I read this article on FoxNews.com this morning.  In a nutshell, a Muslim who enlisted in the US Army one year ago is now requesting Conscientious Objector (CO) status in order to avoid deployment to Afghanistan.

My first thought upon reading the headline was to wonder exactly when this young man joined the Army.  Had he joined several years ago, before our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq began, I could somewhat understand him objecting to personal involvement in either of these two theaters (although my next question would have been, “Why now?  Why not 9 years ago when this whole party got started?”).  However, seeing as he just joined the Army a year ago, I have a hard time understanding his seeming ignorance of the fact that joining the Army would very probably require him to deploy in support of operations in Iraq or Afghanistan (or both).  Wouldn’t that have been a conscience issue better examined and resolved prior to his enlistment?

Further Internet exploration led me to PFC Abdo’s blog.  Here, in the “About Me” section, PFC Abdo cites his “struggle against religious discrimination and for freedom of conscience in the U.S. Army.”  How does PFC Abdo see himself as a target of religious discrimination?  A second related article contained statements from Army personnel at PFC Abdo’s base (Fort Campbell, KY) detailing the numerous options Muslim soldiers have to celebrate their religious observances – duty and deployment permitting, of course.  Muslim soldiers at Fort Campbell have even been notified of special considerations the base is willing to make to enable them to observe Ramadan appropriately.  Nowhere did PFC Abdo provide additional details regarding specific incidences of religious discrimination, and if Fort Campbell is in fact permitting such special considerations to be made, it’s hard to see any religious discrimination being directed towards this soldier.

As I mentioned above, all religious observances are subject to duty requirements and deployment schedules.  Combat operations do not differentiate between Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or any other faith traditions.  I can recall numerous Sundays on deployment when I was unable to attend church services because I was briefing for a flight.  One of my roommates on my first deployment, a Jew, kept kosher.  She quite reasonably did not expect the menus to be overhauled to accommodate her tradition, but rather accepted the limitations that came with deploying on a ship tasked with feeding five thousand other people and simply selected foods that honored Jewish kosher laws.  Neither of these examples details religious discrimination, but rather the realities of military life.

The freedom of conscience argument, however, is a whole separate issue.  Military members have freedom of conscience, yes.  We don’t all have to adhere to the same religion; we don’t all have to register with the same political party; we don’t all have to have the same views on health care reform, or abortion, or the economy, or even on the wars in which we’re currently engaged.  But there comes a point where being true to your conscience necessarily precludes you from military service.  PFC Abdo states that, “Islam is a peaceful religion, it’s not a religion of warfare…and it’s not a religion of terror.”  PFC Abdo should have realized, prior to enlisting in the Army, that entering a branch of the armed forces might eventually require him to engage in acts of warfare, particularly considering that every branch of the armed forces is currently overtasked in support of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (among others).  If you don’t support those – if you concientiously object – that is your right.  Fortunately, involvement in those conflicts is also 100% avoidable for those who do object.  However, once you enlist – once you take an oath – some measure of freedom of conscience necessarily goes away.

Further reading of the original FoxNews article mentions that PFC Abdo has been the target of “harassment, discrimination, and intimidation due to his religious beliefs.”  This leads me to believe that perhaps PFC Abdo is not so much a conscientious objector as a disillusioned soldier looking for a quick way out of the Army.  Rather than pulling the conscientious objector flag over his head, why not be a positive ambassador for Islam to his fellow soldiers?  Why not demonstrate that not all Muslims are terrorists, or anti-American, or any of the other anti-Muslim stereotypes that are widespread in our country?