April 19, 2007

"In the name of God..."

bism allah al-rahman al-rahim (in the name of God the merciful, the compassionate

"In the name of God..." It is a phrase that is uttered millions of times every day throughout the Muslim world. It adorns every piece of official stationery of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and of religious institutions throughout Islam, and is the opening statement of most politicians across the Arab world. Of course, to Americans who cherish the ideal of the separation of church and state, it is not only anathema to our thought process, it is a foreign concept that we cannot grasp.

I happened to be watching Fox News Channel - yes, although I am a military analyst for NBC News, I do watch Fox, CNN, PBS, C-SPAN, etc. - and saw a segment by Bill O'Reilly about the situation in Iraq. During the segment, he interviewed a friend and colleague of mine, Lt Col Bill Cowan, USMC (Ret). Bill has extensive experience fighting Muslim extremists and still consults with various military organizations.

O'Reilly asked Colonel Cowan about an incident in Iraq in which a group of Iraqi policemen were seized by a group called jaysh ansar al-sunnah, loosely translated as "army of the Sunni followers." The police officers were all killed - shot execution style or beheaded - by the insurgents. O'Reilly was concerned about the political aspects of such acts.

Although I have been reticent about attributing much of the violence in the world to religion, in Iraq that is exactly the case. In Iraq today, the government is dominated by members of the Shi'a sect. We'll exempt the Kurds (Sunnis) from this discussion as they are not really involved in the sectarian violence. The violence in Iraq involves the Sunni insurgents and al-Qa'idah in Iraq on one side, against government forces and the Shi'a militias (at times the same thing) on the other.

Both sides of this conflict use the phrase bism allah... (in the name of God...) liberally. They all believe God is on their side. When someone truly believes that, there is no dealing with them. They will gladly fight and die for their cause. Appealing to them on the political level will not work. Opponents like al-Qa'idah in Iraq, the Ansar al-Sunnah, the Islamic State of Iraq, etc., are true believers. They do not understand surrender or political compromise, they only understand victory or defeat.

Both sides have demonstrated the willingness to attack mosques, markets and schools to kill members of the other sect. As long as the fighting is based on religion, there will be no solution.