At first glance, the video seems damaging enough. American soldiers are shown discussing how to bring their brand of Christianity to the Muslim population of Afghanistan. Bibles in the local languages of Pashto and Dari are piled high, funded by churches back home and ready for distribution.
“These special forces guys — they hunt men basically,” an American military chaplain is heard saying. “We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down.”
The scene at Bagram Air Base was recorded a year ago by a former American soldier who is now a documentary filmmaker. It aired recently on the Arabic-language satellite station Al Jazeera, in a story that contained blistering accusations that the military is continuing to defy orders by allowing its members to proselytize. The accusations play directly into fears that Americans are in Afghanistan to convert local Muslims — an affront to the Islamic world and, not incidentally, to the U.S. Constitution.
It’s difficult to judge from afar the seriousness of these accusations. The military dismisses them outright, saying that the footage is old and out of context, and that the Bibles were never distributed. On the other side of this fraught debate, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, led by Mikey Weinstein, a Jewish former serviceman, contends this is another example of what he has called the “soul rape” of the military.
Afghanistan’s former prime minister has called for an investigation by the Pentagon, and while that might be posturing on his part, the underlying issue here is profound. The United States can scarcely afford to see its military effort undermined by those pursuing their own sectarian and unconstitutional agendas.