Saturday, May 14, 2005

Terror War in the Toilet

Outrage in the Muslim world over the alleged desecration of the Koran by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay seems to be gaining traction, as protests (sometimes violent) have been reported in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere. The rage brought on by accounts of American agents placing copies of the Koran on toilets and, in one case, flushing it down, is fully justified and needs to be addressed immediately unless we want our already bruised reputation to go down the toilet as well.

What's so disheartening is that Bush and his administration seem to take every opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to respecting the people we are supposed to be liberating. It is impossible to try to convince Muslims that the War on Terror is not a crusade against Islam, while at the same time debasing detainees and committing sacrilege against their religion.

Unwilling to seriously address these problems, the administration is more interested in sweeping unseemly incidents under the rug while rewarding the architect of our failed interrogation policy with the top job at the Justice Department.

Bush is constantly talking about a battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims. If these allegations bear out, that just might be a battle we don't deserve to win. The fact that we are in this position in a battle we cannot afford to lose points to nothing less than a failure of leadership. The success or failure of the War on Terror will ultimately be decided on this issue. If we can't convince the Muslim world that we don't have bad intentions, then all is lost. The fact that it's still on open question is a disgrace. It's Bush's problem to fix, and it remains to be seen if he is willing or able to do so.

Update:Newsweek is now backing off this story. With at least fifteen people dead due to riots sparked by Newsweek's allegations, this ranks right up there on the list of journalistic blunders. It doesn't change the fact that the US needs to do a better job of convincing Muslims that we aren't on a crusade, but it sure doesn't help to have a major US magazine bungle things so badly. Let's hope Al Jazeera runs the correction.
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