The Army is under fire from Muslim civil rights groups and advocacy organizations that say the Pentagon is promoting anti-Islam “bigotry” with a recent news article that tells the story of an Iraqi woman who joined the U.S. military as an interpreter and later converted from Islam to Christianity.
The article, posted on the Army‘s official website March 18, tracks the life of Zahraa Frelund, who fled her hometown of Babylon at the age of 19 and ultimately found her way to the U.S. Victory Base Complex in Baghdad. She then met officials with the 1st Cavalry Division and eventually went to work as an interpreter.
Critics say the story — which includes an editor’s note making clear the views expressed in the piece do not necessarily reflect those of the Army — paints an unflattering picture of Islam and is at its core Islamophobic.
“We are calling on the U.S. Army to immediately take down this proselytizing ‘news article,’ which promotes Islamophobic, anti-Muslim, anti-Iraqi, and anti-Arab themes while promoting a particular religion,” said Robert S. McCaw, director of government affairs with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “Official military publications must not foment racism against any ethnicity or bigotry against any faith.”
The comments from CAIR come on the heels of a letter last week from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which also demanded that Pentagon officials remove the story. As of Monday afternoon, the article is still available on the Army website.
In the story, Ms. Frelund spoke in blunt terms about her experience growing up in Iraq.
“Life is really hard for women in the Middle East,” she said, as quoted in the Army article. “My whole life I was beaten up for whatever reason — the smallest things. My brothers want water and (if) I don’t get it for them fast enough, and it’s not just one hand — they’d leave my whole body bruised.”
Ms. Frelund went on to explain that she eventually decided she wanted a different life.
“I’m better than that. Better than being beat up every day just for them to someday arrange a marriage for you,” she said. “That’s literally your life as a woman; you have no say, no options — and I was done.”
Later, Ms. Frelund attended a church service at Camp Liberty and became a Christian.
“When we got there, I felt so calm, so peaceful and when the chaplain started talking, he talked about the shepherd,” Ms. Frelund said. “The shepherd had 100 sheep, but when he lost the one, he left the 99 to go find it. … And I was just like, ‘he’s talking about me. I’m the one. I’m the lost sheep.’ “
In his letter to Pentagon leaders, Military Religious Freedom Foundation President Michael L. Weinstein said the Islam-to-Christianity narrative sends the wrong message.
“Indeed, if a formerly Christian young woman had been continuously brutalized by her Christian family, community, ethnicity, and culture but had attended a sermon at a mosque and had received a personal visit from Allah in her domicile room to confirm her conversion from her previously described cruelties of Christianity and Christians to the sublime victory of her literally miraculous conversion to Islam, there would have been torrents of blood in their streets,” he wrote.
“The following story is told from a soldier’s first-person account. The soldier’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Army,” reads the editor’s note at the top of the story.
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