"Rock The Casbah" is probably the most misunderstood political song of modern times, but like this post it has nothing to do with rock and roll and everything to do with politics and religion…
I don’t often write about Islam directly. The last time I wrote about my views on Islam was over a half a year ago. But I read a post yesterday via Crooks and Liars that I feel I need to address. The post, entitled "Western Muslim Opinion On The War In Iraq", either inadvertently or deliberately puts up the mother of all straw men. The straw man and its attempt to knock it down is in large part the reason we are still in Iraq. We are in Iraq still because for too long the American public has been fed a steady diet of misinformation about the nature of the conflict there – and this post propagates the misinformation.
I am a Muslim, I live in the West, and I have an opinion on the war in Iraq. Given that the title of the post addresses me directly, I feel that I am well positioned to answer it. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I am a Sunni Muslim.
I have to say, I am severely hurt by what Islam has become in Iraq. In fact, to say that this blatant murdering of civilians by the militants contains any remnants of Islam, is difficult if not impossible. The Islam of the Sunni militants is a theology of anarchy which has no respect for the rules of war, or the values of Islam. The Shi’a themselves are no less. Islam does not stand for total war, but the Sunni and Shi’a militants violate that prescription almost regularly (to the tune of thousands of murders of average Iraqi civilians). We Western Muslims can oppose the American occupation, but we also have to oppose the way the insurgents are brutalizing and defilling life and human dignity.
The Sunni militants’ version of "insurgency" and "freedomfighting" is non-sensicial; they want not to fight the "occupier" but to kill the occupied. It is the most heinous and disgusting form of "resistance" I have ever seen in my life, or read about. Their strategy is: if we murder enough Iraqi elders, women and children, then the Americans will leave. I beseech Western Muslims to take heed of this. I know you are anti-war, and I know you wish that Americans left Iraq, and I know you think Bush is a liar. I think all these things. But please, for God’s sake, can you at least recognize, that the strategy of "resistance" being employed by the militants is barbaric. I challenge any person to find me any instance in the history of Islam where murdering civilians as a way to resist an opponent was considered legitimate under Islam. There is no such event.
The "Islamic" thing for the insurgents would be to attack only military targets. If they cannot attack the military targets, then they have lost. These are the rules of Islamic Law. The Shariah doesn’t say that "well, if you can’t attack the military, go ahead and slaughter any one who comes across your way." That’s not Islam. Please recognize that. That’s nihilism. It has no honor. It is not Islamic.
My point is pretty simple: a Muslim that opposes the War in Iraq must also oppose the methods of the insurgents and speak out against them. I don’t care if you think that criticizing the insurgents bolsters the American occupation. If your condemnation of murder is based on political strategy, then I have to say, you need to check your Islam.
The post buys into the meme that Muslims are complicit in the "War on Terror" if somehow they don’t denounce as un-Islamic actions by those designated as "them" in George W Bush’s "War on Terror" in Iraq. It feeds the notion that the Iraq conflict is a part of the "War on Terror" and the "them" is Islam or a "hijacked" version of Islam.
I do not consider it a duty of Muslims to oppose the violence in Iraq as "un-Islamic". The post lays it out: "a Muslim that opposes the War in Iraq must also oppose the methods of the insurgents and speak out against them." Why? Specifically, why Muslims? Who says that Muslims, just like everyone of good conscience, are not horrified by the violence and killings in Iraq? Who says that Muslims are not opposed to this chaos? I feel no inclination to draw a line here between me, a supposed "good" Muslim, and "them", who are the "bad" Muslims in Iraq. Killers and murderers are just that, as they have been throughout history, and I feel no inclination to give them the mantle of Islam, however "bad" their use of it may be. The War in Iraq was not, and is not, a "Clash of Civilizations", and I feel no desire to label it as such. I feel no desire to conflate Iraqis with al Qaeda as "them" as George W Bush’s "we must fight them there so we won’t have to fight them here" slogan implies. Suggesting this conflict has something to do with "what Islam has become in Iraq", as the writer asserts, is a gross misreading of the conflict in Iraq and is the kind of thinking that fuels the remaining support for George W Bush’s ill-advised policy in Iraq.
