Thursday, March 27

From the WSJ, a Guide to Shiite Iraq

The exotic names Karbala and Najaf, where coalition forces in Iraq are engaged in fierce combat, have little resonance for most Americans. But for Shiite Muslims they represent two of the holiest places on the face of the earth, about which we should probably know more.

The cities' shrines and sites of pilgrimage are equal in importance for Shiites to the pilgrimage to Mecca, their golden domes rising over a landscape of perennial sorrow and lamentation: Both Karbala and Najaf are indissolubly associated with the martyrdoms of Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, and of his son Husayn ibn Ali. The deaths of these men at the hands of those whom Shiites still remember with curses gave Shiism its foundational myth as well as its distinctive stamp.


At the WSJ, William McGurn looks at the Pope and the war

John Paul's unease over the state's use of force was perhaps first evident in his earlier treatment of the death penalty: that while it may be acceptable in principle, the state now has alternatives that make it all but impossible to justify in practice.

The linkage is not only mine. In recent interviews, Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, explicitly says that classic just-war teaching may now be headed the way of the death penalty. When the National Catholic Register asked the archbishop if he meant by this that "there is no such thing as a just war anymore," his answer was unequivocal: "Absolutely."


The pope has not gone this far. But neither has he repudiated the more fantastic claims by Vatican officials. And in fairness to Archbishop Martino, the catechism's argument against the death penalty does anticipate some arguments against modern war--e.g., that other avenues are available, or that the costs have become inherently disproportionate to whatever good end we hope to achieve.



So...you're ticked off at Cardinal Martino, et al?

Good thing you don't live in the Philippines.

Then you'd be really mad:

The largest demonstrations here against the US-led war with Iraq have been marked by prayer more than protest. While the usual leftist crowds are certainly in attendance, toting familiar placards denouncing the war as "imperialist", their ranks are outnumbered by more unusual attendees: housewives.

Middle-class Filipinos have come out in force to protest the war, largely at the encouragement of Catholic Church leaders. Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin has deemed the war illegal under the United Nations Charter and, worse, immoral under the rubric of Christian principles. Sin's call for peace has been echoed in the homilies of many a parish priest. Small wonder, then, that in this majority-Catholic nation the largest anti-war demonstrations have been, in fact, prayer rallies.

The largest such rally in the Philippines to date billed itself as "The Nationwide Prayer Assembly for Peace". Held late last month at Luneta Park in Manila, the gathering boasted an attendance of 50,000 people (though police put the figure at 15,000). While various leftist factions turned out in large numbers, this was unmistakably a religious event.

Church groups made it an outing, Catholic schools made it a field trip, and housewives heeded the call of their parish priest. Sister Theresa Lorenzo accompanied students from Mary Help Christian School in Canlunbang, Laguna: "We came as a way of witnessing and proclaiming what we have in our hearts, and what these young people would like to tell our president."

Across the country, peace advocates continue to congregate in the hundreds and thousands. Like the Luneta Park rally but on a smaller scale, these pious demonstrations seem, foremost, an affirmative expression of religious faith. Only as a consequence of this do they represent a conscientious objection to the war in Iraq.


Liberation Theology and the Iraq War:

First, an article in the Irish Catholic newspaper by one Seamus Murphy, SJ on that very subject

While liberation theology does not encourage violence, it acknowledges the right of people to defend themselves against murderous repression. Uprisings by Kurds and Shi'ites in 1987-89 and in 1991 were put down in large-scale massacres, sometimes with chemical weapons. If they were to rise again, they would have the world's sympathy. Liberation theology would say that the Lord, who breaks the rod of the oppressor, was with them. But unaided rebellion would have no prospect of success, and our bystander sympathy, our distant indignation (if we even noticed) would not prevent it being crushed with great slaughter.

Yet amazingly, when their liberation rides on the probable success of US arms, much of the world is totally opposed. As the prophet Isaiah recognized in Cyrus the Persian Ð Israel's hope of liberation from Babylon Ð so today Iraqi exiles cannot wait for the US to overthrow Saddam's regime. But, sadly, Christian solidarity with them is overwhelmed by pacifism, neutralism, and anti-Americanism.

Pacifism absolutises peace at the expense of justice, and neutralism turns fence-sitting into moral superiority. Anti-Americanism, like Saddam's torturers, drowns the cries of the victims and silences the tongues of the exiles. To wonder whether there is sufficient justification for war is not unreasonable. But to claim, as have some senior clerics, that there is no justification at all is to close one's eyes to the historical record and one's ears to the victims. Liberation theology would say: God is with the victims, and failure to stand in solidarity with them is a betrayal of the Gospel.

The people of Iraq want peace and an end of oppression. They want neither Saddam nor war. But given Saddam's addiction to war (against Israel in 1973, Iran in 1974 and 1980, Kuwait in 1990, and near-misses with Syria in 1976 and Kuwait in 1994), he is likely, if left in power, to provoke more wars. That, coupled with the oppression and terror, far outweighs the burden of the US/UK invasion. At worst, the US/UK invasion is the lesser evil, at best a liberation. So say Iraqi exiles and those protected in the 'no-fly zones'. Liberation theology says: let their voices carry more weight in our moral discernment, for theirs is the voice of the voiceless, the voice of God.

