Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Blog

By Jeffrey Wright

Spencer Ackerman, Wired’s intrepid national security correspondent, broke yet another important story yesterday evening, revealing that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has ordered a top-to-bottom review of military training materials to ensure that they do not contain Islamophobic content. Dempsey’s order came after military brass learned that a class intended for senior military officers had used Islamophobic course materials.  The class, entitled “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism,” was offered as an elective at the military’s Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) in Norfolk, Virginia. JFSC was founded after the Second World War with the goal of training military officers to work cooperatively, and it educates mid-level officers, many of whom will spend their careers in the military and eventually rise to the highest ranks of their branches. In other words, the future leaders of the US military.  

Ackerman’s reporting reveals a number of disturbing attributes of the course in question, which was discontinued this week after the controversy came to light (though as of Wednesday morning, it is still listed under electives on JCSF’s website).  Students were told that “Islam has already declared war on the West,” and treated to lectures from Stephen Coughlin, a writer and lecturer on Islamic law who was dismissed from the Pentagon in 2008 for failing to distinguish between Islam and Islamic radicalism.  Coughlin is a favorite of the Islamophobe set, and he has shown up previously in Ackerman’s reporting, including for this inaccurate presentation to a gathering of FBI agents.  The course’s inaccuracies prompted complaints from officers, which alerted the Joint Chiefs to the inaccuracies in the course’s content.  

These revelations are a troubling sign that Islamophobic training materials may be a problem in the US military in addition to the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department.  The presence of such materials is in direct contravention of President Obama’s order that training materials used by federal agencies meet standards for accuracy and fairness. A quick web search indicates that JFSC, at least, may have some additional cleaning to do.  In a research guide published by the Ike Skelton Library at JFSC entitled “Radicalization: Militant Islam Pathfinder,” a suggested reading list includes Abigail Esman’s Radical State: How Jihad is Winning Over Democracy in the West. Esman’s book explores the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim fanatic in 2004.  It advances favorite Islamophobic tropes, including the idea that moderate Muslims are a myth and that Muslims are bent on a stealth Islamization of Europe and the US. In the ultimate seal of approval for any enterprising Islamophobic writer, Esman’s book received an effusive review from Robert Spencer’s blog “Jihad Watch”.  The presence of such a book on an officially sanctioned research guide indicates that Islamophobia at JFSC extended beyond a single course.  The reporting of Ackerman and his colleagues and the outrage it provokes will help keep the pressure on the federal government to ensure that Islamophobic materials have no place in the education of our future military leaders.       

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