"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

Violence Leaves Young Iraqis Doubting Clerics

From The New York Times.

After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.

This disillusionment with extremism is part of the "intellectual turbulence" discussed several times in this blog and continues to present itself in Islamic culture. This New York Times Article reflects first hand accounts of disillusionment with extremist Islam regardless of faith, whether Sunni or Shiite. This disillusionment was discussed in an earlier blog entitled, "Old Jihad, New Jihad". While the Al-Ahram Weekly article misses the true nature of the reformation which is occuring in Islam, it is an insightful article to discuss the intellectual turbulence which is happening in the Muslim world.

The old Jihad is external jihad against the infidel. It is the jihad that led to the World Trade Center attacks. It is the jihad which saw the rise to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is the jihad which saw the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The new jihad is an internal struggle. It is truly the "old" jihad discussed in the Koran but has been co-opted by radical Islamists as an external struggle.

The New York Times article provides a chronological account of changes among the faithful in Iraq. When freed from Saddam's tyranny, Shiites became extremely religious. The article notes in 2003, one could not find room to pray in a mosque. In 2004, many younger people took up Jihad, both Shiites and Sunnis. This jihad caused actions like the following.

Zane Mohammed, a gangly 19-year-old with an earnest face, watched with curiosity as the first Islamists in his Baghdad neighborhood came to barbershops, tea parlors and carpentry stores before taking over the mosques. They were neither uneducated nor poor, he said, though they focused on those who were.

Then, one morning while waiting for a bus to school, he watched a man walk up to a neighbor, a college professor whose sect Mr. Mohammed did not know, shoot the neighbor at point blank range three times, and walk back to his car as calmly “as if he was leaving a grocery store.”

Indiscriminant killings of innocent Muslims became the norm in 2004 and 2005. By 2006, many groups, most notably the Sunnis in Al Anbar begin to question this religious extremism. In response, Al Qaeda attacked and killed tribal leaders and their followers. Tribes turned to Marines for help and thus began the Awakening movement. The surge of 2007 provided the military resources to fight against extremists, not only Sunni, but also Shiite. The surge happened to occur during a time when Iraqis were beginning to questioning the more extreme members in their sects.

2008 is a year in which violence has subsided and people are looking back and wondering how all this death and destruction occurred over the last five years in Iraq. It was not at the hands of the Americans. It was, in fact, at the hands of the extremists, both Sunni and Shiite. What allows it to persist and gain followers is the unemployed and uneducated, as noted in the above quote from Zane Mohammed.

However, America has brought to Iraq democracy and freedom. With democracy, people have the right to choose. With democracy, economic strength of individuals grow and flourish. With freedom, people have the right pursue happiness. The war in Iraq for the last four years has been like a college education for most Iraqis. The Iraqi choice is a more secular, religiously tolerant society, not unlike the religious undertones present in American society today.

What we are seeing now is a backlash against Islamists noted by the quote below.

“I used to love Osama bin Laden,” proclaimed a 24-year-old Iraqi college student. She was referring to how she felt before the war took hold in her native Baghdad. The Sept. 11, 2001, strike at American supremacy was satisfying, and the deaths abstract.

Now, the student recites the familiar complaints: Her college has segregated the security checks; guards told her to stop wearing a revealing skirt; she covers her head for safety.

“Now I hate Islam,” she said, sitting in her family’s unadorned living room in central Baghdad. “Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army are spreading hatred. People are being killed for nothing.”

It is not that this person hates Islam as she states. Instead, she hates what Islam has become. She hates the external jihad controlled by Islamists. She, and many other Iraqis, have began their internal jihad, questioning indiscriminant killings of not only fellow Iraqis, but also of American forces which brought her democracy and freedom. Iraqis are also questioning religious leaders. Why cannot she wear a skirt? Why cannot women go to beauty parlors which have gone underground in Iraq, but continue to flourish. Why indeed?

