Bibles in Arabia

by Dennis Bartel

November 7, 1990, In Pittsburgh

I’m not one for assessing the resolve of governments, but I was struck by how much the Saudis want it (i.e. to thwart the Iraqis) when I read of their recent and quietly astonishing acquiescence to allow the U.S. military to supply Desert Shield soldiers with pocket-sized Bibles.

Saudi Arabia has do-it-and-die laws prohibiting non-Muslim reading material (most especially Bibles) from so much as crossing its borders. Don’t mistake this gesture by the Saudis as simple diplomatic maneuvering, as a small allowance necessary to the war effort. It must surely have been a gut-wrenching decision, not many notches below giving up their beshrouded women to whoredom.

A foreign god is descending upon the Arabian sands, 50,000 Bibles from the American-based International Bible Society (actually it’s 50,000 New Testaments, plus the Psalms and Proverbs). The Saudis have agreed to this concession only after establishing the following irrevocable conditions: 1) No U.S. solider is to receive more than one Bible, and 2) No Bible is to be taken outside military camps, or, in the event of conflict, outside battle zones.

How did this happen? Senator Jesse Helms applied most of the pressure on the Saudis. Citing a 181-year-old American tradition, the North Carolina Republican impressed upon the Saudis that U.S. troops must not be made to sweat the desert without The Word. Since the War of 1812, wherever our fighting persons have gone, War Bibles have been standard issue. That includes every campaign from the big budget epic WWII (metal-coated Bibles) to might-is-right one-night stands such as the Panama invasion (Bibles with a jungle design).

The Bibles now being air-lifted to the Persian Gulf have a tan, desert camouflage cover, according to the International Bible Society. Following such logic we might go back through American war history and assume that the Bibles distributed to the GI’s who stormed Iwo Jima were sea-green, the Bibles of General Sherman’s barn-burning boy were red as Georgia clay, and the Bibles that our ambitious soldiers carried with Manifest Destiny into the Mexican War had an adobe motif.

“Especially when there is the potential for a combat situation,” says International Bible Society spokesman Robert Horan (rhymes with Koran), “there seems to be a real need to seek eternal issues and find answers to questions about life and eternal things.”

The Society evidently thinks such answers will best be found in the Latter-Day books rather than in the Old Testament. Doubtless, the Saudis breathed a small sigh of relief over that one. Imagine their alarm in knowing that 50,000 camouflage volumes of The Book of the Jews were camped out on Saudi soil in the pockets of American soldiers.