Why Not Bomb on Ramadan?

President Clinton has been criticized for bombing Iraq just as the House was about to vote on his impeachment. One of Clinton’s justifications for the timing is that Ramadan, an Islamic holy month, begins this weekend. Bombing during Ramadan would be “profoundly offensive to the Muslim world,” he argues, thereby “damag[ing] our relations with Arab countries.”

This appears to be longstanding US policy, not something Clinton just made up. The Washington Post reports that in Dec. 1996, Defense Secretary William Cohen pushed for bombing strikes because he wanted them to begin before Ramadan. Ramadan was also an issue during the Gulf War. The war began in January; Ramadan that year was in March. Strategists worried about whether the images of Westerners killing Arabs during Ramadan would turn Arab opinion against the war.

A different issue is whether Arabs are in fact more offended by westerners killing Arabs during Ramadan than at other times of year. During the Gulf War, Saudi officials argued that it was OK to fight during the holy month. (As it happened, the war ended two weeks before the beginning of the holiday.)

Ramadan is the month on the lunar calendar when the Koran was revealed to Mohammed. Devout Muslims don’t eat or drink from sunup to sundown for the entire month, but every night they feast and socialize. Many Muslims actually consider the 10th day of Ramadan an appropriate time for fighting, since it was on that day that Mohammed won a great battle. It was also on the 10th day of Ramadan that Anwar Sadat sent his troops across the Suez Canal to attack Israel in 1973. He ordered them not to observe the fast that day, though his senior commanders did so anyway.

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