Also published on Daily Kos, Jewish Journal, and Air Force Times
Why does our Military Support Deplorable Crusader Imagery and Verbiage?
Last week, the FBI managed to thwart a massive bombing in Kansas. The horrific plot was extensive, planned over 8 months by three members of a militia group known as the “Crusaders”. Their target was carefully picked: 120 Somali immigrants living in a small apartment block, one unit of which was serving as a mosque.
This kind of terroristic behavior is exactly what we’ve been afraid of at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), of which I am Founder and President.
It’s exactly what I meant when I said, in this Huffington Post article:
“What happens when all of the discourse regarding Muslims both at home and abroad is couched in terms that divide, denigrate, demean, demoralize, and degrade? It should be so incredibly obvious – any contact with Muslims then turns into a crusade.”
It’s exactly the kind of thing former CIA director David Patraeus was worried about when he said, in his op-ed for the Washington Post:
“… those who flirt with hate speech against Muslims should realize they are playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The terrorists’ explicit hope has been to try to provoke a clash of civilizations — telling Muslims that the United States is at war with them and their religion … such statements directly undermine our ability to defeat Islamist extremists by alienating and undermining the allies whose help we most need to win this fight: namely, Muslims.”
It’s exactly what Michael Hayden, another former CIA and NASA director meant when he said, in this interview with Al Jazeera:
“We don’t have radicalized communities in the United States. We have some radicalized individuals, but we have it fully within our ability to create radicalized communities, and that kind of rhetoric [risks] radicalizing communities”.
We keep building this environment of divisiveness, hatred, and fear. We keep feeding the hate machine. And the most vile, reprehensible, downright disgusting part of it is even worse. Our own military is using “Crusader” visuals and verbiage on military bases and in military imagery.
That’s right. Our military, which has nearly 4,000 Muslim members bravely serving in the ranks, uses this type of offensive, condescending, hate filled rhetoric in full view of the soldiers they are putting in danger. Not just in the battlefield, but in their own homes. Around their own communities. On their own bases.
We at MRFF represent a little over 17% of all Muslim military personnel in the U.S. armed forces and have been fighting this dreadful and pernicious bigotry draped in self-aggrandizing faux patriotism for years.
In 2006, the 523rd Fighter Squadron, based at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., was calling itself The Crusaders and using an emblem consisting of a sword, four crosses and a medieval knight’s helmet. This was one of MRFF’s earliest complaints on this specific subject, and it’s been a constant throughout the past decade. (The squadron was mothballed after MRFF’s exposure.)
In 2012 MRFF demanded that Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 discontinue use of the Crusaders moniker and a logo that featured a red cross on a white shield. The issue had already been dealt with in 2008, when the offensive name had been replaced with “Werewolves” and the wretched insignia removed from plane tails. The commanding officer decide to restore the offensive name and imagery, but strong objections from MRFF convinced a 3-star general to step in.
In 2013 we successfully represented a group of 22 airmen stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. Confronted with a framed poster in their dining hall depicting a disgusting representation of Christian sectarianism, they reached out for help. I gave the base an hour to take down the insulting image of a supposed serviceman wearing a hideous outfit. His faux uniform screamed “Crusader” right down to the significantly shaped red cross emblazoned on his white uniform clad chest. The image was removed.
In 2015 we went after a vomit-inducing sign outside a training center in Ft. Shafter, Hawaii. A Crusader knight in full regalia appeared, with the words “The Fighting Knights” above it and “Warrior Training Center” below. What better way to disrespect, dishearten, and demoralize Muslim allies than with a display celebrating historic Christian warfare against non-Christians?
The sign was removed only hours after multiple servicemen and women of varying faiths – many of them Christian! – reached out to MRFF. (The kicker? The non-com officer in charge of the office whined that a headline referencing the odious incident was unfair and “brings attention to jihadists over a non-issue … contributing to their agenda”. How is humiliating our Muslim allies with this violent imagery and enraging Islamist enemies with Crusader verbiage a non-issue?!)
The struggle against the Crusader terminology and graphic visuals continues. The Army signage at Ft. Rucker, Alabama still defiantly displays the offensive red cross. Tragically, there are other U.S. military units following suit. Too many.
We won’t stop fighting the gross injustice and unconstitutional bullying of military personnel by Crusader-themed imagery and language. It only leads to gruesome, hate-filled incidents like the carnage narrowly averted in southwest Kansas.