PBTL (posted before the lock)
August 08, 2005
A pigskin utility boot feels pinch from some Muslims, who call it offensive
By Nicole Gaudiano
Times staff writer
When Air Force uniform officials were first briefed on new utility boots that airmen are now testing, a question came to their minds: Would religious groups be offended by boots made of pigskin?
The answer — “yes” for some Muslims — could be a factor in what boot the Air Force ultimately chooses.
The use of pigskin unless for medical reasons is “clearly prohibited” for Muslims and is only made lawful when its use is a dire necessity, wrote Qaseem Ali Uqdah, the Muslim chaplains’ senior ecclesiastical endorser, in a July 6 letter to an Air Force chaplain.
Uqdah, responding to an Air Force request for his input, cited the Koran verse, “’He has only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine and any [food] over which the name of other than Allah has been invoked.”
Uqdah wrote, “It is forbidden for a Muslim to wear pigskin because the impurity of a pig’s skin is not removed even by tanning their skins, as pigs are impure in themselves. So the issue here is not confined to just eating it …”
The concern from some involves not only the idea of Muslim airmen being asked to wear the boot, but the international implications of Americans wearing them in Muslim countries.
Mahmoud El-Yousseph, a Muslim and active member of the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans in Military, said he “freaked out” when he learned the boots were being tested.
“It is almost like an ‘in-your-face’ attitude,” said El-Yousseph, a Palestinian-born U.S. citizen who recently retired from the Ohio National Guard as a technical sergeant. “Most of our troops are stationed in Muslim nations. You can’t win people’s minds and hearts in the Muslim world if you go there wearing uniforms made of pigs.”
When El-Yousseph deployed to Kuwait in 2000, he was told anyone caught with pornographic material or pork would be sent back on the next airplane. Respect for the host country’s culture and traditions was paramount in deployment briefings, he said.
“By sending troops in pigskin, we’re not doing what we preach,” he said.
A spokesman for Iraq’s representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie, said the issue would probably be “a bit sensitive” for people in Iraq. The ambassador “just predicted there are going to be some people who might be offended by this,” the spokesman said.
Calls to the embassies of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were not returned, and the spokesman for the embassy of Afghanistan declined to comment.
Easier to clean
Uniform officials discovered the pigskin material in their search for a low-maintenance boot that required no polishing or shining, and would go with the new green-and-tan utility uniform due out in fiscal 2007. They had previously tested cowhide suede boots, but found that some career fields had a hard time keeping them clean.
Pigskin boots, which look like cowhide suede but carry a more even texture, have a waterproof and stain-resistant finish that should make them easier to clean than normal suede, according to the Air Force clothing office.
Uniform officials stressed that no decision has been made on which boot they will choose. About 215 airmen at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., began testing the pigskin boots in “chameleon” light green and desert tan on July 25. As a measure for the pigskin, they are also retesting the cowhide suede. The test is expected to last six months.
“We might find that there’s a better boot made out of cowhide,” said Steven Wagoner, chief of the Force Sustainment Division. “We might pick the boot we’re talking about and pick another boot for the ones who are having difficulty with it. It’s a positive thing in that we’ve asked the question, we have good information now and we can make an informed decision.”
The issue surfaces at a time when the Air Force is focused on religious sensitivity. A recently named assistant to the Air Force secretary and chief of staff for “values and vision,” Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, is developing specific guidance about expressions of personal religious beliefs after some cadets brought allegations of religious intolerance and pro-Christian bias at the Air Force Academy.
Wagoner and Lt. Col. Dan Anderson, chief of the commander’s programs, recognition and uniform board, said they realized on their own that they should ask more questions about pigskin when they received a briefing on the uniform and boots in June at the Air Force clothing office.
The Air Force counts the number of self-reported Muslims at 655 for enlisted members and 116 for officers, while Uqdah said the number is about 1,500.
“We recognize there are some faiths that have some concerns relative to the animal that material would be coming from,” Wagoner said. “We wanted to make sure we knew what the issues would be so we could make informed decisions.”
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Steve Torgerson, of the Chief of Chaplains Office, called reformed and orthodox rabbis, who said the only issue with pigskin was consumption. He also contacted Uqdah, the Muslim chaplains’ senior endorser, when a Muslim chaplain deferred to him. Cowhide boots would be permissible in both faiths, he said.
Asked whether there would be no circumstances in which Muslims would be asked to wear pigskin, Wagoner said he didn’t want to “jump to that conclusion,” but it would be unlikely.
“I find it hard to imagine a downstream possibility that we would find ourselves having to do that,” he said. “It would be some dire circumstance, some absolute operational necessity. I find it hard to imagine, but I can’t predict the future either.”
The uniform officials would not say whether Muslim objections alone would cause them to reject the boot. Asked if there was concern that pigskin boots might be offensive in Muslim countries, Wagoner responded with a written statement.
