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Military chaplains: Being a cog of conscience in the military killing machine

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As such, US chaplains provide troops the opportunity to exercise their religion, while RCA officers actively encourage soldiers to perform the daily prayers and other requirements of Islam. Even more important to Afghan commanders, RCA officers counter Taliban propaganda by portraying the Afghan Army as an Islamic force.

"Our first priority," says Moheburahman, "is to let Afghans know that we are Muslim and that we want freedom inside an Islamic framework."

This not only attracts recruits, it lights their warrior fire.

"The most effective thing that can persuade Muslims to do dangerous things and to fight," Moheburahman explains, "is to give them the legitimacy of what they are fighting for. I describe the legitimacy of this government and point to verses [in the Koran]."

To formalize the RCA, Fisher succeeded in getting the US government to earmark $2 million for a chaplain school, construction of which is scheduled to begin in 2008. And he is working on a curriculum that will teach mullahs how to work within a bureaucracy and provide religious support and moral guidance.

While Fisher understands that he's helping to build an Islamic military, he believes that Afghanistan's minority religions will grow as the country evolves. "There are Buddhists, Jews, Christians in Afghanistan – not in great numbers, but they're here," he says, "and they will make their way into the Army and at some point the institutions will have to wrestle with these issues."

Whether or not the curriculum addresses this head-on, Fisher likes to think that, through example, US military chaplains are "living, breathing witnesses to how [plurality] can work and that the RCA will pick up on that."

•••

This is the latest chapter in a journey that began when Fisher, a fresh, born-again Christian, was walking across the drill field at Virginia Tech Institute with a slide rule in his pocket.

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