I have expressed several times in this blog that Iraq is the beacon of democracy continuing to shine brighter each day in the Middle East. It is becoming economically strong and will become the economic powerhouse in the Middle East due to the democracy that America established and the Iraqis have fought so hard to make work. It will change Islam since it has all faiths in it, Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, Turkman, Christian, and Jew. Due to the freedom which America gave it, it is beginning to change Islam back to the Islam of old, the internal jihad, or struggle, in which individuals look for spiritual enlightenment not by going to a mosque, wearing vails, or killing innocent people, but by trying to become a better person internally.

This same intellectual turbulence is expressing itself in Pakistan which is why tribal leaders are turning against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This same intellectual turbulence is expressing itself in Lebanon which is why Hezbollah does not have the popularity to lead a revolt against the March 14 led government. This intellectual turbulence will shortly express itself in Iran in upcoming elections.

What is interesting is had not President Bush invaded Iraq and then had the fortitude to surge forces in 2007, this intellectual turbulence would have been suppressed and quite possibly stamped out. However, not only has the surge defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq, but it also weaken Shiite militias like Sadr's Mahdi Army. It prevented Hezbollah from siezing control in Lebanon. It allowed for the first democractically elected government to come to power in free and fair elections in Pakistan. It indirectly caused the splitting of Palestinian factions. It allowed for the propagation of intellectual turbulence. It will result in the reformation of Islam not unlike the reformation which occurred in Christianity hundreds of years ago. It will allow Islam to come into and be part of the 21st century and contribute to the global economy.

The Bush Doctrine was a bold experiment. It has had many trials and tribulations. It has however succeeded in establishing an Islamic democracy in the center of the Middle East which will continue to shine brighter and brighter each day. It will drastically change the Middle East in the years to come.

Democracy is not something which can be given to a people. It must be earned. It must be fought for and in the fight for democracy, people engage in war and unfortunately die. But in the end, those who successfuly fight for democracy are blessed by those inalienable rights so eloquently written by Thomas Jefferson: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness causes intellectual turbulence in strict societies which is precisely what is now occurring in Islam and what occurred in Christianity several hundred years ago.

One final note. The reason I tie the Protestant Reformation of 1517, the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, and Operation Enduring/Iraqi Freedom of 2001 together is because they so vastly changed (and will change) the world.

Adam and Eve not only gave us original sin, but they also gave us choice, choice to do right and wrong. Jesus Christ gave us forgiveness of our sins and asked us only to do unto others as we would have them do to us. The Protestant Reformation of 1517 began by Luther expressed that sinners must have a genuine change of heart to be forgiven by Christ and allowed into heaven. The Declaration of Independence 0f 1776 more specifically laid out that we were endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To ensure these rights, government are instituted among people and derive their power from the consent of the governed. If a government becomes destructive to these ends, we have a right to alter it and abolish it. This abolition of extremism is precisely what President Bush gave to Aghanis and Iraqis. This abolition of extremism is creating intellectual turbulence in the Muslim world today. In the future, Iraq will return the favor as it frees countless others living in tyranny in the Middle East.

The process of enlightenment that began several millennia ago with Adam and Eve, possibly in the very country of Iraq, has now come full circle. It is noteworthy to remember Adam and Eve did not eat from the Tree of Life, but instead ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Knowledge gave humankind liberty, the ability to chose right and wrong. Democracy gave humankind the ability to pursue happiness. Both together will give us ability to enjoy everlasting life. One can only imagine God's joy in what his children have learned.

While I like many others would rather see life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness occur without death and violence, it must be remembered that freedom isn't free. It is born out of the sweat, blood, and death of the brave.

For President Bush, I salute you for the bold undertaking to instill democracy in the Muslim world. More importantly, I salute you for having the fortitude to surge forces when many were crying for withdraw. For all who have made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, you enjoy everlasting life because you gave liberty and allowed others to pursue happiness. You had a genuine change of heart, a compassion for others, as described by Martin Luther. You chose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, a choice given to us by Adam and Eve, in their orignal home.

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