From: The Australian January 23, 2010 12:00AM
DEFENCE Minister John Faulkner has told the defence forces to find a way to remove biblical messages etched into gunsights that are prized by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
The use by US, British, Australian and New Zealand troops of sights bearing references to scriptural passages has raised alarm among military and political leaders that it could reinforce the view that the West is waging a crusade against Islam.
Senator Faulkner examined some of the US-manufactured sights during a tour of defence facilities in Victoria yesterday and asked Defence officials to suggest options to get rid of the controversial inscriptions.
"It's a sensitive matter and we'll have to deal with them," Senator Faulkner's spokesman said later.
A Defence spokesman said the sights were critically important and the ADF was looking for ways to deal with the situation without compromising soldiers' safety.
Trijicon, the Michigan-based family company that manufactures the so-called "Jesus sights", triggered an international uproar when US soldiers in Afghanistan discovered that letters and figures they thought were simply stock or model numbers actually referred to passages from the Bible.
One example was JN8:12, which turned out to be a reference to chapter eight, verse 12 in the Book of John: "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said `I am the light of the world'."
Former SAS commander Jim Wallace, who now runs the Australian Christian Lobby, said the biblical messages on gunsights were inappropriate and he could not understand why the company put them there.
Mr Wallace said the inscriptions could be provocative to Muslims, particularly if they thought they were part of official policy.
Trijicon issued a statement this week saying it had stopped putting the inscriptions on its sights. The company said it would also give the Pentagon, free of charge, 100 kits that could be sent overseas so troops could use them to remove the references from sights that they were already using.
The ADF has several hundred of the sights, which are prized by elite troops for their accuracy over long range.
It is understood one possibility being considered by the ADF is for it to obtain from Trijicon similar kits to be sent to Australian bases in Afghanistan.
Trijicon said it had for two generations been providing the US's military men and women with high-quality and innovative sighting systems.
"Our effort is simple and straightforward: to help our servicemen and women win the war on terror and come home safe to their families," the company said.
"As part of our faith and our belief in service to our country, Trijicon has put scripture references on our products for more than two decades.
"As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of-the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation."
The ADF confirmed on Thursday that it had been unaware of the meaning of the inscriptions.