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Tilting at Windmills

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September 19, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

LION'S PAW....The Washington Post has an interesting story today about a "religious enlightenment" program the Army is running in one of its detention centers in Iraq. The idea, according to Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, is to recruit moderate imams to teach classes that promote a nonviolent interpretation of Islam:

The many religious leaders, all imams that we have working for us teach out of a moderate doctrine....once [the detainees] can actually read the words themselves and they believe the Koran they're reading — this is something that we changed, which is a bizarre thing but true — then they actually can begin a conversation between the two of them.

And since we've now run, you know, a few hundred through this program, we are over-the-top encouraged that two things are present. We are able to determine the guys that don't really give a shit about the Koran in the first place — they're using it as a discipline — those guys are beginning to fall into the category of irreconcilables, and that's helpful to me. I want to know who they are. They're like rotten eggs, you know, hiding in the Easter basket, so that's very helpful.

Then it's also equally helpful to have guys who come out and say, "I didn't know that. Now that I know that, I'm going to change my life." And we poly them. You'd be — interesting to know, because we were trying to figure out if they're messing with us. But we are convinced that they have made a significant change.

....Now, I'll tell you something that has never happened, in my recollection, in detention and happened on September the 2nd of this year. We had a compound of moderates, for the first time, overtake Takfirist extremists. It's never happened before. Found them, identified them, threw them up against the fence, and shaved the frickin' beards off of them. That — I mean, that is historic....And then the whole pledge and guarantor — I mean, we had a mother so overjoyed she fainted yesterday. You know, we've had detainees, you know, when we said to them, "Okay, which gate do you want to go out," just — you know, just over-ecstatic that they get to make a choice.

This sounds like a fairly standard counterinsurgency reeducation program, and it's probably useful if it doesn't jump the tracks. The problem, as with so many other things we're doing in Iraq, is with that "few hundred" number that Stone threw out. In a population of 25 million that's just not much. Stone claims he's "running a big factory here," but really, it's more like an artisan program and it doesn't sound like something that could be scaled up effectively. For more, the Post's summary story is here.

Kevin Drum 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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Comments

I know if someone threw me up against a fence and shaved me, I'd certainly warm to his ideology.

Posted by: craigie on September 19, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

This sounds like a fairly standard counterinsurgency reeducation program, and it's probably useful if it doesn't jump the tracks. The problem, as with so many other things we're doing in Iraq, is with that "few hundred" number that Stone threw out. —Kevin Drum

No. The problem is that we invaded the country.

If we'd quit fucking around with the ME in general, other than learning the languages and about cultures of the region for general edification, we wouldn't need this kind of thing save for a few specialists.

Given the gulf in world views, one that has existed for nearly a millennium now, it's not like we "occidentals" are ever going to become bestest buddies with these "orientals" anyway. Again, I ask you, how can you trust or take seriously a region of the world with no Red Lobsters?

Posted by: JeffII on September 19, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

At first reading the title I thought the army was trying to convert muslims to christianity. Imagine that!

Posted by: ack ack ack on September 19, 2007 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Craigie: The program isn't aimed at the takfirists. It's aimed against them. I don't think Stone cares much whether they ever warm to us.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on September 19, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin

I don't know any nice way to put this other than, "Are you out of your fucking mind?"

Were you high during Spanish history class or what? What idea of muslim culture do you think this fits into that will be helpful?

Seriously. This is totally FUBAR'd, and hardly standard "counterinsurgency" tactics.

Posted by: Casey on September 19, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

I know if someone threw me up against a fence and shaved me, I'd certainly warm to his ideology. Posted by: craigie

For me, that sort of treatment totally depends on the kind of fence and where they shave me.

Posted by: JeffII on September 19, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't have to be done for 25 million Iraqis. It just has to make a dent in the troublemakers and middle-tier leaders who often end up in the detention centers.

When someone leaves a program like this, you may not have put someone on your side, but at least he isn't on the side of the enemy any more.

This is exactly the sort of thing I've seen recommended by liberals in place of the hardline treatment of prisoners, but of course, once they're actually DOING it, then it's an "opposition" idea, and not so good after all.

Posted by: harry on September 19, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm, how long until this gets shut down in the middle of the night, quietly.
The powers that be do not want this, it would just screw everything up and disrupt their plans.

Posted by: marcus on September 19, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how the "graduates" of this program will be accepted by their home communities?

Posted by: JM on September 19, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we need to have these reeducation camps for Republicans as well. As soon as they realize that Fox News is run by a bunch of liars, who knows what will happen.

Posted by: DR on September 19, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Iraqis' resistance to the US occupation of their homeland is not informed by their religion.

I consider Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone a sulphurous container of Sadistic, pseudo-religious bile. Bring him home and see if he is keen for reeducation.

Posted by: Brojo on September 19, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Ack ack, that would be step #2 in the 3 step program:

#1 - change from fundamentalist Islam to moderate Islam.
#2 - change from moderate Islam to moderate Christianity.
#3 - change from moderate Christianity to fundamentalist Christianity.