Iraq has been, since at least March of this year, in a state of civil war. It is a civil war not over religion, but over tribal and sectarian lines. The Shia-Sunni split in today’s civil war is a convenient shorthand but it is not quite accurate. The writer of the post states:
The Sunni militants’ version of "insurgency" and "freedomfighting" is non-sensicial; they want not to fight the "occupier" but to kill the occupied. It is the most heinous and disgusting form of "resistance" I have ever seen in my life, or read about. Their strategy is: if we murder enough Iraqi elders, women and children, then the Americans will leave.
The killing in Iraq right now has very little to do with "resistance" to the occupier. The killing of Shia by Sunnis is not meant to drive the Americans out of Iraq. The American presence in Iraq currently is almost irrelevant. The American invasion and occupation was the catalyst for the civil war, and to that end, it has succeeded spectacularly in destroying civil society in Iraq.
There are a number of conflicts going on in Iraq. There is first the sectarian civil war between the Shia and Sunni Arab communities. There is the struggle for Kirkuk taking place between the Iraqi Arabs and the Kurds (this in many ways is the most intractable of the conflicts facing Iraq). There is a fight emerging between the multiple factions within the Shia community – this is the bloody struggle between the Sadrists and the SCIRI. The government of al Maliki will be a casualty of the battle within the Shia community. There is an Iraqi nationalist insurgency going on against the Americans. And lastly, there is a battle between foreign Islamists and the American forces in Iraq. So, when Iraqis butcher Iraqi, they are settling their own scores – they are not killing Iraqis to expel the Americans. Only people like Dick Cheney in their narcissistic existence believe that Iraqis kill each other because they don’t like him or his boss.
The current Shia-Sunni violence in Iraq is driven by tribal loyalties. It is a political fight and not a religious one. When civil society broke down in Iraq during the American occupation, the country began to disintegrate along tribal and sectarian lines. The so-called debaathification of Iraq essentially decapitated Iraqi civil society – what was left was chaos.
The Shia-Sunni split in Iraq has in many ways come full circle. The Shia-Sunni split in Islam originated in Iraq. The split started as a political and tribal dispute, not a religious one. The dispute is over who should have succeeded Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, as the first caliph (ruler) of the Muslim community. After Muhammad’s death, his father-in-law, Abu Bakr, was elected the first caliph. However, some in the Muslim community felt that Muhammad’s son-in-law (husband to his daughter Fatima), Ali, should have been the first caliph. These followers of Ali, or Shiat Ali (Shia, for short), are the modern day Shia. The Shia believe that the caliphate should pass down the descendants of Muhammad, not through elected position. It is worth noting, at the risk of blasphemy, that Ali is not a direct descendant of Muhammad.
The dispute, between Shia and Sunni, then is all about who should wield political power. It is a tribal dispute between the tribe of Abu Bakr and the tribe of Ali. Its western analogue is the difference between electing your leader and believing that your leader has been divinely ordained, as in western monarchies.
To round out our foray into Islamic history, I should note that the last descendent of Ali was Muhammad al-Mahdi. He is considered the last of the twelve Imams by the Shia. At the age of four, after inheriting the title of Imam, al-Mahdi disappeared. The Shia believe that al-Mahdi did not die, but was "hidden". When al-Mahdi failed to reappear after a few centuries, the Shia chose to elect a supreme Imam from a council of twelve scholars as their spiritual leader. The Shia believe that the twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, will return some time in the future.
So, in modern day Iraq, the fight between the Shia and the Sunni once again is over political power. To put it crudely, the dispute is over which tribe should rule Iraq after Saddam Hussein. The unresolved tribal dispute that has its origins in Islamic history, continues to rage in Iraq now that civil society has collapsed. In this fight, George W Bush’s "War on Terror" is irrelevant.
[Cross posted on Taylor Marsh]