Taught to Hate Islam

Afghan women, Kabul

Last week, Wired confirmed our worst fears about the US Army’s attitude towards Muslims. According to the magazine, it had “received hundreds of pages of course material and reference documents” taught to “commanders, lieutenant colonels, captains and colonels” at the prestigious Joint Forces Staff College. Within the trove are papers which show that students were receiving lectures inciting against Islam.

One of the most striking of these materials is a presentation authored by a lecturer at the College, Army Lieutenant Colonel Matthew A. Dooley. It makes for very disturbing reading.

Within this text, Dooley writes that “by the most conservative estimates” at least 140 Million Muslims (10% of the Muslim world), “[b]y their own stated doctrine…are motivated and unified under one ideology and one goal. They hate everything you stand for, and will never coexist unless you submit.” The document goes on to explore models for potential full-scale military conflict with the Muslim world, while appearing to assert that “Islam has already declared war on the West”. The document continues: “It is, therefore, illogical to continue along our current global strategy models that presume there are always possible options for common ground and [detente] with the Muslim Umma without waging near “total war.”

The model authored by Dooley to promote “dynamic discussion and thought” (which the reader must be reminded does not represent the the Official Policy of the United States government or the Department of Defence, as the text itself also points out) assumes the hypothetical failure of other “deterrence” strategies by the US of a presumed general Islamic threat. It outlines models for an assault on the Muslim world unconstrained by “Geneva Convention IV 1949 standards of armed conflict” that would involve “taking war to a civilian population wherever necessary”, citing the “historical precedents of Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki” as examples of the sort of attacks that would occur. In his model, Dooley preposes the “starvation of Saudi Arabia” and the bombing of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in the Muslim world.

According to the BBC, the material published by Wired has been acknowledged as authentic.

The Wired piece also names three guest lecturers that Dooley had invited to tutor his students: Shireen Burki, Stephen Coughlin and John Guandolo. They have some interesting views. Burki is on record as having taught students at the Joint Forces College that “Islam is an Imperialist/Conquering Religion.” Coughlin teaching in Dooley’s class, Wired reports, said that “al-Qaida helped drive the overthrow of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak” and Libya’s Gaddafi as “part of a scheme by Islamists to conquer the world.” While Guandolo authored a paper with the title Usual Responses From the Enemy When Presented with the Truth, which was handed out to Joint Forces Staff College students attending Dooley’s class. The text insists on prescriptive interpretations of several aspects of the Islamic faith that conform to a depiction of Muslims as hell-bent on world domination. Guandolo from the outset defines Muslims as “the enemy” and states within it that “violence…is required by Muslims against Christians and Jews.”

Needless to say, the viewpoints of Dooley et al present views of Islam that are hardly mainstream. If similar statements were made by lecturers or guest speakers in a normal academic setting, they would be likely to be considered hate speech, and rightly so. Yet in a well-regarded US Department of Defence college such teachings were, it seems, allowed to continue until a student complained. Who in the college condoned such material is presently a subject of controversy.

Sadly, the practice of inflammatory or inaccurate depictions of Islam by those within US government agencies is not a new phenomenon. An FBI agent and trainer, William Gawthrop, linked mainstream Muslims with terrorism in a counterterrorism training seminar in April last year, and stated in a FBI-sponsored presentation in New York later in 2011 that the ideology of Islam in general was a threat to the United States. “At the operational level, you have groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida. Like teeth in a shark, it is irrelevant if you take one group out”, he is quoted as saying, the implication being obvious. Wired reports that “hundreds of documents claiming that “mainstream” Muslims are “violent” have made their way into FBI curricula” in recent years,” alongside internal claims that agents working on counterterrorism cases could “bend or suspend the law.”

What’s particularly worrying is that the most urgent questions that come to mind about the whole affair cannot be expected to be answered transparently. One might wonder to what degree  such extreme views of Islam as those evidently held by Dooley et al are the norm within the upper echelons of the military. In the opaque world of the US Defence and Intelligence community the answers to such matters are likely to remain elusive.

So we are left to speculate. Yes, General Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff condemned Dooley’s statements. However, it would be incredible if he didn’t.

Prejudice against Muslims in general, and Arabs in particular, has increased since 9/11. This is consistent with what one would (sadly) expect. But it is extremely important to remember that the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims do not represent some kind of implacably hostile global demographic. Many of the world’s Muslims live in poverty and are simply trying to survive in poor countries like Indonesia, Tunisia, Oman. However, if one is talking about massive violence inflicted against a single cultural hemisphere it has been the West that has been connected to hundreds of thousands to millions of deaths in the Muslim world over recent decades, including an estimated half a million children, quite possibly more, who died as a result of sanctions against Iraq throughout the nineties and early 2000s.

This was something that Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s Secretary of State, when questioned on the immense human misery wrought by the policy stated, “we think the price is worth it.” Hans Von Sponeck the UN humanitarian aid co-ordinators in Iraq circa 2000, less ideologically disposed to brushing off genocidal foreign policy, complained, like his predecessor, who resigned in disgust, about the manifest injustice of the sanctions. He asked pertinently: “For how long should the civilian population, which is totally innocent on all this, be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?”

