propaganda. U.S. forces are in Iraq and Afghanistan trying to build pro-Western democracies, not to convert the Muslim hoi polloi to Christianity or to kill them in the name of Jesus Christ.

Weinstein would have it that any cross representing the majority religion of both the United States and of its armed forces is, ipso facto, both a violation of the First Amendment and motivation for Islamic jihadists. This “blame Christianity first” attitude would be laughable if the Obama administration were not so apparently sympathetic to it.

Weinstein might want to study some Crusade history, notably the Third Crusade and the relationship between the Kurdish Muslim leader Salah al-Din (who retook Jerusalem in 1187 after 88 years of Crusader rule) and English King Richard the Lionheart. These men fought like, well, lions, yet respected and even liked one another. It seems that the prominent Crusader crosses on Richard’s armor and flags failed to inflame Salah al-Din’s Muslim sensibilities any more than did the sword Richard carried.

Speaking of which, numerous military unit insignias also sport swords, fleurs-de-lis, rampant griffins and lions, and other such barbaric, medieval Christian state imagery. Should our military unit crests be denuded of such alleged incitants aimed at the perpetually offended Islamic world? Or should we, on the contrary, take some pride in the willingness of our civilization and nation to to stand up to foreign threats — most notably Islamic ones, from Abd al-Rahman to the Ottoman Empire and Barbary corsairs up to al-Qaeda?

Weinstein’s fulminations against Trijicon for putting New Testament verses on Marine Corps and Army gunsights follows much the same line of “reasoning” as does his anti-cross crusade: that the words of Jesus Christ on rifle sights “allows the Muhahedeen [sic], the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the … jihadists to claim they’re being shot by Jesus rifles.” As a Christian, I must confess that putting the words of the Prince of Peace on gunsights does give me pause; but as a firm proponent of the view that Jesus’ words of peace (“turn the other cheek”) were meant for individuals, not states, I really am not all that worried — as Mr Weinstein purports to be — whether jihadists are “being shot by Jesus rifles.”

Are they less dead or injured if shot by Marx, Rand, Moses, Joseph Smith, or Krishna rifles?

If jihadists, or any other Muslims who take the very real Qur’anic injunctions to behead and kill non-Muslims literally, are sent to the afterlife by folks they deem “Crusaders,” I won’t lose a moment’s sleep over it. Why Mikey Weinstein does is beyond my ken.

Both Weinstein and Lieutenant General Mike Gould, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, decried the placing of a cross near a neo-pagan worship site recently commissioned by the Air Force. Of course Weinstein likened it to a “hate crime,” analogous to spray-painting a swastika on a synagogue. Lt. Gen. Gould was only slightly less hyperbolic, deeming the incident “destructive” and evidence of “disrespect for human dignity.” Yet neither man has any idea just who placed that supreme symbol of intolerance, a cross, near the Wiccan circle. They never seem to consider that the whole incident could be yet another fake “hate crime.” But even assuming that some intolerant Southern Baptist — a redundant phrase, of course! — snuck out of the barracks and befouled the witches’ circle, no doubt with Inquisitorial dreams dancing in his head, is the Air Force Academy really full of such wimps that this is a big deal?

I thought pagans were descendants of the pre-Christian Nordic, Teutonic, and Celtic Europeans, partial to bloody ceremonies and urine-laced hair products? Yet one Tech Sergeant Brandon Longcrier, a “self-described pagan,” sounded like a milksop, whining about his victim status. Perhaps he should consider converting to Christianity, since I doubt Odin, Thor, and that rather militant crew of deities will have room for the likes of him in Valhalla.

Perhaps Weinstein’s greatest recent victory was in persuading the Army to rescind its invitation for Franklin Graham to speak at the Pentagon on the National Day of Prayer in May 2010. Reverend Graham is on record calling Islam “evil,” which is, admittedly, a bit over the top.

Of course, the Council on American Islamic Relations applauded this favoring of the less than 1% of the military who are Muslim over the at least 68% who self-identify as Christian.

Weinstein’s Christianophobia is only one side of the current civilizational suicide coin in modern America. The other is the Obama administration’s inability, or refusal, to admit any linkage between the religion of Islam and Islamic terrorist violence — from the president’s Cairo speech, to the director of national intelligence’s new “National Security Strategy,” through the president’s Nobel acceptance address and the purported upcoming ban on even juxtaposing the terms “Islamic” and “terror.”

