Thursday, April 19, 2007

Islam & Christianity

7 Mar 07
One rocket today…not certain where.

I played volleyball with the Iraqis today. Much like soccer, they use some of the same terminology (“out,” “in,” “spike it,” etc.). It was fun but everyone wanted to teach me the numbers in Arabic. I had 4 instructors on the court each of them making sure I had the correct pronunciation. It was difficult to keep track of and I only remember one word.

Afterwards, I joined them in the restaurant for dinner and had a fascinating discussion with Maj Habeeb and Maj Ali H. As is customary, they asked about my family and kids. I told them about Mary Elizabeth, William and Matthew and then explained that Mary and Matthew are both from the Bible. I was surprised when both of them said, “yes, we know these names.” Ali Hassem explained that “Mariam” (as Mary is known in Islam) is the mother of Izu (Jesus).

In the Koran Mohammed proclaims that Jesus is the Soul from Allah and he must be embraced by Muslims. Not enough people know that Abraham is the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Ali H. said many people believe Islam and Christianity are like two fists opposed to one another but educated people understand that Islam and Christianity are like hands with the fingers laced together. To educated Muslims, Islam and Christianity are intertwined and inseparable.

He also noted that many Muslims name their kids Biblical names like “Mosu,” “Sarah,” Yakub,” “Ytzak,” “Ishmael,” “Yusef,” “Jibriel,” Mariam,” and “Jezu” (or "Aysa"). They also said there are many Christians in Iraq and that they make great neighbors. We addressed Judaism briefly and the fact that Abraham is also the father of Judaism and that the Old Testament is essentially the Torah. They agreed but they are also aware that the Jews betrayed Jesus and that the Jews also betrayed Mohammed at the battle of Mecca or Medina(?) which in their eyes brings Christians and Muslims even closer together. Furthermore, they said in the Koran Mohammed said that there is only a thin line separating Islam and Christianity and if I understood Ali H. correctly, the two religions are two halves of the line.

As has been pointed out in several news magazines I believe the problem is in the madrasas or religious schools in extremely poor countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan where none of the lower classes can read. The students memorize the Koran in Arabic but no one understands it because they don’t speak Arabic. That leaves the door open for the imams to spread any sort of hate he wants in the name of Allah and the imams grew up in the same madrasa. The cycle becomes a self fulfilling hatred.

We also talked about the current situation in Iraq. Ali H. said many Arabic nations such as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are holding up Iraq as an example of democracy. They ask their people if they want democracy or do they want safety? If they want the sort of mayhem that exists in Iraq, they can have democracy. They don’t understand how we came here so prepared prosecute a war but completely unprepared to help rebuild the country afterwards. The impression I got is that they believe it was personal and racially motivated.

Ali H. is a Sunni Muslim and Habeeb is Shiite. They agreed that amongst the educated classes, religion is not a problem in Iraq. That contradicts what I understood about President Talibani so I have some more research to do before I understand the true nature of the relationship.

I finished the evening in a lengthy discussion with Dhiaa and Ali. They like to practice their English and ask why I don’t correct them when they say something improperly—they won’t get better if I don’t correct them. Anyway, the discussion of “the surge” came up and I asked what they thought was best for Iraq: should the U.S. stay or should we leave? They both agreed that they don’t want us to stay for long but that they need us right now to protect them from foreign evildoers who will ransack the country and kill the innocent if we leave. They also agree that these foreigners know about the surge and so they will lie low for 6 months. Ali believes they need more firepower in their army to adequately conduct ground operations and in their air force to provide close air support and ground attack. Currently they fly the Jordanian made CH2000 and Seeker Ali Hassem both of which are exceptionally light, 4-cylinder propeller driven aircraft made for flight training and screening.

Both Ali and Dhiaa echoed Habeeb and Ali H.’s comments that the U.S. failed in 2003 to prepare for rebuilding Iraq. They said the Iraqi people hated Saddam and hailed U.S. forces as they entered Baghdad and did so for months afterwards. During the invasion 90% of the army went home to allow our forces to take over the country. The only opposition was the Fedayeen which they discounted as Saddam’s uneducated goons and said the word translated loosely as a patriot ready to kill himself for Saddam/Iraq. The majority of the population believed the U.S. would take Iraq’s oil profits and employ the Iraqi people to help rebuild the nation, the infrastructure and that we would create a much better Iraq. After a year, most of them still didn’t have jobs so they became frustrated with the U.S. The soldiers who went home a year earlier had spent all their savings and had no work. They believed profits from oil were siphoned off and so they began to take up arms against us. Dhiaa himself was interviewed for the Washington Post in 2003. They asked him how long would the U.S. forces be here? What was the outlook for Iraq? Etc. He said he believed they would need to be here just one year to 18 months and that Iraq was going to be a wonderful new country.

Near the end of our conversation Dhiaa became disappointed. He said he had so many things to describe for me in his mind but that he didn’t have the words in English to describe the events. He told me if I could see what the average Iraqi went through during the war and since I “would cry to them.”

I was surprised when I mentioned CNN that Dhiaa and Ali did not understand so I tried the Arabic equivalent and mentioned Al Jazeera. Both rolled their eyes. They said this news channel is so bad in the Middle East. They said the channel tells half truths and lies in order to make the situation worse in Iraq and to inspire insurgents to come to Iraq. I assumed all Arabs liked Al Jazeera.

There isn’t an easy solution to this situation here in Iraq but I assure you, these guys love their country, they believe in Iraq, and by and large they can’t afford to leave it so they have to make it better. Until they are ready to stand on their own to feet, they need U.S. support.

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