Iraq, Islam, and Understanding

June 11, 2007 at 6:51 am Leave a comment

Some colleagues of mine were involved in a serious friendly debate on a recent resolution passed in our conference that opposed torture. Some delegates suggested that the wording of the resolution revealed a belief that the United States participates in these activities, while others were heard saying, “Ummm….yeah?”

In the weeks after Annual Conference, this debate has continued. One person made the suggestion that the evidence seems pretty clear connecting the US with torture. To this, another replied, “Well then, how are you going to stop the terrorists?” Leaving the pragmatic nature of that argument aside for a moment, the first person then gave a list of ideas for “stopping the terrorists” that did not involve torture.

One of the suggestions that I find particularly compelling, and one that I’ve harped on for some time, is the idea that our government officials should have a good understanding of the culture in the Islamic countries we’re dealing with. It seems this isn’t the case currently. In a NY Times article from December ’06 Silvestre Reyes, a US Representative from Texas,

“failed to answer both questions correctly last week when put to the test by Congressional Quarterly. He mislabeled Al Qaeda as predominantly Shiite, and on Hezbollah, which is mostly Shiite, he drew a blank. ‘Speaking only for myself,’ he told reporters, ‘it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.'”

At the very least, can’t we expect our congressional representatives to know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite Muslim? Wouldn’t this be like invading Ireland without knowing the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant?

As much as I support our system of democracy, no one can argue that it doesn’t have a very specific history in our country that is tied to the development of our nation. When we decide it is the best system ever and try to export it wholesale, we seem to be making the modernist mistake of thinking we can boil everything down to a one-size-fits-all project. This ignores the fact that we’ve worked with this and on this system over a period of several hundred years. It wasn’t imposed on us top-down all of a sudden.

We have to ask tough questions. Will Democracy work in a country that operates from a mindset that rejects capitalism and individualism? Is this just another form of colonialism? When we install our method of government while ignoring the context and culture, could we be making a similar mistake to the early missionaries who tried to impose their culture before they offered their faith? These are the questions we need to be asking!

Anyway, I’ll end that little rant. If you want to know more about the Sunni/Shiite distinction, read the article I linked to above. Maybe your knowledge won’t end the war, but perhaps it will lead you to vote for people who are culturally sensitive enough to learn a little more about one of the most conflicted regions on earth before making decisions about its future.

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Bush Library @ SMU Will We Know Our Loved Ones in Heaven?

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