WASHINGTON – U.S. General David Petraeus said on Thursday it was "disturbing" that a manufacturer had embossed biblical citations on rifle scopes sent to Afghanistan and Iraq, and the firm announced it would voluntarily halt the practice.
"This is a big concern to the Army and the Marine Corps, who have contracted for these particular sites," said Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, noting the religious sensitivities American forces face in the two Muslim countries.
"This is of serious concern to me and to the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan because, indeed, it conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what it is that we have sought to do," Petraeus told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"It is disturbing to us, frankly, that this was done," he added.
President Barack Obama has sought to convince the Muslim world that the U.S. fight against al Qaeda militants should not be viewed as a war against Islam.
Former President George W. Bush heightened those concerns shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington when he referred to his war on terrorism as a "crusade," a remark critics warned raised images of Christian knights attacking Muslim cities during the Middle Ages.
The biblical citations on the scope data plates had largely gone unnoticed until they were publicized last week by Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. A photo on the group's Web site shows a data plate with the citation 2COR4:6.
That citation refers to 2 Corinthians 4:6, which in the King James Bible reads: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
The company that makes the scopes, Trijicon Inc of Wixom, Michigan, said on Thursday it had voluntarily offered to stop putting scripture references on products made for the U.S. military.
The firm agreed to provide 100 modification kits to enable the Pentagon to remove the plates on weapons already deployed. It also said it would offer the same remedies for foreign militaries that had purchased its scopes.
"Our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate," Stephen Bindon, the president of Trijicon, said in a statement.
He said the company "will move as quickly as possible to provide the modification kits for deployment overseas."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomed the company's decision. The group, the largest U.S. Muslim advocacy organization, warned on Wednesday that the gun sights were a "potential recruiting tool for anti-American forces."
Petraeus, who said he had only learned about the inscriptions on the sights a day earlier, said, "I can assure you that there is much greater sensitivity among our troopers about this kind of thing than, apparently, there is in whatever contractor produced those sights."