by Jack Minor –
The Marine Corps has said a recent news story about Marines being told not to pee towards Mecca does not reflect Corps training or doctrine.
The North County Times recently reported a story on Marines at Camp Pendleton being trained prior to deploying to Afghanistan.
The report mentioned that one of the trainers, Shafiq Mubarak, from the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (COACL), told the Marines that in order to avoid offending Muslims in Afghanistan; they should not urinate towards Mecca.
“Mubarak also said the Marines should never spit or urinate to the west, the direction of Mecca that Muslims in Afghanistan face when they pray,” the article said. “In addition, when sharing a base with Afghan army troops, Marines shouldn’t sleep with their feet pointed west, because that also is considered offensive.”
Following the story, several articles appeared on the Internet criticizing what was perceived as political correctness run amok. Columnist Diana West wrote, “When Marines learn not to excrete in the direction of Mecca – home of the black cube known as the Kaaba – and not to sleep with their boots toward Mecca, what are they really learning?”
West continued, “They are learning to become intensely sensitized to the whereabouts of Mecca; how to be guided by that magnetic north for Muslims as a matter of the most personal habits and hygiene, all in accordance with Shariah (Islamic law). They are learning to act like Muslims.”
Lt. Col. George Robinson, Operations Officer for COACL, told the Gazette Mubarak’s statements do not represent Marine Corps doctrine. According to Robinson, the Marine Corps has not issued any type of instruction involving where Marines are to spit or urinate.
“Mubarak is a private contractor, and an Afghanistan civilian. He was simply expressing a personal opinion regarding his dealings with locals,” Robinson said. “The training is simply meant for Marines to learn about the area from trainers using personal anecdotes.”
Robinson said “One of the trade-offs when you use a native Afghan is, there is a little bit of color there.” He went on to say the academics who prepare the training materials would likely come out saying there is no theological basis for providing information similar to Mubarak’s to the Marines. “Will an Islamic scholar agree with him? I don’t know, perhaps some will, some won’t.”
‘I’m not hung up on which way Marines want to urinate. Of all the things that are going to guide a Marine’s behavior, nothing we are providing to them in terms of understanding Afghan culture is a set of rules they have to abide by.” Robinson noted that some of the tips provided are “not practical to use in their daily activities because of the security posture they are required to take. All they have to worry about is keeping their weapons at the ready” while in the field.
“It’s not a portion of our program of instruction, but I won’t say there is no value in it either.” Robinson said it could be helpful to at least be aware of what may offend some Muslims.
Critics of Mubarak’s statements feel the training is an extension of an actual directive advising troops on how to handle the Qur’an.
The directive, COIN Advisory #20100924-001, titled “Religious Importance of the Qur’an” advises troops to be careful to avoid offending Muslims when handling the Qur’an or other religious items.
The advisory states, “Every complete copy, or even a partial passage, is considered holy. It is considered culturally insensitive for any non-Muslim to touch a copy of the Qur’an.”
The report goes on to warn, “Additionally, verbal disrespect for Islam and/or the Qur’an is considered as inappropriate as physical desecration of the Qur’an. Insulting the Qur’an is an act of blasphemy.”
In many Islamic countries, a Christian that simply shares the Christian faith with a Muslim is considered to have insulted Islam. Such offenses are punishable by death under blasphemy laws.
There have also been several instances in the United States where Muslims have attempted to use the legal system to prohibit “insulting Islam.”
Christians in Dearborn, Michigan were arrested after attempting to peacefully engage in a dialogue with Muslims at a family festival meeting open to the general public. In Kansas, a pastor was arrested for sharing his faith with Muslims on a sidewalk outside of a local mosque.
Recently, Muslims have used intimidation to shut down several conferences critical of Islam, including one in Nashville after a hotel said they had received threats of violence.
The COIN advisory recommends that soldiers never handle a Qur’an or other religious items. Soldiers are also told that, “If you must search a location or person’s belongings, ask them if they have a Qur’an or religious item present. If so, ask them to remove it or put it in a suitable place before conducting the search.”
Soldiers who may conduct a canine search are told to be even more sensitive to Muslim feelings. “Your level of sensitivity must be even greater when conducting canine searches. Having an animal anywhere near a Qur’an or other religious artifact is considered highly disrespectful.”
Robinson acknowledged the COIN advisory, but said the training the Marines received was not on that level. “The training by Mr. Mubarak is very far away from that. This was just one instructor’s tips to Marines as they were headed into harm’s way.”
Mubarak has spent several years working for both the Army and Marine Corps in Afghanistan. “He certainly loves the Marines and wants to prepare them the best he can for the challenges they are going to face while they are over there,” Robinson said. “But it is not an official policy by any stretch, nor is it part of our official program of instruction.”