The latest and now most infamous example was in Attorney General Eric Holder’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee this month, wherein the AG refused repeatedly (nine times, by my count) to answer a question posed by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) about whether any of the recent terrorist attackers (Major Hasan, Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab and Faisal Shahzad) “could have been incited by radical Islam.” Holder at least thrice sought refuge in the “variety of reasons” explanation; then said, tellingly: “I don’t want to say anything negative about a religion.” He also stated: “I’m saying a person like al-Awlaki has a version of Islam that is not consistent with the teachings of it.”

Finally, after Congressman Smith’s ninth attempt, Holder did manage to choke out that such persons as Hasan, Abdulmutallab, and Shahzad could “potentially [have been] incited by an Islam that is incompatible with the teachings of it.”

This is remarkable.

The attorney general of the United States of America — an Episcopalian, not a Muslim — opines before the House of Representatives that he categorically knows what is, and is not, consistent with Islamic doctrine? (Leave aside the equally momentous statement “I don’t want to say anything negative about a religion,” meaning Islam, and Islam alone.) Of course, for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, the evidence of the inherent Islamic legitimacy of jihad against non-Muslims is legion, in articles and books as well as websites.

What, then, could possibly be the reasons for Holder’s position?

1) Legitimate Ignorance: A man with a J.D. from Columbia Law School cannot be expected to have expertise about the world’s second largest religion, granted. But that should not excuse him from being able to read up on a topic of some slight importance to his job and to the security of his country.

Of course, Holder has no problem opining about documents which he had not read, such as the recently enacted Arizona state law on illegal immigrants — the text of which is just 17 pages long! — so perhaps expecting him to wade through the 400 pages or so of one of those English translations of the Qur’an sold at Barnes & Noble is too much to ask. But isn’t that what staffers are for?

In this view, American national security cannot possibly be threatened by a “few bad apples” when the religion itself is so inherently peaceful.

2) Feigned Ignorance and Realpolitik: Alternatively, the AG knows full well that jihad is enshrined in the Qur’an, and has been a staple of Islamic history for 14 centuries — but The Boss has decreed that a few facts are not going to get in the way of repairing the damage done to U.S.-Islamic world relations by that ignorant cowboy who used to sit in the Oval Office, national security be damned.

3) Lawyer Games: Holder, whose former firm has defended Gitmo terrorism detainees and who has staffed the Justice Department with attorneys who have done so, does not want to jeopardize such cases –which might happen were he to mention “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same breath (or at least the same congressional hearing). Also, it might make it harder for The Boss to close Guantanamo. So mum’s the word. The beauty of this above-the-fray lawyerly detachment is that it dovetails with either actual or feigned ignorance as an operational mode. The unfortunate result, however, is once again national security takes a back seat to other concerns — this time, legal utilitarianism.

The most potent example of the convergence of such de facto pro-Muslim tendencies in the government with the secular intelligentsia’s intolerance of Christianity took place almost exactly one year ago, in Afghanistan, when “military personnel threw away, and ultimately burned, confiscated Bibles” printed in Dari and Pashto.

It seems that a church in the U.S. had sent the Bibles to a service member at Bagram Air Base, although it was unclear whether anyone there had actually requested the Bibles. While it was reasonable of the military to confiscate the Bibles so as not to offend our Afghan hosts, how was it at all reasonable, or sensitive to Christians, to burn the Bibles?

Adding insult to injury, Lt. Col. Mark Wright stated that “troops at posts in war zones are required to burn their trash.”

I wonder how Mikey Weinstein and his organization would react if the military had deemed as trash, then ordered the burning of, Bhagavad Gitas (Hindu Scriptures) or — Allah forbid! — Qur’ans?

Of course, even under the intolerant Bush administration an edict had come down from U.S. Southern Command mandating the utmost respect and care when handing the “Koran” — even, nay especially, for soldiers who are not Muslim. Among other instructions, they included the following:


(1)Clean gloves will be put on in full view of the detainees prior to handling.

(2)Two hands will be used at all times when handling the Koran in manner signaling respect and reverence. Care should be used so that the right hand is the primary one used to manipulate any part of the Koran due to the cultural association with the left hand. Handle the Koran as if it were a fragile piece of delicate art.

(3) Ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas.

There you have it: our military burns Bibles, yet orders that the Qur’an be not just handled, literally, with kid gloves, but revered!

At the same time, the executive branch refuses to utter the words “Islamic terrorism” or “Islamic violence,” and bows to the wishes of a secularist zealot who blames the presence of crosses — not centuries-old Islamic holy teachings — for the religious warfare being waged around the globe. Has any nation in history with such a huge gap between its leadership and the majority faith of its own citizens long survived?

And more importantly: does it deserve to?