(how do we know that mom fainted from 'joy'?)

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on September 19, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Are they hooking up a penile plethysmograph to round out the Clockwork Orange like reprogramming of these detainees, some of whom are barely teenagers?

Posted by: bmaz on September 19, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Oh man does that Easter basket metaphor stick out like a sore thumb.

Posted by: s9 on September 19, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, I wonder who called for a theological component to the struggle against Muslim terrorists?

Can't beat something with nothing, folks.

One great weakness that Muslim terrorism has, is precisely that it claims to be Muslim. Take that away, and it's got nothing.

Islam is a very popular religion in large chunks of the planet with a very low literacy rate, and the Texts (the Recitation and the Sayings) are not particularly intelligible to most folks, anyway.

So zillions of people are "Muslims" who believe in "Islam" simply because some set of local thugs TELL them that's what they are and most be.

But Islam doesn't have the heirarchy that most other faiths do, so it is particularly open to this sort of work.

How come nobody has caught on what a direct challenge this is to Saudi Arabia, which is the principal source of money for most of the world's instruction in Islam?

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 19, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Why is "brainwashing" the first word that popped into my mind?

Posted by: Swift Loris on September 19, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Someone just got crossed off of Ann "kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" Coulter's Christmas card list.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 19, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Saudi Arabia has a program like this in its jails and was reported to have made some considerable successes. Whether our version will.. who knows.

Posted by: bubba on September 19, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

How exactly is violent enforcement of another form of Islam an improvement?

I'd recommend forced attention of Christopher Hitchens lectures on atheism as an antidote, but I'm afraid he'd get thrown up against a fence.

Posted by: Dawn on September 19, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Saudi Arabia has a program like this in its jails and was reported to have made some considerable successes. Whether our version will.. who knows. Posted by: bubba

However, our aim is to moderate Islamic fervor, not increase it.

Posted by: JeffII on September 19, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't we just send Ann Coulter over there in a short skirt to convert them all to Christianity?

Posted by: Al on September 19, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

It just has to make a dent in the troublemakers and middle-tier leaders who often end up in the detention centers. Posted by: harry on September 19, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Who are the detainees according to General Stone?

From the Defense Blogger Q and A: e L.A. Times reports that a lot of boys, some as young as 11, now outnumber the foreign fighters that are at the detention camps in Iraq. And I believe you were quoted as saying, the number's risen from -- to 800 from 100 since March.

Who else? General Stone say they are mostly people who felt frightened or threated. Those are the people they are detaining for one, two, three, four years.

Here's a good idea of how to reduce the counterinsurgency. Get. Out. Now.

Posted by: casey on September 19, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

It just has to make a dent in the troublemakers and middle-tier leaders who often end up in the detention centers. Posted by: harry on September 19, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Who are the detainees according to General Stone?

From the Defense Blogger Q and A: e L.A. Times reports that a lot of boys, some as young as 11, now outnumber the foreign fighters that are at the detention camps in Iraq. And I believe you were quoted as saying, the number's risen from -- to 800 from 100 since March.

Who else? General Stone say they are mostly people who felt frightened or threated. Those are the people they are detaining for one, two, three, four years.

Here's a good idea of how to reduce the counterinsurgency. Get. Out. Now.

Posted by: casey on September 19, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Then it's also equally helpful to have guys who come out and say, 'I didn't know that. Now that I know that, I'm going to change my life.' And we poly them."

What does "poly them" mean?

Posted by: Raleigh on September 19, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

All they had to do was to send the instructors of the programs in this country that turn gays into straight, white, and christian males. That would have solved the counterinsurgency problem within days.

The DOD should pay me for such advice.

Posted by: gregor on September 19, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by: Raleigh on September 19, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Poly means that they hook them up to a polygraph machine to see if they've really changed or not. If you pass, you get to go home. If not, well...not so good for you.

Between Abu Ghraib and this, we're all Torquemada now.

Posted by: Casey on September 19, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Why is "brainwashing" the first word that popped into my mind? Posted by: Swift Loris

One man's brainwashing . . .

Could be worse. We could be setting up a madrass.

Posted by: JeffII on September 19, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

With Stone cheering on inmates who grabbin' other inmates, throwing them against the fence and shaving off their "friggin' beards," I think its safe to say that this isn't standard counterinsurgency reeducation but has, indeed, jumped the tracks.

You have to wonder how dumb Stone is to have made that comment. He really comes off as if he's living the sadist's dream.

Posted by: Macswain on September 19, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

What does "a nonviolent interpretation of Islam" mean? An Islam that says people / nations don't have the right to defend themselves?

Have we had any non-violent interpretations of Christianity other tha those of the Quakers / Amish variety?

Every single fucking day I'm amazed at the implicitly racist suggestion that brown people, when their countries are invaded, should just lie down and take it. If they resist, they're "extremists." I'd like to know what the fuck we'd expect ourselves to do if OUR country were invaded. We'd resist, right? We'd make sure collaborators paid the price, wouldn't we? So why should we expect the Iraqis to be any different???

