Scandal? When American Evangelical Christians Distribute the New Testament to Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, are They Doing Something Wrong?

The following video clip from Al Jazeera is being touted as damning evidence that Evangelicals are abusing their positions, and violating their military missions, distributing copies of the New Testament to Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan:

I’m an agnostic, but I’m actually of two minds concerning this video. On the one hand, I can see how this can be a public relations problem for President Obama, who insists that our military mission in these societies is not to upend their traditional cultures.

But on the other hand, I feel for these Evangelicals.

The Evangelicals in the above video are putting their lives on the line defending their country, and something important to them is to share their belief in Jesus with others. They are not engaging in forced conversion, or coercing any Muslim to do anything. All that they are doing is handing people a book as a gift, which any person can decline receiving from their hands.

Why can’t Muslims read a book that isn’t in accord with what they believe? Aren’t they adults? What’s the big deal?

I can’t help but feel sympathy for, say, a feminist soldier—who might also be a lesbian solider and an atheist soldier—who is in our military, and wants to express her opinion while there. Perhaps she wants to share with a Muslim woman, in her off duty hours, what she might feel about the restrictiveness of Islam upon the lives of women, gays, and atheists. And if my hypothetical lesbian-atheist-female soldier knew the native language, and made a leaflet, and handed it out, how is this in any way an outrage or violation of the American mission there? Are we in these countries to support the cultural elements within it that insist on being completely closed off to the outside world? If not, then I say: freedom of speech for all. No free adult need fear hearing the opinions and voices of other free adults. Part of our mission is to promote democracy and discourse in these countries, isn’t it?

Of course, lesbians and gays are not permitted to openly serve or speak about their orientation in the U.S. military. So if we’re going to let Evangelicals speak, we better let everyone speak. If we are to be a free society, and let people who are in the military speak openly, then we need to also lift don’t ask don’t tell laws, don’t we?

I support freedom of speech for everybody. Muslims. Christians. Gays. When people are off duty, they should be left alone to speak as they please.   

That’s my take. What’s yours?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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