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Combating Trancendence and Ideology

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A layperson's perspective on Iraq

Although three years ago President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier in a Navy fighter jet to a banner reading "Mission Accomplished," there was little forethought given to exactly what enemy we were indeed fighting in the Middle East. The “War against Islamo-fascism” was not yet coined and pundits believed that if the root cause of genocide and tyranny were removed from Baghdad – namely Saddam Hussein – then Iraq would become a symbolic nation of peace ruled by a Jeffersonian-style democracy. Yet for all of the insight into the military strategy of toppling a government, one all- important factor was omitted from the analyses: ideology.

Unlike World War II where a global battle was fought using conventional methods of warfare such as tanks and planes – and even atomic weapons - against the real threat of fascist Germany and totalitarian Japan, the war in Iraq is a war against an ideology. All of the ground troops and air superiority on planet earth cannot dissuade religious adherents from the righteousness of their cause. This zealous, human need to become a martyr for some “god” has routinely marked most of human history. Unsoftened by the Epicurean pleasures of entertainment and sexual liberation, extremist Muslims mark a large percent of the Islamic population as even old women strap suicide bombs to their bodies and encourage their grandchildren to follow their example if they wish to have a glorious eternity in the hereafter.

Now certainly World War II was also marked by fanatic adherence to causes such as Nazism, yet the latter was a fledgling ideology which lacked the benefit of centuries of indoctrination and sectarianism as we see in Islam today. The footprint of Nazi fanaticism was marked by a relative handful of dictatorial hopefuls in nations where Catholicism and Protestantism held sway for over 15 centuries. And fascism, unlike fanatical Islam, had one critical flaw in its ideological repertoire, namely that it was not a religion.

For critical observers like Niccolo Machiavelli in his fascinating work The Prince, religion, rather than some political philosophy, was a tool wielded by the more effective tyrants. Social and political changes come and go like clouds on the wind, but religious ideology marks its followers with a resilient, almost indelible stamp upon their very hearts and minds, for religious faith by definition relies not upon social conventions or analytical social structures but rather upon transcendent belief in what is incalculable and unquantifiable. When the enemy is some “thing,” a tangible, flesh-and-blood, brick-and-steel creation such as a soldier or a political regime, the target is simple even if the means of destroying it is difficult. Yet when the enemy transcends mere mortality, when it is a conceptualization such as a religion, then that target is significantly less substantial, less easily defined. How does one deploy troops against a fundamentalist theology that has resided in the hearts of a billion believers for 14 centuries, particularly when that theology instructs its adherents in the righteousness of combating infidels?

I assert that were we given thrice as much time to confront the Islamic insurgency – some would say “civil war” – in Iraq, we will never be able to leave a thriving, democratic government in the heart of Islam. In fact, Islam, with its precepts built upon Shariah law, obligatory prayer and ritual purification, is almost the antithesis of democracy and in cases where democratic-style governments are in place in the Middle East such as Lebanon and Jordan, they are pale reflections of Western-style democracy, being wracked by monarchial rule or civil war. And, when presented with a choice of candidates from which to vote, the populace invariably leans toward electing extremist, fundamentalist groups to lead their nation. I believe that as the years progress, historians will mark this ensuing period of Iraqi conflict as a sectarian genocide on a scale that would even make Hussein shudder. And a nation which was hated by groups like Al Qaeda for its secularism will become a fertile breeding ground for terrorism on a scale never before witnessed.

The solution, if one could ever be said to exist, is absolute and total martial law with a near 24-hour a day curfew. In the intervening cessation of conflict, security contractors world-wide could be hired to install a British-like system of high-tech surveillance cameras and face-recognition software to track the movements of people everywhere. Within a year, Iraqi security and intelligence forces could be background screened and trained to handle the challenges of enforcing law upon the population, slowly relaxing the curfew until a smoother transition was complete. Only until law is established and enforced throughout the Iraqi cities and provinces will any government in Iraq succeed in bringing a slow-down in sectarian and civil violence. Solutions such as those found in the Baker-Hamilton Commission will surely fall short without fresh thinking and ingenious solutions to the age-old dilemma of combating ideological extremism.

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