A political and religious uproar has erupted in Great Britain over news that the British Army trained troops for the Afghanistan mission by having them fire on replica mosques.
A British Muslim group is demanding that the UK military immediately disband seven replica mosques built on an army firing range in northern England.
The flat cut-outs were appear to have been placed as the targets at the Bellerby firing range at the British Army’s Catterick Garrison in the north of England.
The Bradford Council of Mosques, a local umbrella group of Muslim organizations, accused the British Army of reinforcing negative stereotypes about Muslims.
“What angers me very much is that we are conditioning the young British to say that mosques are a place where you are going to find danger and a place to target,” said Ishtiaq Ahmed of the BCM, as quoted at BBC News.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence denies that the buildings were meant to be mosques, saying that they were designed as “generic Eastern buildings,” the Daily Telegraph reports.
But Mohammed Saleem Khan, chief executive of the BCM, doesn’t accept the British Army’s explanation. He said it was clear from the color and shape of the buildings that they were meant to be mosques.
”It is so obvious. Even a non-Muslim recognized the significance. The first person who raised the issue with us was a non-Muslim,” he told the Telegraph.
The ministry said it had “no intention” of causing offense, but insisted that the buildings were important because British troops have to train in conditions that reflect as best as possible the reality on the ground in Afghanistan.
The Times of London‘s Ruth Gledhill described as “telling” the army’s insistence that a firing range with mosques as targets is considered a close approximation of reality.
The Ministry of Defence says it will meet with local representatives of the Muslim community “to hear their concerns in order to discuss the way forward.”
The Catterick Garrison, where the firing range is located, is the British Army’s largest base, with an overall population of 12,000. The garrison currently prepares British troops for deployments to Afghanistan.
Last year, the garrison was the site of a complaint of brutality by training officers. Two officers were court-martialed and fined for assaulting new recruits they believed weren’t performing to standard.