The Bush Administration and U.S. military leaders are justified in their apprehension toward Ramadan in Iraq. Ramadan is not a time for coalition forces to show disrespect for the Islamic faith and culture. As we’ve observed this week, the escalation of violence against American troops in Iraq is growing.
Recent polls show Americans evenly divided in their belief that increased resistance to American forces is the work of Saddam Hussein. Americans polled do believe Iraqi resistance to the U.S. invasion is growing. Resistance reaches far beyond politics. Iraqis and most of the Islamic world believe they are battling a religious and cultural enemy, not a former dictator named Saddam Hussein.
Muslims remember an earlier war with Christians. Prior to the medieval Crusades, Muslim dominance spread throughout the Middle East and Europe. Beginning in the 7th century, Muslims battled Christian Crusaders, determined to recover sites in the Holy Land and halt Islamic expansion. Roman Catholic Pope Urban II, promised the remission of sins for all Christian soldiers fighting in the Crusades. He promised a martyr’s crown for those who fell in battle against the Islamic soldiers. Today, in the Middle East, many Muslims believe the battle has begun again, substantiated by President Bush invoking the name of God in his battle with Iraq.
Much of the Iraqi resistance today is not in support of Saddam Hussein. The resistance is opposition to an invading army, unfamiliar with the culture, customs and religion of Islam. For the majority of Muslims, resistance will continue until they are governed by an administration sensitive to their beliefs. Recent examples of cultural ignorance help explain the loss of support for American forces.
In the Muslim culture, animals are unclean. They are not allowed in a Muslim home. American soldiers use trained search dogs, often taking them into Muslim homes, over the objections of the occupants. While soldiers consider dog searches to be routine, Islamic law has been violated. This search procedure will not win the hearts of Iraqis, whether they support Saddam Hussein, or not.
Iraqi women have been handcuffed and subjected to body searches by American soldiers. Muslim modesty laws have been violated in the extreme. While security is the foremost concern of American troops, resistance to their methods will prevail.
A classic example of cultural ignorance occurred at the Iraqi Oil Ministry office. An American soldier detained several female office employees. One woman explained that she only had her Koran in her bag. Carrying the holy book is a common custom, since Muslims are required to pray five times a day. The soldier insisted on using the search dog to check the bag, violating the woman and her possessions with an unclean animal. Finding the Koran, the soldier threw it on the ground. When the woman attempted to retrieve her Koran, the soldier hit her on the back with a baton. The incident took place in full view of other Iraqi office workers.
Incidents such as the ones I’ve mentioned, during Ramadan, will cost a great number of American lives. Ramadan is a time when Muslims reflect on their lives and their religion, not unlike Christians during the season of Lent. As Muslims inside and outside of Iraq pray and fast, they are showing less patience with the cultural ignorance of coalition occupiers. As resistance and violence increase, the Bush Administration continue blaming Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, rather than their own disregard for Islamic culture.
Some American military leaders are starting to see the light. American soldiers are being advised to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in public, during Ramadan. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez says the Army is making sure all their forces are aware of the implications of Ramadan. U.S. troops are attending “cultural sensitivity” classes, learning about Islamic tradition. This is one move in the right direction.
Neither the American public, nor the Iraqi people will tolerate a permanent occupation of Iraq by coalition forces. Resistance will grow each day and there are not enough guns and soldiers to make Islam bow to the Christian culture. Pope Urban II didn’t attain that goal, nor will the Bush Administration. The solution to the crisis lies in Iraqi self-rule by a government sensitive to Islamic law. With each day of ongoing occupation and failure to implement a plan of self-rule, more coalition soldiers will become victims of resistance. The Iraqis do not want a puppet government. They must choose their own rule, whether that rule meets Western cultural standards, or not.
What are the chances of the Iraqi people accepting a Bush Administration version of government? I’d say about as good as the Pentecostal church inviting Satan to their Friday night potluck dinner. America is the Satan of Islamic moralists. Whether you believe it right or wrong, Islamic parents wouldn’t offer Brittney Spears or Madonna to their children, as role models. Moral standards, values and customs will not change in either culture. We must learn to tolerate and accept cultural and religious differences. Failing this, we provide even more ammunition to radical elements of Islam. The result will be a greater cost in lost American lives, financial burden and spreading terrorism.
The Bush Administration must let the United Nations participate in the process of free elections in Iraq. The Iraqi people want and need an Iraqi government. A joint effort by the U.S. and other U.N. nations will expedite the process and show Islamic countries that it isn’t about the oil or U.S. expansion. Certainly, Iraq will make mistakes and struggle along the way, just as we do, but they will be taking small steps toward their own destiny.
Stan G. Kain is a freelance writer, staff member of the Magic City Morning Star and syndicated columnist living in central Maine. Stan was a journalist in southern Africa for several years. If you have questions, comments or would like to see “The Other Side of the Story” in your local newspaper, please email Stan.