Balls of Blasphemy

Another example of why U.S. troops should not be in the business of nation-building: the gift by U.S. troops of soccer balls to Afghan children. These particular balls were colorfully decorated with the flags of various nations.

Soccer balls are intended to be kicked. While people in certain parts of the world may relish the thought of kicking an object that displays the American flag, that was not a problem in this case. The issue was the Saudi flag that was included on these balls. The Saudi flag contains Arabic words from the Koran, including the name of Allah. Muslims regard these words as sacred and treat them with great respect. They do not kick them around.

At least some branches of the U.S. military are aware of this fact, since those who guard Islamic prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere are not permitted to touch the prisoner's Korans unless they are themselves Muslim. You would expect that whoever is in charge of winning Muslim hearts and minds in Afghanistan would have at least a passing knowledge of local customs and taboos. Apparently not. So they managed to insult the people's sensibilities in three different ways:

  • Printing sacred words on decidedly non-sacred objects such as soccer balls
  • Dropping these objects from helicopters to land on the unclean ground below
  • Enticing Muslim children to kick the balls with their unclean feet
As odd as these religious customs may seem to Western minds, they hold great importance for common people in the Middle East. Ignorance of them reinforces the "Ugly American" stereotype that U.S. forces must dispel in order to pacify places like Afghanistan. The fact that our military commanders are still making such amateur mistakes six years into this mission does not bode well for long-term success.

Hat tip: Islam & Christianity

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