- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

The U.S. military in Afghanistan has removed from its Web site an article criticizing a Dutch lawmaker’s plan to make a film condemning the Koran, saying the article was being misinterpreted as an attack on free speech.

The article, titled “Stirring the Hate,” said Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom were “blaming an entire religion for the actions of extremists.”

It accused the Dutch nationalist party of having benefited politically from previous controversies, like that over the 2005 publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. It put the phrase “exercise in free speech” in derisive or distancing quotation marks.

“The headlines that resulted from the violence [that followed the cartoons’ publication], the fear generated in communities around the world, an increase in ‘suicide bomber recruiting,’ all further the terrorist’s goals,” reads the article.

“While the Party for Freedom preaches hate and fear to its followers, the terrorists preach hate and vengeance to their own.”

Mr. Wilders’ 10-minute film, which he plans to release in March, will show how the Muslim holy book “is an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror,” he said recently.

The article was authored by a member of the public affairs team for Coalition Joint Task Force-82, which commands the U.S. troops in the country as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.

It was posted Jan. 21 and taken down Jan. 30, the author, Master Sgt. Allen Ness, told United Press International. A copy was kept by journalist and blogger Bill Roggio, who shared it with UPI.

“It was being viewed not as a criticism of his position on Islam, but as criticism of his right to free speech,” said Sgt. Ness. “I never had any disagreement with his right to free speech. … What I disagreed with was his blanket condemnation of Islam.”

He said he was motivated to write it by his concerns about “what could happen when the fundamentalist supporters of terror get hold of his film” if it was deeply insulting to some Muslims, similar to the Muhammad cartoons.

“Our most important allies here are the Afghans: The police, the military, the population as a whole, they are all Muslims,” said Sgt. Ness, pointing out that the country is called the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

He said the riots in Afghanistan over the Muhammad cartoons “caused great damage and loss of life,” but just as important “damaged the trust that we had built up with the Afghans.”

The incident shows the difficulties the U.S. military sometimes has in calibrating the weaponry it uses on the battlefield of ideas, said Mr. Roggio, a writer specializing in counterinsurgency who has spent time embedded with U.S. and Afghan forces.

“The military fights alongside [Afghan forces]. The way they see it is they are fighting extremists [who are] trying to hijack a religion.”

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