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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Keep God out of our policy

By David Shapiro

You don't count the dead
When God's on your side.

— Bob Dylan

Symbols of religious faith are common among U.S. military forces fighting in Iraq, worn even by many troops who don't consider themselves spiritual in normal times.

Soldiers carry Bibles with camouflage covers, pocket devotionals from earlier wars, crosses, rosaries, St. Christopher medals, Stars of David, Muslim prayer beads, guardian angel figurines.

It's heartening and appropriate that these men and women draw comfort and strength from their faith as they put their lives on the line for a cause they see as higher than their own safety.

Not as appropriate are the religious overtones brought to this war by our political leaders as they dangerously blur important lines between religion and public policy.

The last thing we want is to make this war about religion, an especially sensitive issue when a predominantly Judeo-Christian coalition attacks a Muslim nation in a war many Arabs see as an attempt to suppress Islam for the benefit of the Jewish state of Israel.

Given the inherent suspicion among Muslims, you'd think President Bush would be careful that religion doesn't become a central issue in Iraq. To the contrary, he thumps his Bible at every turn.

In a major gaffe after the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001, Bush called the war against terrorism a "crusade," evoking memories in the Muslim world of the Crusades by European Christians in the Middle Ages to stomp out Islam.

The White House retracted the reference, but the image stuck among Muslims wary of any Western incursion onto their soil.

Bush, who's guided by sincere fundamentalist Christian beliefs, laces speeches about Iraq with religious references.

He describes the war as part of a "divine plan" for world order. He seeks approval from "the loving God behind all of life and all of history." He paints the war as a biblical "conflict between good and evil."

The U.S. House of Representatives got into the religious act by calling for a day of national prayer and fasting to gain God's blessing for the U.S. war effort.

This unnerves U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, as well as many Americans who cherish our tolerance of religious diversity. They fear that evangelical Christians control Washington's reins of power and are pressing a narrow religious agenda on U.S. policy in the world.

German President Johannes Rau is the son of a Protestant minister, but he believes religion and politics don't mix.

"George Bush has got a completely one-sided message," Rau said. "I don't think a people gets a sign from God to liberate another people. Nowhere does the Bible call for crusades."

The problem, of course, is that if we claim to act from a divine plan, how do we differ from the Osama bin Ladens and Saddam Husseins who also say they act in God's name?

It comes down to whose interpretation of God's will is right, not a safe and rational place to be in a multi-cultural world full of conflicting systems of religious belief.

In practical terms, constant invocation of religion by U.S. leaders hands radical Muslims the jihad, or holy war, they desperately need to fan anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.

Let's keep God out of our foreign policy and simply act on the basis of fairness, national security, human rights and international stability.

Leave the religion to troops on the ground looking for any edge they can find to keep bullets from piercing their skin.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.