Army Sgt. Erik Saar couldn’t wait to get to GuantÃ¡namo Bay to help ferret information from the terrorists being held there. When the intelligence linguist arrived, however, he was startled to hear the Muslim call to prayer. Why, he wondered, would America make such a “concession to the religious zealotry” of the detainees? Yet as he worked as an interpreter in the cell blocks and interrogation rooms, Sergeant Saar’s attitude changed. Methods that demeaned Islamic beliefs and tried to make detainees feel separate from God struck him as counterproductive. They not only failed to produce information, he says, but also fueled the sense there and abroad that the US is at war with Islam.
“We say we’re trying to win the hearts and minds of Muslim people around the world, yet they can see we are using their religion against them,” says Saar in a phone interview. “I don’t think that’s in line with our values.” Religious disrespect – or even a perception of disrespect – can be an explosive matter in Islamic countries. In recent days, thousands took to the streets in violent protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and at least three other nations, reacting to a news report, not yet substantiated, that American personnel desecrated the Koran during interrogations at GuantÃ¡namo. The US has promised an investigation and insists disrespect for the Koran will not be tolerated.