For the US government, and for the 100,000 American troops fighting in Afghanistan, the messages delivered last Friday could hardly have been worse.
In Kabul’s largest mosque a distinguished preacher, Enayatullah Balegh, pledged support for “any plan that can defeat” foreign military forces in Afghanistan, denouncing “the political power of these children of Jews.”
Across town, a firebrand imam named Habibullah was even more blunt. “Let these jackals leave this country,” the preacher declared of foreign troops. “Let these brothers of monkeys, gorillas and pigs leave this country. The people of Afghanistan should determine their own fate.”
Every Friday, Afghan clerics wade into the politics of their war-torn country, delivering half-hour sermons that blend Islamic teaching with often-harsh criticism of the US presence. In a country where many lack newspapers, television or Internet access, the mosque lectures represent a powerful forum for influencing opinion.
The frustration voiced in these sermons is periodically echoed by President Hamid Karzai in his somewhat more diplomatic criticism of the West. Although cast in tones of prayer and contemplation, the messages from the mosques pose a serious and delicate problem for President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy: how to respect sacredness of Islam without conceding the propaganda war.
The US has sought to temper the mullahs’ rhetoric. The US Embassy in Kabul has spent millions of dollars to fly mullahs to the United States and other countries to meet Muslims outside Afghanistan in the hope of encouraging a more moderate stance. The US military funds mosque refurbishment projects and is partnering with the Afghan religious affairs ministry to facilitate building an electronic database of mosques.
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