Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Backlash Against Religion In Iraq reprinted from Jihad watch and the New York Times

"When they behead someone, they say ‘Allahu akbar,’ they read Koranic verse...The young people, they think this is Islam"

This article about how young Iraqis are growing disillusioned with Islam has the expected elements of a New Duranty Times story: the affirmation that jihad violence has nothing to do with Islam ("'It was a fight to prove our existence,' said a young Shiite journalist from Sadr City. 'We were embracing our existence, not religion'" and "'As a group, they are not religious,' said Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the head of detainee operations for the American military. 'When we ask if they are doing it for jihad, the answer is no'") -- even as the article chronicles the disenchantment with Islam that many in Iraq are feeling. Why would the jihadists make them disenchanted with Islam if their fight has nothing to do with religion in the first place? Unexplained, of course.

Then there is the suggestion that the jihadists recruit only illiterates who can't read the Qur'an for themselves and, presumably, discover its genuine peaceful teachings: "The population they focused on, however, was poor and uneducated. About 60 percent of the American adult detainee population is illiterate, and is unable to even read the Koran that religious recruiters are preaching."

However, when the "moderate Shiite shiekh from Baghdad" laments that the jihadists quote the Qur'an when they behead someone and shout "Allahu akbar," leading Iraqi youth to "think that is Islam," this highlights the problem that is only obliquely addressed in the article: that the jihadists present themselves as the exponents of true Islam, such that those who reject the jihad end up thinking Islam itself is tainted. And we're told that "General Stone is trying to rectify the problem by offering religion classes taught by moderates," but no specifics -- as always -- are offered to explain what exactly that moderation consists of, and why such moderates have not managed to mount any large-scale counter to the Islamic basis of the global jihad.

"Violence Leaves Young Iraqis Doubting Clerics," by Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times (thanks to all who sent this in):

BAGHDAD — 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.

“I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us,” said Sara, a high school student in Basra. “Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.”

Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, said: “The religion men are liars. Young people don’t believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore.”

The shift in Iraq runs counter to trends of rising religious practice among young people across much of the Middle East, where religion has replaced nationalism as a unifying ideology.

While religious extremists are admired by a number of young people in other parts of the Arab world, Iraq offers a test case of what could happen when extremist theories are applied. Fingers caught in the act of smoking were broken. Long hair was cut and force-fed to its wearer. In that laboratory, disillusionment with Islamic leaders took hold. [...]

“In the beginning, they gave their eyes and minds to the clerics; they trusted them,” said Abu Mahmoud, a moderate Sunni cleric in Baghdad, who now works deprogramming religious extremists in American detention. “It’s painful to admit, but it’s changed. People have lost too much. They say to the clerics and the parties: You cost us this.”

“When they behead someone, they say ‘Allahu akbar,’ they read Koranic verse,” said a moderate Shiite sheik from Baghdad, using the phrase for “God is great.”

“The young people, they think that is Islam,” he said. “So Islam is a failure, not only in the students’ minds, but also in the community.”

A professor at Baghdad University’s School of Law, who identified herself only as Bushra, said of her students: “They have changed their views about religion. They started to hate religious men. They make jokes about them because they feel disgusted by them.” [...]

Religion had moved abruptly into the Shiite public space, but often in ways that made educated, religious Iraqis uncomfortable. Militias were offering Koran courses. Titles came cheaply. In Mr. Mahmoud’s neighborhood, a butcher with no knowledge of Islam became the leader of a mosque. [...]

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.”

“Nobody is thinking,” Mr. Mohammed said in an interview in October. “We use our minds just to know what to eat. This is something I am very sad about. We hear things and just believe them.” [...]

Some Iraqis argue that the religious-based politics was much more about identity than faith. When Shiites voted for religious parties in large numbers in an election in 2005, it was more an effort to show their numbers, than a victory of the religious over the secular.

“It was a fight to prove our existence,” said a young Shiite journalist from Sadr City. “We were embracing our existence, not religion.” [...]

“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.” [...]

The population they focused on, however, was poor and uneducated. About 60 percent of the American adult detainee population is illiterate, and is unable to even read the Koran that religious recruiters are preaching.

That leads to strange twists. One young detainee, a client of Abu Mahmoud, the moderate Sunni cleric, was convinced that he had to kill his parents when he was released, because they were married in an insufficiently Islamic way. General Stone is trying to rectify the problem by offering religion classes taught by moderates.

Moderates by what criteria?

There is a new favorite game in the lively household of the young Baghdad journalist. When they see a man with a turban on television, they yell and crack jokes. In one joke, people are warned not to give their cellphone numbers to a religious man.

There is a new favorite game in the lively household of the young Baghdad journalist. When they see a man with a turban on television, they yell and crack jokes. In one joke, people are warned not to give their cellphone numbers to a religious man.

“If he knows the number, he’ll steal the phone’s credit,” the journalist said. “The sheiks are making a society of nonbelievers.”

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