Posted by: chuck on September 19, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry mate, I find this story to be, well, not terribly believable. Not that I should suggest the Americans are lying, they're merely deluding themselves.

(i) Give my experience to date with American lang. skills - including back when I dealt with those in Baghdad before it proved out impossible to invest there, I am without any doubt that they are relying on badly translated "just so stories" from interpreters and Imams - that is they have no idea what is actually going on.
(ii) I do not find in the least bit credible that persons who've opted for what we can call "neo-Salafisme (or you can call it Islamic Extremism, whatever) are going to be seduced by an American military (the Kufar, the infidels) run agitprop program by pet Imams. One of the bloody tenants of most modern neo-Salafi takfirist discourse is the corruption of the pet oulema, or pet Imams of the impious regimes.
(iii) The entire discussion by Stone struck me as convnincing himself. Bloody bollocks mate, bloody bollocks.

Now, if the same thing were run by the a native regime - i.e. not by foreigners, and above all not by non-Muslim foreigners, yes, it can have an impact. But run by American military, bloody hell, are you bloody daft in buying this self deception?

Posted by: The Lounsbury on September 19, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Islam is a very popular religion in large chunks of the planet with a very low literacy rate

Is that so?

Tajikistan 99.5%
Uzbekistan 99.3%
Bosnia-Herzegovina 94.6%
Palestine 91.9%
Jordan 89.9%
Qatar 89.2%
Turkey 88.3%
Indonesia 87.9% (highest pop. Is.)
Bahrain 87.7%
Lebanon 86.5%

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_literacy_rate

Maybe you're the one who's illiterate, dumb-ass.

Posted by: chuck on September 19, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Gee Kevin I'm suprised you'ed be in favor of what is clearly a communist inspired "re-education camp." You know, those places that poppped up in Vietnam after we abandoned them to their fate? Well I guess the government has decided such camps weren't a bad idea after all.

Of course I wondering if your support for "re-education camps" is predicating on doing something similar to, I don't know, Fox News watchers, Christian fundementalists, free market capitalists or anyone else you don't like as soon as Hilary Clinton gets into power.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on September 19, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Ah yes and worse this:
Poly means that they hook them up to a polygraph machine to see if they've really changed or not. If you pass, you get to go home. If not, well...not so good for you.

The US Security Establishment is so quaint in their unsupported belief that polygraphs do anything but test for stress.

I have a hard time crediting the Americans are engaging in anything but their usual pop-psych self-delusionalism here, above all with the bloody idiocy about the poly and shaving off beards.

Well, you can take comfort the French also genuinely believed in their mission civilisatrice however transparently it was utter bollocks.

Posted by: The Lounsbury on September 19, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm... tell us, Chuck, on YOUR planet, what percentage of folks in Indonesia read classical Arabic?

And what is the literacy rate in Afghanistan?

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 19, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

The people of Iraq are not fighting Americans because their minds have been seduced by a pernicious heretical religion. They will not be pacified, nor will they love Americans, by purging this doctrinal growth on the mind. This is a form of blindness that seems to affect certain Americans. They are fighting against an illegitimate foreign occupation of their country. Even if they say they are champions of some religious perspective it is still a form of anti-foreign nationalism.

There was a similar set of assumptions associated with communism. The Vietnamese were quite clear when they explain communism was a means to an end to encourage the people to fight in a nationalist cause.

There is something very evangelical about this view, something rather Calvinistic really. It is as if we are talking about the sin, doctrine and redemption. This conversion/corruption thing seemed to be the reasoning behind debaathification and the ideological fidelity to conservatism demanded by the Bush administration at the time of reconstruction.

Perhaps we can call the terroristic Salafi Jihadis perverted radical fundamentalists, but they are fighting against the great majority of Iraqiis. I have said before so much of this occupation, the bits that are not outright wicked, make me think of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad. I think these people can honestly break down a families doors rough-up the mother and father and turn and look into the eyes of the children and say "We are Americans, we are here to help!".

Posted by: bellumregio on September 19, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

This story would be good news if the multiple insurgencies and other attendant problems in Iraq were because of religion. But they’re not. They are political in nature. Like almost all conflict.

Yes, there are people fighting the US in Iraq because they are Islamic extremists. Though, I would bet even the most committed Iraqi jihadist is as much motivated by the fact Iraq is occupied by foreigners as whatever whacked-out interpretation of the Koran he happens to favour. To think Islamic bible-studies will do anything to alleviate this is pure folly.

For example, the Vietnamese weren’t fighting the US primary because they were communists – they were fighting because they were nationalists. They wanted a Vietnam free from foreign control – communism supplied the slogans and concepts that third world resistance movements used to articulate their various struggles. Communism was the language of resistance. The same role that Islam performs in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world today.

