Originally appeared in the The Virginian-Pilot
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is asking the Pentagon to remove a target depicting a Muslim woman from a new SEAL training range in Virginia Beach.
A photo of the cardboard target, which shows a woman in a head scarf holding a pistol, ran in The Virginian-Pilot on Tuesday. The image shows verses of the Koran hanging on the wall behind the woman, which also generated criticism from the group.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based council, said in the letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the target “is offensive and sends a negative and counterproductive message to trainees and to the Muslim-majority nations to which they may be deployed.”
Naval Special Warfare Group Two, which oversees SEAL teams 2,4,8 and 10, dedicated the close quarters combat training range on Monday at Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story.
The $11.5 million facility will be used by small groups of SEALs practicing enemy engagement at close range. The 26,500-square foot building contains 52 interconnected spaces, including mock-ups of markets, a hospital, schools, a bank, bus depot and two mosques.
Many of the details were taken from actual raids over the past decade, Capt. Tim Szymanski, the commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group Two, said during a tour of the facility Monday.
Szymanski said SEALs must differentiate in a split-second between civilian bystanders and potential enemies, and other cardboard cut-outs on the range would show people holding animals, not weapons.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the group, said it’s important that military units not be trained to see Muslims as enemies, even if they are fighting in Afghanistan or other Muslim-majority nations.
"There are all kinds of people all over the world trying to do us harm. Why would you use this particular image in training people how to kill?" Hooper asked. "It creates the impression, we believe, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that you should view Muslim women in headscarves with hostility and suspicion.”
The council also spoke out in recent months against an instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk who taught a course on Islamic radicalism that referred to the war on terror as a war against Islam.
The course was halted after a military officer who was a student complained. The instructor, an Army officer, was relieved of his teaching duties. A broader review of training across the military related to Islam found no other problems.