Five years after seeing images of the US military inside Iraqi cities, the idea of observing the US Army inside a mosque in Jersey City, New Jersey seemed novel.
A year ago, I saw an article in a newspaper about West Point cadets visiting a mosque and other areas in multi-ethnic Jersey City. I was too late to do the story, West Point authorities said. After a year of waiting, the opportunity came up again.
It was called “Winning the Peace” - 30 cadets touring a mosque, a Hindu Temple, the 9/11 memorial in Jersey City; a synagogue, and a Coptic Christian church.
The most interesting aspect of the two-day shoot was the interaction between the cadets and the Islamic faithful. Some of the conversation was over dinner, Egyptian cuisine. One cadet asked if the shaving of a beard of an Islamic man meant he was more likely to be a suicide bomber. The response: “No, the beard had no relevance.”
One Muslim woman asked a female cadet if she knew, “Why do Muslim women cover up their heads?” The cadet responded, “I assume to be modest." The woman explained it is to show herself only to her husband. She said at home she would not have the hajib headwrap on her body.
The cadets even slept over. Men and women cadets bedded down in separate quarters in the mosque on the prater floor in blankets. One cadet was spotted reading a book called, “Warfare in the Western World.”
US Army major Rebecca Patterson said, "The Jersey City experience is the first time that they can take what they've read in books and heard from speakers and see it in a real-life situation.”
The community welcomed the cadets warmly. This was their fourth tour of duty, you might say, in the city.
One Cadet who took part in the Muslim service, kneeling and bowing, was Jewish. He said he did it because he could be a future platoon leader in Iraq or Afghanistan.
And that's the point: The Islamic Center's director, Ahmed Shedeed, said, "we know that these cadets, they going to go to some of the Islamic countries and they want to know something about the mosque, how to respect the mosque, how to live in a mosque, what they will do in a mosque.”
– Joe Vaccarello, CNN Producer
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