Look at the rise of Hamas in the Gaza strip. Even Saddam Hussein adopted Islamic tropes. As did Arafat. Thailand’s long-standing Muslim insurgency replaced its Marxist ideals for Islamic ones.

Don’t even get me started on the Shia versus Sunni civil war.

Who thinks educating Serbs into the finer points of Eastern Orthodoxy doctrine would have stopped them from ethnically cleansing Bosnian Muslims? The very idea is ridiculous. I feel sorry for the journalist who had to report that story.

Posted by: wsam on September 19, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I think this program has "taint" written all over it, and any imam who gets involved with it will have "American Taint" all over him, too.
Not that it's a bad idea, not at all, it's just we, the United States, have zero credibility with Islam and our imaginative docile version of it.

The reality of the situation for a permanent solution is that the change in Islam has to come from within, not from without, and until that change comes...well, not a whole lot is going to change.

Posted by: sheerahkahn on September 19, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Certainly, there's a captive audience for this kind of effort in detention centers, and if it works there, great so far as it goes.

OTOH, I can't help but wonder what happens when it gets out to the wider community that proselytization of a specific strand of Islam is being sponsored by the US Army as part of its counterinsurgency (or, viewed another way, "occupation") strategy — it seems to me that there is a risk that while it may promote this strand of ideology to the audience of hundreds or thousands among the detainees, it may at the same time discredit the same moderate strains of Islam by association with the unpopular occupation among the millions in the general population and further radicalize the population.


Posted by: cmdicely on September 19, 2007 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK
Now, I'll tell you something that has never happened, in my recollection, in detention and happened on September the 2nd of this year. We had a compound of moderates, for the first time, overtake Takfirist extremists. It's never happened before. Found them, identified them, threw them up against the fence, and shaved the frickin' beards off of them.

Incidentally, this must be some rather unique use of the word "moderates". People who are religious moderates who identify a group of people of a different strand of the same religion don't throw them up against a fence and forcibly shave them of hair (facial or otherwise) worn in part as a religious observance and symbols. That kind of behavior is pretty definitively "extremist".

So is the "success" looked for here just creating yet another violent extremist cleavage to provoke further sectarian strife in Iraq?

Posted by: cmdicely on September 19, 2007 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

As if radical Islam was actually the problem in Iraq.

Weren't the orginal insurgents Ba'athist dead-enders, e.i. members of a secular totalitarian, political party.

Posted by: wsam on September 19, 2007 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm... tell us, Chuck, on YOUR planet, what percentage of folks in Indonesia read classical Arabic?

You might be surprised, theAmericanist. I once trekked for a couple of hours down a narrow footpath to a remote village in Indonesia to check out the health care situation.

One school in the village. The only thing it taught was the Koran, in classical Arabic.

Posted by: JM on September 19, 2007 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK
Weren't the orginal insurgents Ba'athist dead-enders, e.i. members of a secular totalitarian, political party.

The Iraqi Ba'ath Party (at least Saddam's regime; I don't know if the two can be meaningfully differentiated) had taken up the outward trappings of Islamism from about the time of 1991 war; while this probably wasn't a particularly genuine ideology on the part of the leadership, no doubt at least some of the support of the Ba'ath Party in the general population by the time of the 2003 war was motivated by the kind of Islamism that the State had outwardly embraced. How much of that figured into the Sunni militant movements operating against the US, coalition, etc. forces after the fall of Saddam's regime I don't know, but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 19, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

That's amazing if this is working, but that general sounds like a bit of a jerk, like he's just barely holding it back.

Posted by: Swan on September 19, 2007 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

I think we should buy them all bowler hats, Giorgio Armani suits, an umbrella and provide them training in mutual fund sales (Series 63 licensure, perhaps). Then, we can send them out to sell annuities to all of the other Arabs and they won't be flying airplanes into our skyscrapers. WTF????

Has this country gone completely insane or is it just me?

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on September 19, 2007 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

You bought the ticket, take the ride, JM: "I once trekked for a couple of hours down a narrow footpath to a remote village in Indonesia..."

And was their spoken language Arabic?

Chuck ever so helpfully claims that the literacy rate in Indonesia is nearly 88%. (The literacy rate in much of the developing world is widely understood to be severely exaggerated, since the UNESCO standard is low, 'the ability to read and write simple sentences', and self-reported.)

But what this has to do with the capacity to read the Koran, which requires the ability to read classical Arabic, is worth exploring.

Indonesia is a bit less than half Javanese. The official language is a form of Malay.

So JM tells us he went to a remote village which had "only one school", that taught ONLY the Koran -- in Arabic, naturally.

So folks who almost certainly speak mostly Malay and Javanese, with access to "only one school", which teaches only one book IN A LANGUAGE THEY DO NOT SPEAK, is held up as an example of "literacy".

And just how exactly am I supposed to be surprised by your 'reasoning', JM -- much less Chuck?

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 19, 2007 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm... tell us, Chuck, on YOUR planet, what percentage of folks in Indonesia read classical Arabic?

