Islamic College Quietly Trains Jihadis—or Does It?

Holy War - religious icons on bulletIn a quiet suburb of Istanbul, between streets lined with trees and tidy residential compounds, sits a sectarian institution of higher education. Notae’hw is small by American standards, but academically well regarded to the point of being called an “Islamic Harvard.” The school fuses conservative Islam with higher learning in fields ranging from liberal arts to the social and hard sciences. Students, both male and female, wear mostly modern fashions, though often supplemented with symbols of modesty and faith. Their influence on the town itself is also modest, save perhaps a greater than average presence of mosques, whose minarets grace many corners, and an abundance of religious paraphernalia in local shops.

Private religious schools like this one are common across the region, but Turkey’s secular constitution prevents public funds from supporting madrassas or other sectarian education. So investigators, following up on a complaint from within the military, were dismayed to learn this week that a publically-funded campus-based officer recruitment program is unabashedly training jihadis and has been doing so for years, using seasoned officers in uniform to lead the effort.

For Allah and his Caliphate!” proclaim written materials that enthusiastically describe how the program turns out military leaders in the style of past saints and martyrs. The phrase is the motto of a young “battalion” of student jihadis, centered at Notaehw but drawing from seven Islamic seminaries or colleges in the area. The 140 recruits in the training program hear from Islamist leaders, one of whom gave a 2012 speech to Turkish officers in which he enumerated his “first principles as a Muslim combat leader.” These included, “Understand who we are serving: (The Almighty Warrior Shahryar [king]!)” He added that “Your soldiers are spiritual beings –They want to know that their leader is a Muslim . . . That is why Allah selected you to be their leader.”

Nonsectarian watchdogs seeking to safeguard Turkey’s secular democracy have raised the alarm, claiming that the program violates the constitution.

Oh, wait.

Holy War - Church on TankI wrote that name backwards. The institution is actually Wheaton, my old alma mater in fact, and it sits in a suburb not of Istanbul but Chicago. The devout young officers in training are being groomed to serve in the army not of Allah but of Christ. The visiting motivational speaker was Steve Banach, whose first principles as a Christian combat leader were delivered at a 2010 Officers’ Christian Fellowship Discipleship Training Breakfast on the topic of, “Christ-Like Leadership in Combat.” (Officers’ Christian Fellowship has been described as “a fundamentalist Christian parachurch ministry whose goal is ‘a spiritually transformed military with ambassadors for Christ in uniform.’”) It has branches associated with most ROTC programs and military academies in the United States, and is particularly integrated with the Wheaton College program.

Chris Rodda, author of Liars for Jesus, has published a detailed expose of the Wheaton College ROTC program, documenting how it boldly and clearly breaches the wall of separation of church and state, including the constitutional edict, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (Article VI).

Wheaton proudly advertises the only Christian ROTC program in the country: “There’s Army ROTC. Then There’s Wheaton Army ROTC.” So it would seem.

Rodda first learned of Wheaton’s unique blend of Evangelical fundamentalism and officer training when an officer in the armed forces sent a complaint to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). He enclosed an internal list of military job openings that included a ROTC assignment stipulating, “must be of the Christian faith.”

For officers returning from combat, placement as an ROTC educator can offer a return to normalcy. But the listing (one of only four similar positions across the country), excluded religious minorities. MRFF President and attorney Mikey Weinstein, who received the complaint, was—to put it politely—outraged:

Wheaton College and its ROTC program seem to earnestly believe that the acronym “ROTC” stands for “Religious Officer Training for Christ.” Wheaton and its fundamentalist Christian ROTC unit are to the United States Constitution what a dog with a full bladder is to a curbside fire hydrant. In MRFF’s nearly 10 years of fighting this precise, illicit version of Christian extremism in the U.S. military, this Wheaton College/ROTC travesty is one of the most disgustingly blatant, appallingly bold, and mercilessly atrocious attacks on the foundational principles of our U.S. Constitution that we have EVER witnessed!

It comes as no surprise to anyone that sectarian institutions across the United States fuse religion with the arts and sciences, seeking to churn out a generation of devout leaders and followers who will ensure a privileged position for Christianity in society. And it comes as no surprise that Evangelical flagship, Wheaton College, is at the forefront of the effort. Holy war - crusaderBack when I attended in the days of my Evangelical youth, the Wheaton sports teams were known as the Crusaders, and the motto adopted by the ROTC battalion, For Allah and his Caliphate, For Christ and his Kingdom, applied to the whole school.

But both mission and motto become more alarming when one realizes that young men and women are being trained to lead our military while believing that their highest obligation in uniform is to serve as emissaries for Christ. And small wonder that once in positions of power they become outraged when accused of church-state boundary violations. Based on the model of their mentors, there’s no such thing.


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at
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About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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13 Responses to Islamic College Quietly Trains Jihadis—or Does It?

  1. gwpj says:

    What can I say Valerie, other than to say that I am appalled, but not at all surprised. Harkens back to our Calvinist founders, doesn’t it. Jesus is seen as an avenging King, leading His People on a mighty Crusade.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. john zande says:

    I saw this the other day, and it seems appropriate here. I’m not sure where it filmed, but it just doesn’t seem right


  3. Martin says:

    Thank you, this only underscores the deepest fears of many in the middle east. Would a congressional inquiry be political suicide?


  4. Who is paying for this? Perhaps we should follow the money.

    Is the school taxpayer funded (a.k.a. tax exempt, assuming they have equal access to roads, police, and all other taxpayer funded services without paying said taxes) as a religious institution? Is the ROTC, in particular, DoD funded, very much in particular?

    Would it be political suicide to undermine that bit of wasteful government financing?

    The FBI couldn’t take down one famous Chicago gangster, back in the 1920s, so the IRS did it, putting him in federal prison for tax evasion. Just a thought…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent piece. The comparative perspective of an Islamic institution doing the same thing is powerfully compelling, and an excellent device to show the danger here. It should register with anyone who understands the risks associated with religious extremism of any type. Great article, thanks for writing it.


  6. Rob Berg says:

    Starting the article with “…Quietly Training Jihadis” was brilliant. When religious fanaticism happens in your own backyard, it’s harder to recognize, especially for those of us raised Christian in a mostly Christian country. Nice job holding up that mirror!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rick Drake says:

    How sad this keeps going on. I do like the photo of the bullet. They should all go down together.


  8. Lorie Lucky says:

    Valerie, I really liked this article, and the fact that you are pulling this Christian fundamentalism stuff mixing in the military.

    I tried to comment, but I’ve forgotten my password, I for the few minutes I had here at work I couldn’t get your website to do a reset here. Do you or a webmaster have explicit instructions for resetting recognition of me at Away Point?

    But yes, yes, yes, well done – and more people need to know about this. There were a couple of national newspaper articles during the Iraq War about Christian meetings and evangelism within the military among the troops stationed in Iraq. What do abroad just *cannot​*

    On Mon, Oct 27, 2014 at 10:05 PM, Away Point – Between an Island of


  9. nenamatahari says:

    Wheaton College is bad news!


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