Faster, Please!

Who Knew About this Religious Conference in Iraq?

It happened many weeks ago, but today is the first I’d heard of it. Striking, isn’t it, that I found it on a military blog? Blackfive is indispensable. The post from which the news comes addresses the immediate pounce from Iglesias, proclaiming the surge a failure because al Qaeda leaders ran from Baqubah. That conclusion also appears in the Washington Post and the New York Times. Blackfive insists, I think correctly, that leaders running away from a showdown with the infidel enemy is not winning strategy on their part; quite the contrary, in fact. Nothing is so dispiriting to an army as the sight of their “commanders” hightailing it out of town, shouting over their shoulders, “victory is certain, go get ’em, mohammed!”

But the big news, perhaps even revolutionary news, in that post is this:

As soon as DefendAmerica.mil has the transcript up, I’ll have a conversation to post with MNF-I’s command chaplain, on the recent religious congress in Iraq, which united to condemn al Qaeda and extremist violence. It happened to finish up on the morning of the latest Samarra bombing.

The clerics were together to call Iraqi media, and get out in front in calling for their followers to avoid violence and revenge. Hear about that on the news? Well, you’ll hear it here.

Who put that conference together? The United States of America’s Department of Defense. Who asked for it? The Iraqi clerics themselves — they sought out our chaplains, respecting them as fellow holy men. DOD hasn’t learned anything about dealing with the local culture? They’ve learned enough to engage them, and put up the cash for a congress of this sort, complete with the security needed to get the leading religious figures together in Iraq

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This “religious congress” deserves our attention. Bigtime. From the very beginning of this war, smart people have insisted that there were many Iraqi clerics who hated the islamists, in no small part because the Iraqi version of Shi’ism–which is the traditional version, as opposed to the heretical vision imposed on Iran by Khomeini and his successors–rejected the notion that religious men should govern political society. It was deplorable that our political leaders in Iraq did so little to work with such imams, whether to discuss the best actions or to protect them from the jihadis. And it is one of the many fascinating ironies of this war that, in this crucial phase, Iraqi clerics came to our religious men in uniform to hold a powwow, to denounce al Qaeda (which is now a brand name for the terrorists, rather than a specific group of killers). And they did it in the name of their faith.

For those who like to look at these events in a broader context, please notice that the traditional Shi’ite doctrine has some similarities with our insistence on separation of church and state, and that the war against the terror masters in Iran has some similarities with the Western wars against European religious absolutism. One of the great blessings of America is that most of the colonists, and most all of the founders, insisted that religion had to be a free choice. Indeed, Tocqueville rightly said that separation of church and state made American religion the most genuine and most successful of any religion in the West, and he called on his European confreres to take it to heart.

There are Muslims who share that conviction, including at least some with famous names. A couple of years ago, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini came to Washington and openly stated that Shi’ism required freedom of religion, as well as freedom of non-religion, precisely because a truly religious person had to freely choose to be religious, and it was entirely understandable that a person might freely choose to be non-religious, even anti-religious.

The “religious congress” in Iraq strikes me as enormously important. I can’t wait to read the transcript, I urge everyone to watch for it and ponder its significance. I hope that the hunting pack that is so eager to declare the war lost and the surge failed will do likewise.