On my planet - as another poster pointed out - a hell of a lot more Muslims read classical Arabic than Christian read ancient Greek / Aramaic.

Oh yeah - and on my planet a lot more Muslims know huge swaths of the Koran *by heart* than a (western, secularized) Christian could ever hope to know.

And what is the literacy rate in Afghanistan?

Pretty damned low. That's not unusual for countries that have been in a state of continuous war for over a quarter of a century. You know - school sort of takes a back seat to, oh, staying alive [wink / wink].

Posted by: chuck on September 19, 2007 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

LOL -- Chuck, when you've made a fool of yourself in public, have the grace to KNOW it, k?

I had noted that "Islam is a very popular religion in large chunks of the planet with a very low literacy rate." Chuck disagreed -- I think, cuz his responses have been too stooopid to be sure.

So I asked him what the literacy rate in Afghanistan is like. He answered "[p]retty damned low...not unusual for countries that have been in a state of continuous war for over a quarter of a century."

How about we skip over the part where I ask you about the literacy rate in Sudan, or Lebanon, or the West Bank...

What a maroon.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 19, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

The overall literacy rate in Afghanistan is about one-quarter - but the gender differences are striking - Female literacy is just above 10% and the male rate is around 40-45%.

That literacy rate is for the official language, Dari, or Afghan Persian. Very little Arabic is spoken outside the mosque or the madrassa.

I'm reciting this off the top of my head, but you can check me at the CIA World Factbook site. There is a link to it at my place.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 19, 2007 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

And just how exactly am I supposed to be surprised by your 'reasoning', JM...

I'm not suggesting you should be surprised or otherwise by my "reasoning," theAmericanist. Nor am I suggesting that that the young kids I witnessed learning the Koran in Arabic should be "held up" as examples of literacy in Indonesia.

The kids' home language was of course not Arabic - nor was it Bahasa Indonesia - rather, it was some local dialect. We needed translators to translate the dialect into BI, when was then translated by my colleagues into English.

What I'm telling you that is that in one tiny remote Indonesian village the only formalized schooling taking place in the village involved kids being taught to memorize the Koran - in Arabic.

There was Arabic script on the blackboard, the kids were repeating phrases in Arabic. Did they understand what they were saying? Could they read and understand the script on the blackboard? I'll get you directions to the village - you can ask them yourself.

It was an anecdote, dickhead.

Posted by: JM on September 19, 2007 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

More precisely, it was a stupid and misleading anecdote offered by somebody without the wit to understand the argument before speaking up, JM.

Rote instruction in matters of unquestionable doctrine expressed in a foreign language is NOT the way to develop civic skills in young people. Nor is it a way to develop 'faith' in any meaningful sense. Capisce?

Your anecdote -- about which you imagined I'd be surprised, which is what convinced me you're stooopid -- tends to SUPPORT my point. Yet you expressed it as a rebuttal, which would 'surprise' me. Sez who?

I had observed that "Islam tends to be popular in large chunks of the planet with a very low literacy rate."

It was YOUR story, JM. Obviously you don't understand it (often a sign of stoopidity), Perhaps you should ask yourself -- does the one school teaching one book that is NOT in the local language seem to SUPPORT the idea that this particular chunk of the planet had a high literacy rate?

Could they converse in Arabic? Read Arabic newspapers -- or any book in Arabic OTHER than the Koran? That is, did they have ANY way of knowing what the words meant, EXCEPT the instruction by ONE school, in a FOREIGN language?

You were THERE, dude, you brought it up: ONE school, ONE book, NOT in Malay or even Javanese, some other dialect, you said. Could they read in their OWN language, JM?

Are you saying that your anecdote PROVES their 'literacy'? (A clue: it does NOT, even by the UNESCO standard.) Hell, do you even know what literacy is?

Fair's fair, JM: Do I misunderstand your point -- as if you had one?

My point, stated twice here, is that it is a good thing, not a bad thing, for Muslims in places like that to have some OTHER means of understanding their faith than... rote instruction in a foreign language by some Saudi-sponsored shill.

Get it now, asshole?

Or are you gonna brag about how muddy your boots got on that path, and tell us some other irrelevancy that you can admire in a mirror while the rest of us notice what a fool you are?

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 19, 2007 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist,

Yes, you do misunderstand my point. Your statement that I responded to went like this:

Hmm... tell us, Chuck, on YOUR planet, what percentage of folks in Indonesia read classical Arabic?

As it seems that I've got to spell it out for you, my point was that there might indeed be quite a few people in Indonesia who, upon picking up a copy of the Koran, written in classical Arabic, could read the phrases contained therein.

Are they conversationally fluent in Arabic? Could they read an Arabic newspaper? Are Arabic newspapers written in classical Arabic? Who cares?

I'd be perfectly willing to discuss whether or not people who learn phrases by rote actually understand what they've memorized, but that's not what you're interested in; you mainly want to score points so that you feel tough.

Does that make you feel like a man?