Then there were the 100,000 plus civilians who died during the war that started in 2003, and ended recently. This was, as is now broadly accepted, a conflict that broke international law and was waged for no good reason at all. The Iraqi people now have a democracy of sorts, and the Americans have totally surrounded Iran with military bases. I guess Tony Blair still thinks the “price is worth it”, too, judging from his lack of public contrition.

Going back a bit, millions died as a result of the war resulting from US ally Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iran in the 1980s, a man European countries sold weapons to and backed throughout the conflict. The US also sold arms to Iran in order to fund a group of terrorists trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. All of this is uncontroversial, but instructive nonetheless.

But I digress. When I read about Dooley’s talk of “taking a war to the civilian population” regardless of the human cost, it reminds me of something appalling that still haunts me to this day, and should provoke sober reflection anyone with the remotest capacity for human feeling.

Prior to the American “capture” of Fallujah during the Iraq war, a town that housed an active insurgency as well as thousands of civilians, a Lieutenant Colonel by the name of Brandl told a group of American troops that “the enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He lives in Fallujah. And we’re going to destroy him.” Hearing their superiors implicitly dehumanising the remaining population of Fallujah (the army had ordered most people out but many stayed,) according to one veteran I spoke to who was serving there, the troops felt like they had license to take the war to the population of that town with little discrimination. I still recall with horror being told by the same man that he saw houses filled with families literally being crushed by military vehicles.

If the Dooleys of this world and their co-thinkers had their way, such incidents would perhaps be no big deal. Anything goes when the enemy is pure evil.

If we trouble ourselves to reflect meaningfully, however, Dooley  and his co-thinkers, like the demagogic and totally inhuman American pundit Ann Coulter, are adopting the mentality of the worst of those ideologues who have committed atrocities in the past. Anders Brievik told a court in Norway that he shot 70 or so young men and women in service of his country. Slobodan Milosevic said the same about his war on Bosnian Muslims, who Europe and the United States left to suffer until very late in the game, demonstrating their contempt in a language that few could fail to understand (many Rwandans would also concur, no doubt.)

This is the worst of human nature. It’s time for the West to challenge Islamophobia.

Photograph courtesy of Flipphotos2011. Published under a Creative Commons license.


  1. A problem arises in that I suspect much of the American public just doesn’t buy that most Muslims don’t support acts of terrorism. U.S. mainstream media doesn’t provide much of an outlet for Muslim objections to extremist Islamic violence. Incidentally, check out John Feffer’s new book, Crusade 2.0.

    1. Sorry my other reply wasn’t that coherent. It is very late where I am! You are right that mainstream media does encourage perceptions that many Muslims might support terrorism effectively but not airing Muslim views that oppose such things. Nonetheless, almost universally all leaders of the faith have condemned and continue to condemn terrorism. I think that the media is not really as interested in displaying moderate Islam and a depiction of Muslim tolerance as much as the violent caricatures that obsess the imaginations of Dooley et al.

      The best remedy for Islamophobia is to spend real time with Muslims. I’m not Muslim but I know, empirically, what my conclusions are by having interacted.

      1. correction: *” might support terrorism effectively but not airing” should be ” might support terrorism effectively by not airing…” It is still late where I am…

  2. Yes, but I think the point I’m getting at is to what degree are such perceptions driven by irrational fears and lack of perspective as opposed to objectivity, or even first-hand interactions with Muslims. The “threat” posed by Muslims to do massive damage is minute compared to the damage already visited by the western world on, say, Iraq as a case in point. In reality, the threat to the US is very small but the notion that an implacable enemy that is posed to destroy all that you hold dear holds a great deal of demagogic political capital.

    In any case if the “enemy within” etc. , i.e. American Muslims need to be addressed jingoistic belligerent and ignorant responses like Dooley’s only create greater tension, provoke animosity.

  3. I don’t think this would be considered hate speech in an academic setting. Sam Harris says a lot of the same stuff and he’s right to point out that these topics should not be off limits – especially when the religion we are talking about is so dangerous. Religious moderates are complicit – they provide legitimacy to the beliefs of extremists who usually understand the doctrine better than the moderates. I have a copy of the Koran and the best that can be said of Muslim moderates is, if they believe the Koran, they are just biding their time until we are conquered, subjugated, or converted. It’s right there in their holy book over and over.

    1. So we should bomb the shit out ’em, right? Who cares about killing innocent people, eh?

      No, but seriously, what is interesting about the point you make is that you can turn it around on the moderate critics of Islam who “provide [sic] legitimacy to the beliefs of extremists” like Dooley or Ann Coulter, both of whom look favourably upon attacking the civilian population of the Muslim world.

      Re: Islam and terror / world-domination there are also the views of people far more qualified to comment then either of us to consider. Even Bernard Lewis, a cheerleader for the war on Iraq and a well-respected “expert” on Islam has pointed out that use of terrorism is un-Islamic according to the injunctions of the Qur’an.

      “Muslim fighters are commanded not to kill women, children, or the aged unless they attack first; not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners; to give fair warning of the opening of hostilities or their resumption after a truce; and to honor agreements… At no time did the classical jurists offer any approval or legitimacy to what we nowadays call terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism as it is practiced nowadays.”

      See: Bernard Lewis and Buntzie Ellis Churchill, Islam: The Religion and the People, p.151 see: http://books.google.co.nz/books/about/Islam.html?id=IVyMAvW9slYC&redir_esc=y

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