Sometimes I am asked what a cultural adviser/human terrain team member/cultural geographer can do in Afghanistan. The incident and fallout concerning burnt Qu'rans at the dentition facility in Bagram give a prime example.
The complete apology campaign has only angered Afghans and now the international Muslim community because it only shows America admitting it destroyed the Muslim holy book without giving a reason. The lack of reason allows anti-American forces to claim that the West is wagging a war against Islam with no rebuttal to challenge the claim.
Instead of this, a cultural geographer would tell the military and political leaders about how Afghans take much more care of their Qu'rans compared to Arabs. While many Arabs tend to have a place of honor for their Qu'rans, many Afghans will have altars or even special lock safes to store and honor their holy book. This shows how special the Qu'ran is for Afghans. It also implies that any Qu'ran destruction in Afghanistan would not be like other Qu'ran incidents in Iraq which cause anger but are quickly forgotten. The cultural geographer would lastly point out Afghans, who see their country with the myth that it is only Muslim state never conquered and ruled by a non-Muslim power, as people chosen by God to be the practitioners of the truest form of Islam and take their role of defending the faith deadly serious.
The cultural geographer would then recommend that the press affairs office emphasize that it was the prisoners who defaced the Qu'ran by writing messages in it (it was messages between prisoners hidden in the Qu'rans which caused the military commander to order their destruction). The cultural geographer would further recommend that a council of religious elders from all Afghan ethnic groups be gathered to release a statement on how it was wrong for the Americans to burn the Qu'rans but the book was already defiled by the prisoners. A country-wide townhall campaign focusing on Pashtuns, the base of the Taliban, and Uzbeks, where the Taliban recruit members from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, should then be launched with copies of the marked pages passed around in the tens of thousands. The campaign should also emphasize the numerous times the Taliban attacked mosques and imams.
The proposed campaign and its fallout would not make the international nightly news but it would be a huge win in the battle for hearts and minds and would even result in a loss of ideological and then material support for the Taliban.
However, no cultural adviser was available and this is what happened