Posted by: JM on September 19, 2007 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK
Oh yeah - and on my planet a lot more Muslims know huge swaths of the Koran *by heart* than a (western, secularized) Christian could ever hope to know.

That's true, but not so impressive, since the amount of the Koran that most Christians (western or not, secularized or not) could ever hope to know is "absolutely none".

Posted by: cmdicely on September 19, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

"This sounds like a fairly standard counterinsurgency reeducation program"

This sounds like establishment of religion by the military.

Posted by: Ross Best on September 19, 2007 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, so JM isn't ENTIRELY as dumb as he appears, he just can't articulate his meaning, yet expressed with such ignorant precision: "Who cares?"

I do.

And so do you, except you're so bound up with your own half-assed anecdote that you STILL don't understand its point.

I've written about this for years, going back to February 2002 when I did a piece for NRO (calling him the Muslim Martin Luther) about Tariq Ramadan, urging that we develop a theological component to the war against Muslim terrorism, the way we had an ideological motive for the Cold War, which after all is ultimately why we won: we were the good guys.

Catholics who knew all the responses to the old Latin mass weren't literate in Latin, JM. If you don't get the parallel, then you really ARE useless in this thread.

The development of some OTHER way to understand Christianity is key to the development of civics in the West, and that is precisely the point about Kevin's post. Even Catholics acknowledge that the Reformation was the best thing to happen to Rome since Constantine, on the somewhat rationalized ground that it caused the Counter-Reformation and renewal.

Take the frigging hint.

I doubt the guys jacking up the bearded ones and dryshaving 'em (an old Marines training exercise, btw) are much motivated by RELIGION, exactly.

I suspect it is much more a matter of the revelation that being an Iraqi Muslim does NOT require you to buy into the ultimately Saudi-funded crap that they are taught is the ONLY Islam ... which is more than likely what was being taught in your Indonesian madrassah, JM, since the Saudis have largely taken over the funding of Muslim education worldwide, starting when they took over Al Aqsa a generation ago.

A Muslim can't learn any OTHER approach to Islam unless they have access to one -- which is what the post was about, and why I spoke up in it. If there is only the ONE school which teaches ONE text in a FOREIGN language, they don't have access to any OTHER approach: capisce?

That's one reason Islam is so popular in big chunks of the planet with low levels of literacy.

But, JM, unless you learn how to think before you speak, to 'read, write, think and THEN speak', you're never gonna get it, dude.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 19, 2007 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

Disagree. BF Skinner scared me in college.
The issue is that with schools closed over the past years in Iraq due to the violence, kids are illiterate, likely suffering from post traumatic stress syndome, and are likely unemployable orphans. You'd better believe the hatred toward Americans is severe--all their dead relatives, destroyed neighborhoods, and most essentially--from a psychological perspective, deceased or renditioned/missing fathers.
The videos I saw on the news that reported this phenomenon showed very young men.

Posted by: consider wisely always on September 19, 2007 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

"unemployable orphans."

Yeah, the economies of Germany and Japan never recovered from the far worse wrecking America (and our allies) gave 'em in WW2. Shame.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 19, 2007 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

WW II was of a shorter duration than the occupation/insurgent violence in Iraq. The violence was mostly army on army. Civilians experienced bombings in bomb shelters. Japan and Germany did not suffer civil war. S. Korea, which did suffer a civil war after suffering five decades of Japanese occupation and the destruction of WW II, took much longer to recover economically and had a lot more political turmoil than Germany and Japan. N. Korea has yet to recover. The whole population of Iraq will suffer from a severe reaction to the daily violence they have and are experiencing. Many portions of the American South suffered for well over a century from both the emotional and economic scars of our Civil War. Many still do. What is going on in Iraq, and the problem is compounded greatly by American military mass technical violence, is much worse than what Americans of the South suffered. Expect Iraq to fester for the rest of your life.

Posted by: Brojo on September 19, 2007 at 10:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Many portions of the American South suffered for well over a century from both the emotional and economic scars of our Civil War. Many still do."

Bullshit.

The old Confederacy GAINED immeasurably from emancipation and liberation; it did not suffer in the slightest from the preservation of the Union, nor from its occupation by Federal troops.

What caused the South to suffer was Jim Crow -- the restoration of white supremacy and the deliberate, calculated preservation of a backward economy by a white supremacist elite with its boots on the poor, both black and white.

Economic growth in the Sun Belt is a direct result of the abolition of Jim Crow and the liberation of the South from the dead hand of slavery's legacy.

If you want to apply historical analogies to Iraq, it helps to know what they ARE, in the first place: massive violence does not necessarily cripple a society's economic future.

