It’s always worse than you think, Koran-Handling Dept.

[Posted 7:31 AM by Roger Kimball]

What would Evelyn Waugh make of this? It�s a question I often ask myself when contemplating one or another ghastly facet of contemporary life. Waugh was good on manners and morals--see The Loved One, for example--but he was also splendid about the inanities of military life: he knew first-hand about bureaucratic blundering, about absurd face-saving directives that intervene in a bad situation and make it worse.

How Waugh would have loved the story of how the Koran is handled at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. He would have snorted when he read Michael Isikoff�s preening fantasy in Newsweek about how nasty, insensitive interrogators were flushing Korans down the toilet. He would have chuckled when, lo and behold, it turn out that no Korans were harmed in the making of this morality tale: it was all part of Newsweek�s effort to be fair and balanced, i.e., anti-Bush. Waugh would have smirked when, after the Isikoff story turned out to be false, other members of the Fourth Estate, their pride wounded, rallied around to disclose that, even if the Koran hadn�t been flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay, it was placed near a toilet, at least in the same building with a toilet, and moreover a prison guard had urinated near an air shaft that vented somewhere in the vicinity of a room in which a Koran was placed or might be placed or was once placed . . . What contortions we have been treated to in the Koran Abuse Fantasy. (Yes, there has been disrespectful treatment of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay--almost exclusively meted out, as John Hinderaker explains, by the detainees themselves.)

Waugh would have enjoyed all this, I suspect, but he would really have gone to town with the �Detention Operations Group Standard Operating Procedures� pertaining to how guards and others are to handle the Koran. Item one: �Handle the Koran as if it were a fragile piece of delicate art.� Hello? It�s mighty nice of the US government to provide terrorists with their spiritual resentment training manual, but how far do we have to go to mollify people who believe their religion requires them to blow up innocent people?

Diana West, writing in yesterday�s Washington Times, describes the whole sorry situation:

By official order, a whole lot of �respecting the dignity of the Koran.� According to Section 6-5-c(3), should a Koran need to be removed from a detainee�s cell -- you know, carried somewhere -- and the detainee is personally unable to move it (best option), and the Muslim chaplain, librarian and interpreter are also unable to move it (second-best option), then the U.S. Army guard, as a very last resort, may take action -- but only �after approval by the DOC (who notes this in the DIMS).�

Then the insanity really begins. The guard is directed to don �clean gloves ... in full view of the detainees prior to handling.� He must use �two hands ... at all times when handling the Koran in a manner signaling respect and reverence.� Why �respect� alone isn�t abundantly sufficient isn�t mentioned. While signaling two-handed respect and reverence, however, the guard must be mindful that �care should be used so that the right hand is the primary one used to manipulate any part of the Koran due to the cultural association with the left hand.�

It goes on. There�s more �reverent manner,� more instructions for conveying the book inside a �clean, dry detainee towel.� The cockeyed picture is clear. But it doesn�t explain what�s going on.

At first glance, this scene may seem to exemplify a bizarre excess of good manners, an absurdly obsequious respect for a largely foreign faith. Since when does the United States specifically direct its soldiers to show two-handed �reverence� in the handling of any religious book? But it seems to me that there�s more behind this charade. The �clean gloves� and �detainee� towels are the tip off. The fact is, under Islamic law, non-Muslims are deemed unfit to touch the Koran. That much is generally known. What is not usually considered is the reason: According to the Islamic law, we are unclean.

And so we collude in what Diana West rightly characterizes as a �charade� (read �Gonzo Gitmo charade� here.)

Should we laugh or cry at this exhibition of politically correct hyper-sensitivity? By all means, let us treat prisoners with the dignity and respect they lack in their own lives. Let us not besmirch or ridicule the Koran. But let us also preserve some rudimentary contact with reality. These people are terrorists and suspected terrorists. Many--probably most--of them have dedicated their lives to slaughtering innocent Westerners, inspired, note well, by the very document our soldiers are enjoined to handle as a �fragile piece of delicate art� (as distinct, one supposes from a �sturdy piece of delicate art�). Operating in the realm of fiction, Evelyn Waugh might have made an amusing episode out of this absurdity (talk about �Black Mischief�!) Perambulating in the precincts of real life, however, we should have the fortitude to acknowledge that the comedy has gone rancid. Those sections of the army�s �Detention Operations Group Standard Operating Procedures� that bear on the Koran should be respectfully excised, using only the right hand. They should then be carefully conveyed in a �clean, dry detainee towel� to the nearest outhouse and . . . flushed down the toilet.

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