Five reasons this US military leaflet is ‘highly offensive’

Early Wednesday morning, Resolute Support, the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, issued a public apology for dropping a leaflet containing “an image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam” over the northern province of Parwan a night prior.

Referring to the leaflet, Major General James Linder, who heads the US and NATO special-operations forces in the country, said:

I sincerely apologize. We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide. There is no excuse for this mistake. I am reviewing our procedures to determine the cause of this incident and to hold the responsible party accountable. Furthermore, I will make appropriate changes so this never happens again.

The Taliban were quick to attack the flyer, which depicted a white dog (meant to represent them) being chased by a lion.  The dog (a Russian Samoyed as pointed out by one astute Afghan on Twitter) had the kalima, the Muslim declaration of faith, superimposed on its body.

Yes, Resolute Support admitted their mistake and apologized, but what is astounding about this entire matter (which already led to a Taliban-claimed retaliatory suicide bombing), is that it takes place 16 years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. It also comes barely two weeks after US air strikes in Herat and Logar killed at least 28 civilians, all women and children.

So, here are five reasons why the image is in fact, “highly offensive:”

1. Dogs can be kept by shepherds, farmers and hunters (usually outside), and the meat they catch is considered permissible to eat. However, the saliva of a dog is considered to be unclean, in some interpretations, it is also believed that the odour of a dog may keep angels from visiting a household. As such, many practising Muslims have grown up avoiding dogs where they can. So for Muslims to see the kalima emblazoned on a dog, given the religious connotations of both dogs and the kalima in Islam, is highly derogatory and potentially inflammatory.

2. The kalima: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God,” is the first step to becoming a Muslim (it is whispered into the ears of a newborn child).  It is the statement the entire religion is based on. Yes, the Taliban use it on their white flag, but so do the flags of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan itself, Saudi Arabia and Somaliland.

In essence, what the coalition managed to do was to place the most important, sacred saying in all of Islam (literally the creed that defines the entire religion) not just on any animal, but an animal many Muslims regard as unclean (in a religion where people wash from head-to-toe five times a day). An animal whose saliva can break your ablution. Again, as the universal declaration of the Muslim faith, the kalima is a cornerstone of the religion. More than 1.7 billion Muslims believe and recite it every single day all over the world. So not only is it insulting to Afghans but also the entire Muslim world, to have the kalima superimposed on the body of a dog.

3. It’s been 16 years since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began — in that time they also occupied Iraq, another Muslim-majority nation, for eight years — and yet, the international coalition is still making these kinds of mistakes. This, despite the fact that in 2012, the US military published a handbook for US soldiers working with their Afghan counterparts. That guide was created in response to an increasing number of so-called “insider attacks,” which saw Afghan soldiers turning their guns on their US allies. A handbook which had to be published eleven years into the war, mind you.

But it doesn’t end there.

It’s also been five years since US soldiers burned copies of the Qur’an that had been used by Taliban prisoners to convey messages to one another, an act which led to five days of protest across the country. Those protests resulted in 30 deaths and 200 injuries. It has also been six years since US Marines videotaped themselves urinating on alleged Taliban corpses.

4 and 5. Really, one reason is too many

I am neither a scholar nor a historian of Islam, this was based on my understanding of the kalima and of the role of dogs in an Afghan Muslim household

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