Nor does a civil war -- depending on how it ends and what follows.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 20, 2007 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

I'm very skeptical of this program. For one, so far we just seem to have anecdotal reports on its impact. And this one, from a guy whose reporting language includes describing people "not giving a shit about the Koran." For a guy pushing a program to moderate Islam, putting "shit" and "Koran" in the same sentence is not a good indicator of enlightened leadership. Neither is celebrating beard shaving. And in choosing gates to go out of, if one is getting poly-ed on ones moderation, what is the threat about the other? No gate? Death? Great choices. Even if the program is effective, what is the care for the survivors once they get out? Let's say they come out moderately praising Allah and Uncle Sam? Will they be capped 1 click down the road? Re-entry is a big ethical consideration that I bet has been left out of this. And then yeah, the numbers as Kevin points out are tiny. Even so, this program sounds coercive and run by bafoons, so it being tiny might be a good thing.

fucktards.

Posted by: Trypticon on September 20, 2007 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah - and on my planet a lot more Muslims know huge swaths of the Koran *by heart* than a (western, secularized) Christian could ever hope to know.

What I meant - clearly - was that Muslims tend to know the Koran much better than people who are counted as Christians in the West know the Bible. I don't think there's a lot of disputing that point. Religion plays a much, much smaller role in our lives than Islam does in many of these countries.

We're also getting far from the original argument which was - if I understand the implication correctly - that Islam is popular in countries in which the the literacy rate is "very low." This would suggest to me that it is unpopular in countries where the literacy rate is high, so I listed a number of countries with high literacy rates where the majority religion is Islam.

"Americanist" the coward then refused to admit he was wrong.

The whole argument about being able to read classical Arabic suggests the Koran has not been translated into hundreds of other languages, so that point is pretty moot, as well.

Posted by: chuck on September 20, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

"if I understand the implication correctly"

You don't. Either you're too stooopid, or you're illiterate. Which is it?

I wrote that Islam is popular in "large chunks of the planet" where literacy is low. (I didn't say 'countries'.) When somebody forced you to think, you conceded that reasonably large chunk of the planet called Afghanistan has a low literacy rate, which demonstrates that you didn't think at all before you replied.

I suspect you do that a lot.

That Islam would be popular in chunks of the planet with low literacy, sez Chuck, "would suggest... that it is unpopular in countries where the literacy rate is high..."

No, it doesn't. Where your first error suggests you can't read, this one demonstrates pretty strongly that you're stooopid.

I didn't say this, and would not, cuz it's wrong. (See, I'm not as stooopid as you are, Chuck.) You don't get to alter another person's opinion, much less his words, so it is easier to hide your stooopidity. There are illiterate people who are deeply religious; there are highly educated folks of faith, too: see how reasoning works? You use these things called FACTS.

"The whole argument about being able to read classical Arabic suggests the Koran has not been translated into hundreds of other languages, so that point is pretty moot..."

Only to folks as ignorant as you are, Chuck: the Koran CANNOT be translated. Not knowing this fact in a discussion about Islam marks you as a fool, dude.

The Koran is the literal Word of God -- the "Recitation" -- in a way that no other sacred text compares. The Bible, for example, is generally a translation of a translation of a translation: from Hebrew (and Aramaic) to Greek to Latin to English, for example. No one blinks at different ways to translate the Bible, because it's been done for 2,000 years. Major points of doctrine (was Mary a virgin, or a babe?) turn on translations.

But as it happens, Muslims MUST believe that God speaks classical Arabic. The Koran was not "written" by the Prophet. It dropped flaming from the Mouth of God without human intercession. It cannot be translated, because the Koran in any OTHER language is not the words God told the Prophet to recite.

THAT is why it is so significant that Islam is popular in large chunks of the planet where literacy is low -- Afghanistan, western Pakistan, the Sudan, JM's village in Indonesia; all places where Arabic is not the local language.

This creates a situation where (as in JM's example) there is only ONE school teaching only ONE book that nobody BUT the instructors understand -- and they, only in the funded interpretation.

And, to continue your education in public, Chuck, the gates of interpretation in Islam (what's called "itjihad") were closed about 900 years ago: the Recitation and the Sayings are no longer subject to re-interpretation, and were NEVER capable of revision.

The entire concept of Islam as the world's premier us vs. them ideology stems from this -- yet it is NOT in the Koran.

But to know that, Muslims have to have some OTHER source for knowledge of Islam: they can't get it from the Saudi-funded instruction that dominates all over the world, nor can many Muslims read it themselves since Islam is so popular in places WHERE LITERACY IS LOW, e.g., Waziristan.

Learned anything yet, Chuck? It seems clear to me that you're not capable of it, but I'm prepared to admit when I'm wrong.

The evidence suggests you're not.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 20, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

You may want to read a little about the economic history of the South after the Civil War. The major economic institution of the South during that time was the local General Store, which were the only businesses extending credit to the rural population. Much of the South resembled a third world economy until the Civil Rights Movement started making change.

Posted by: Brojo on September 20, 2007 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Violence as a solution is built into the book that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism derive their spiritual inspiration from (Old Testament of Biblefor example). The idea of holy war is not unique to Islam. Listen to rightwing radio, televangelists, Bush (good vs evil) et al. Also will imams teaching non-violence be assasinated by opposing forces?