“At this point, we don’t know what the international implications might be, but [we] continue to do our homework as we move down the path towards a decision,” he wrote. “For now, this boot is currently in use by other Services and we are asking them for their experience, as well as doing our own independent assessment.”
Marines have them
The pigskin boot has been in the Marine Corps inventory as an optional item for about a year, though that boot could be replaced. Although there are no specific regulations for wearing the boot, commanders can make special uniform considerations for religious preferences, according to a Marine Corps spokesman.
Asked for comments from Marines wearing these boots in Iraq, Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a Multi-National Forces-West spokesman at Camp Fallujah, wrote: “There is not one person I have spoken with who knows what their boots are made of. I don’t have any idea what mine are made of. This is not an issue or something one considers.”
The Navy is currently testing the boot while the Army uses cowhide leather boots “because the Army has found cowhide to be more durable than pigskin,” according to a response from the project manager soldier equipment office.
Some Muslims interpret the Koran and traditions of the prophets differently when it comes to pigskin. Fathi Osman, a retired professor of Islamic studies who held positions at Temple and Princeton universities, said the written traditions or “Hadith” say that skin from any animal is pure after it is tanned. “Some people are always suspicious and they want to be on the safe side,” he said.
Uqdah came to his opposite conclusion using the same literature and the commonly held views of the majority of American Muslims, though he recognized his view may not be shared by other Muslims.
Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Hamza Al-Mubarak, a Muslim, meanwhile, was more definitive. “There is no ambiguity on this issue, it is impermissible for a Muslim (male or female) to eat or use the tanned skin of a pig in any form of clothing (ie. Leather jackets, shoes, belts, etc.),” he wrote.
In an interview with Air Force Times, Uqdah commended the chaplains and Defense Department for “unique concern” for religious accommodations. But he also worried about new recruits if the pigskin boots become an approved item. “Someone throws you the boots, you’re going to take the boots,” he said. “At the recruit level, these kids have no say whatsoever in their lives.”
Uqdah, the executive director of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, is a retired Marine gunnery sergeant. He believes airmen should not be put in the position of wearing pigskin in Muslim countries if it can be avoided.
“It has to be mission necessity to move forward on these boots,” he said. “That’s the only way I can see them wanting to risk having a potential backlash or a negative connotation associated with Americans.”
The issue of respect
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, had a similar recommendation for the Air Force.
Spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed said airmen wearing pigskin would be an offense to Muslim sensitivities and could give extremists further ammunition to say, “The West doesn’t respect Islam.”
“If you could avoid all that, it just seems to me a better option,” she said. “Things are so sensitive right now in this climate, I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
However, Muzammil Siddiqi, the chairman of the Islamic Law Council of North America, said the issue would be resolved if Muslim airmen were given an alternate boot. “The rule is just for Muslims,” he said.
If the pigskin or cowhide suede boots failed the wear test, the Air Force previously said it would go with a leather alternative in a color to later be determined. That could mean a “little-polish, no-shine boot” or the current plain leather boot.
Airmen interviewed recently at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, seemed to be more concerned with function and comfort than religion.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Pizzi, who deployed from the 305th Security Forces Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., wants a boot that doesn’t show stains, but thinks the Air Force should abandon the idea of pigskin before it has to recall thousands of boots and issue new ones to airmen bound for Muslim countries.
“I don’t think it will be an issue, but people will make it an issue,” he said.
Capt. Shane Heavener, a judge advocate deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy, had a different take:
“Get what functions,” he said. “If we chose cowhide and deployed to India, what would they [Hindus] think?”
Fuck the Muslims, Americans or not.
Shove that fucking boot up that ROPer's ass.
Where does it say people have a RIGHT to NOT be offended?
Just point me in the right direction. I can't seem to find it.
Don't see anybody runnin' to my door to ask me what Catholics think of every little thing the military/government does.
The issue surfaces at a time when the Air Force is focused on religious sensitivity.
I know this sounds radical, but how about a focus on warfighting instead.
Translation: "Who f**king cares?"
It appears only the Muslim religion gains that level of consideration these days.
Quick! Someone call the waaaaaaahmbulance! A muslim has some sand in his mangina!
I could give a damn less if the ROP's are offended. Screw them and the horse they rode in on.
Let them buy their own boots, then....
Oh no, we may have offended a muslim....damnit.....now we have to change all our customs and laws. The last thing we want to do is offend our enemy.
Political correctness will be the nail in the coffin that contains our doomed society.
Let them walk around without boots for a month or two then ask them about the medical benefits of pigskin boots.
I'm going to found a religion that thinks airplanes and runways are impure, then I am going to go join the USAF and expect them to accomadate my beliefs by not using airplanes.
same as always