Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ecclesiastes, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran

Below is a guest-essay by Dr. Richard Jansen of Colorado State University. Dr. Jansen posted in this space last year about the Balkans and the history of Islamic jihad.

Ecclesiastes, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran

by Dr. Richard Jansen

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to read, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time to peace.”

               — Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

This is ancient wisdom that has expressed truth through the ages, and is truth and wisdom that can help us in understanding our time as well. Three world historical events occurring in our time may be cited to make this point.

The first is the “surge” of troops in Iraq that is generally — if not universally — accepted as contributing substantially to winning the war in 2008. It has been argued that President Bush erred grievously in not sending in many more troops at least two years earlier if not sooner. We will never know.

I argue that a “time and season” had to arrive in which the Iraqi people came to realize that they had suffered enough death and destruction and the hands of al Qaeda and Sunni and Shia hardliners before a relatively small infusion of troops combined with the counter-insurgency strategy of General Petraeus and Odierno could have the dramatic result it did. The change in “season” became most manifest with the Anbar awakening of September 2006, which started in spring and summer of that year, clearly antedating the surge. Similar “awakenings” occurred in other regions of Iraq as well.

A second example is what is happening right now in Pakistan. Here also President Bush was widely criticized for ignoring the rising Taliban in Afghanistan by fighting a losing war in Iraq, even though it was widely known that the insurgency in Afghanistan was coming from Pakistan, a Muslin country with nuclear weapons, an unstable government, and a population with considerable sympathy for al Qaeda.

Here also it was charged that our policy was deeply flawed. Again, maybe so. However, it now appears that the “time and season” for the government and people in Pakistan to understand more completely the existential threat al Qaeda poses to Pakistan itself has come, and Pakistan is now taking much stronger military action against Islamic militants in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is hopeful.

My third example is, of course, Iran.
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Iran has been governed by a theocratic dictatorship since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The Iranian government since that time has referred to the United States and Israel as the Great Satan and the Little Satan respectively, while calling for the destruction of both. It has been apparent to a number of observers that many in Iran, especially youth, are tired of this theocracy and have called for and demonstrated for change on a number of occasions without success. Iran has ambitions to become a nuclear power and has been unmoved by UN sanctions. The current President of Iran has publicly made clear his plan to wipe Israel off the face of the map. To ignore this is akin — but worse than — what ignoring Mein Kampf was in the 1930’s.

As I write this, the “time and season” has arrived for the people in Iran to throw off the dictatorship they have been living under for thirty years. This is apparently occurring from circumstances entirely within Iran. The government is attempting, brutally, to put down this revolution. The outcome at this time is unclear. What is very clear is that President Obama and the government of the United States should stand firmly with the forces within Iran that are bravely trying to unseat the Mullahs and their enablers who have been oppressing the people for so long. The Congress of the United States has responded to the challenge, condemned the government and expressed support for those opposing the government.

Other than making several weak equivocal statements President Obama has not. His failure to do so is not just unfortunate, it is tragic in the true sense of the word.

A final point I make is that we as a people have been too impatient and lack the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. When things don’t go our way quickly enough, too may give up and look for scapegoats. Islam has been at war with the West off and on for 1400 years. The World Islamic Front in 1998 declared war in writing on Zionists and Crusaders. This means primarily Israel and the United States.

It will be and is a long war. We need to understand that. Our jihadi enemies do, and have a longer time frame. They still speak of recovering al-Andalus, which was lost by Islam over 500 years ago, and emphasize that it took them 200 years to expel the Crusader kingdoms from the Holy Lands.


Czechmade said...

How superficial is the view "the West installed the Shah" can be seen from this quote:

(see the eminent supreme role of clergy in this and Atta Tuerk as the biggest threat around)

Czechmade said...

‘In Iran, the twentieth century saw the old partnership of kings and clerics strained to the breaking point. In 1925 the Shia ulama - Haeri’s father prominent among them - persuaded an army officer named Reza Khan, who had staged a coup, to declare himself shah. They feared the rise of a Kemalist ruler, and believed that whatever the faults of a Shia monarchy, it would be preferable to an aggressively secular republic of the sort that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was building next door in Turkey. But the clerics got more than they bargained for, since the Pahlavi monarchy that Reza Khan founded turned out to have less to do with preserving Shiism than with acting as a modernizing republic parading in royal trappings. The Pahlavis never conceived of Iran as a Shia realm and refused to see defending Shiism as their duty. On the contrary, they perceived Shiism as a stumbling block to their modernizing agenda.

Before the first Pahlavi shah took the throne, he had taken part in Ashoura, beating his chest while calling out to Imam Husayn. The shah included the name of the eighth imam, Reza, which he also carried, in every one of his sons’ names. Nevertheless, he saw a Turkish-style secular state as vital to Iran’s modernization. Reza Shah secularized the legal system and the courts, banned the veiling of women, deemphasized Iran’s Shia identify, and marginalized the ulama - when need be, brutally. The ulama resisted - at times violently - but the combination of a powerful government and a modernizing society caused clerical influence to fade.

One area where the ulama could still make their weight felt was the struggle against imperialism. Clerics supported both the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry in 1951 and the popular movement that it created. The nationalization led to a confrontation between Iran and the West, which ended in 1953 with the CIA-backed military coup that ousted the nationalist premier, Muhammad Mossadeq, and restored power to the young shah, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, who was Reza Shah’s son. While many in the Shia ulama supported Mossadeq’s goals, at the end of the day the most senior clerics backed the restoration of the monarchy because they badly feared chaos and a communist takeover. They set aside their sympathy for the nationalist cause and reacted to the same fears that led the US to support the coup. They had made, thought top clerics, yet another hard choice in order to defend the realm of the true (Shia) faith.

Whatever they meant at the time, however, the events of the early 1950s did not signal the birth of a lasting rapprochement between the throne and the Shia clergy. On the contrary, the 1960s and 1970s saw the state of relations between the two hit a new low. Rapid socioeconomic development, political repression, the growing influence of Western culture, the close ties between Tehran and Washington, and a growing gap between rich and poor all fed worsening social tensions. The ulama read these signs of the times as cause for worry, but also as an opportunity to undercut the religiously wayward Pahlavi monarchy. Some among the ulama also believed that unless Shiism took a leading role in the social and political struggles of the day, it would lose more ground and find itself shoved to the sidelines by leftists. To prevent this, the ulama would have to wax political as never before.’

--Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival

Unknown said...

"The current President of Iran has publicly made clear his plan to wipe Israel off the face of the map. To ignore this is akin — but worse than — what ignoring Mein Kampf was in the 1930’s."

If we're going to compare Mein Kampf to anything we should compare it to the Koran, which it resembles in some respects.

The likelihood of the Iranian people throwing off the present regime for a system that is less anti-infidel depends on the proportion of Iranian people who are devout believers in Mohammed's religion or otherwise apostates.

Not being a believer in the tiny-minority-of-extremists theroy of history I'm not overly optimistic on this point.

blogagog said...

Are you sure that is Ecclesiastes? My hippie friend told me it's a song by the Byrds.