Posted by: mickster on September 20, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

a small point, Mr. Americanist: as you clearly and correctly indicate, the Koran cannot be translated. Yet, as a practical matter, translations of the Koran are proliferating, a major and recent development, concomitant with the rapid spread of Islam in such places as Russia.

Posted by: Trypticon on September 20, 2007 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

A somewhat larger point, on the theme: In every translation of the Koran that I know about, and in all the discussions of Islam and Muslims in every language OTHER than Arabic of which I am aware (anybody who knows different, cite examples), the words "Islam" and "Muslim" are treated as proper nouns.

Which they are not.

In Arabic, "Islam" and "Muslim" are not proper nouns. They are essentially phrases which mean "obedience to God", and "those who obey God".

This is not a small thing.

Christians must believe, to be Christians, not only in the divinity of Christ but, arguably, in Christ's explicit statement that no one is saved, EXCEPT through Christ himself.

Jews, on the other hand, do not have such an exclusionary view of faith. There are 613 laws which exceptionally observant Jews are required to follow (in order to be exceptionally observant), but in fact the original Covenant with Noah, long before Abraham, is only seven commandments, not even the famous 10.

Muslims have more in common with that view of God than they do with Christians, because God explains to Noah that ALL the righteous please Him, without regard to forms of worship.

That's the significance of the language for "Islam" and "Muslim". Where translations generally refer to the faith known as "Islam" by the word, the actual Arabic in the Koran means "obedience to God"; and "Muslims" are not people who follow a particular faith so much as they are people who obey the will of God, a meaning more easily comprehended as 'the righteous.'

Far more than other contemporary religions of similar scope, Islam is difficult to separate from the history of the peoples who follow the faith: which is where a THEOLOGICAL alternative to Muslim terrorism out to start. (It's no accident that the ur-terrorist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, was founded to reconnect Islam with Arab nationalism, the connection severed by the Turks for 600 years.)

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 20, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

the Koran CANNOT be translated

That's funny: for a document that can't be translated, there sure are a lot of translations of the Koran. I don't have to go online to prove that, do I, Americanist?

And your original assertion - namely, that Islam is popular where literacy rates are low - whether you like it or not - implies that there is a greater attraction to Islam in illiterate areas of the world.

Being literate and being able to read classical Arabic are two very different things.

And your point that the Islamic god - who, in the end, is the same as the Christian god - speaks classical Arabic is silly: this God is an omniscient being, so what language does he not speak?

And by the way - you can take all your ad hominem attacks, shove them WAY up your ass, and spin on them. If we were in the same room, I guarantee you you would not be spouting off like that, but it's easy to be brave from afar.

You fucking coward.

Posted by: chuck on September 20, 2007 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Chuck, this is twice you've tried to make this about what you consider my cowardice, as opposed to, say, your stupidity. That's my real email address: if you want, look me up, I'm not hard to find.

And you're flat out wrong, not to mention ignorant, about whether the Koran can be translated. This isn't a minor point, it's like Islam 101. (Psst -- this would be a good opportunity for you to demonstrate the capacity to learn something by admitting you didn't know it in the first place. I don't think you can, but like I said, I'm always prepared to admit it when I'm wrong: you're obviously not.)

The analogy to Christianity isn't the Bible to the Koran, it's the Koran to the Eucharist. Flannery O'Connor famously stated e Catholic doctrine regarding the Host as the actual Body of Christ - "If it's only a a symbol, the hell with it."

Just so for Muslims with the Koran. It is NOT a divinely-inspired work of humans, as Christians believe of the Bible, or Jews of the Torah. It is not a symbol of God's Word that could be expressed in other languages, the way the Bible can be. The famous Christian boast that John 3:16 has been translated into every language on earth is simply blasphemy to a Muslim.

The Koran IS the literal Word of God in a way that the Bible is not: David wrote (most of) the Psalms, Paul and Peter wrote the Epistles, etc.

God told the Prophet: RECITE -- and what was recited, is the Recitation.

So God speaks classical Arabic, and THERE IS NO OTHER RECITATION. (That's what the second part of the Witness is, the statment which makes a Muslim: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet.") Projecting your most likely Christian concept of the Deity INTO Islam, that God is omnipotent and speaks all languages, etc., shows that you really haven't a clue what Islam IS.

Sure, you can render the Arabic of the Koran into English, or Russian, or Chinese -- but those words are NOT the Recitation, anymore than unconsecrated bread is the Eucharist: because God did not inspire humans to write the Recitation. He told the Prophet to RECITE, so the words he spoke were God's, not his. Since the Prophet was not speaking in English, or Russian, or Chinese -- any words in THOSE languages, are not the Recitation.

This is REAL basic stuff, Chuck, which obviously you've never bothered to learn. If you want to explain to me that you're smarter than your posts in this thread, email me.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 20, 2007 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

Do not Jewish people learn to read Hebrew sacred text for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs? How is that different than what Moslems do, or is someone just a bigot?

Posted by: Brojo on September 21, 2007 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK
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