And then, blogger Tony Adragna's response, in part:

There is certainly room for justifying our instant war along the lines of the church's theology on liberation. But, let's be careful to distnguish this from what the Latin American authors taught...

Go read both comments and come back and tell us what you think. But not before you consider all the nasty things you said about Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutierrez back in the day, okay?



Evangelicals poised to go into Iraq

Two leading evangelical Christian relief and missionary organizations say they have teams of workers poised to enter Iraq to address the physical and spiritual needs of its large Muslim population.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and the Rev. Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse said Tuesday that workers are near the Iraq border in Jordan and are ready to go in as soon as it is safe. The relief and missionary work is certain to be closely watched because both Graham and the Southern Baptist Convention have been at the heart of controversial evangelical denunciations of Islam, the world's second-largest religion.

Both organizations said their priority will be to provide food, shelter, and other needs to Iraqis ravaged by recent war and years of neglect. But if the situation presents itself, they will also share their Christian faith in a country that's estimated to be 97 percent Muslim and about 1 percent Christian.

"We go where we have the opportunity to meet needs," said Ken Isaacs, international director of projects for Samaritan's Purse, located in Boone, N.C. "We do not deny the name of Christ. We believe in sharing him in deed and in word. We'll be who we are."



I'm obviously not providing event-by-event commentary on this war, first because I think my opinions are irrelevant, and secondly because it would be a huge waste of time, considering the "facts" of yesterday or even three hours ago frequently turn out to be the "oops" of today. Case in point:

All those thousands of surrenders the first couple of days? Er...maybe not.

Defence Department officials reported on Friday that they had won the surrender of the entire 51st Division, a regular Iraqi army unit deployed in southern Iraq to defend Basra, the nation's second largest city.On Saturday, officials backtracked, saying they had only taken a couple of commanders and the rest of the men had "melted away" - a term used for those who laid down their arms and returned home.On Monday there were reports that one of the "commanders" turned out to be a junior official who misrepresented his rank in hopes of getting better treatment.Then on Tuesday, British forces reported a tank battle with elements of the 51st outside of Basra. Asked about the confusion, the Pentagon said the division's equipment was taken over by the Fedayeen and possibly members of Saddam's Republican Guard, his best-trained troops.<"Some of their equipment may have been used by the Fedayeen perhaps, or other folks that Fedayeen brought with them," a Pentagon spokesman said



Another source of information from the ground in Baghdad:

The Iraq Peace Team, which is putting up diary entries from members in Baghdad, including an American doctor's report

And for the record, before the vituperative comments start coming, remember my philosophy: listen to everyone. Don't believe everyone, but do listen intelligently and critically. Listen to CentCom, listen to the soldiers on the field, listen to the mainstream press, the alternative press, and yes, even listen to peace activists who are visiting hospitals and being present to the people of Baghdad. Disregard most of the rhetoric, but don't dismiss the stories because you have a beef with the source. The war is made of many things. It is made of American leaders who say what they are really about is the liberation of the people of Iraq. It is about soldiers enduring hell on earth trudging up towards Baghdad battling sand, mud, wind and guerilla warfare. It is about fascist, inhuman thugs using human shields as they fire on Coalition troops and threatening civilians with death if they act in support of the invaders. It is about Missionaries of Charity staying in Baghdad with their orphans. It is about the consequences of a war started during the beginning of the growing season. And yes, it is about the big picture - weighing the suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam against the suffering of a war waged to dislodge their tormenter and the untold consequences for the region and the world.

But it is also about the small picture - the facts of civilians harmed and killed. It is not an argument for or against war. It is just a fact. And those who say they are so interested in "realism" and truth, absorbing as much of the big and small picture as possible should not hesitate to read these narratives, again, with as much salt as you like.

Reuters, I know, but still. Raises important issues that we've discussed, and you can read it with however much salt you think appropriate:

US Action opens debate on war rationale:

Few nations have flouted the U.N. charter that lays out specific conditions for the use of pre-emptive force. Two extraordinary exceptions are Israel's 1981 strike on Iraq's OsIrak nuclear plant and the 1967 Six Day War, said Reus-Smidt."The major innovation of the Bush doctrine is the idea of prevention, and the war in Iraq can be seen as the first example of this," said Reus-Smidt.He said Washington, rebuffed in the U.N. Security Council in its quest for world backing to pre-empt Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons program, had opted to act preventively.That opens a Pandora's Box."It's not clear what the limits are," said Hilary Charlesworth, professor at the Center for International and Public Law at the ANU. "This leaves the perception of threat in the eye of the beholder."

It reinforces fears of the United States going it alone, snubbing the international community when it suits it, for example on the Kyoto treaty on global warming or the International Criminal Court.The United States has acted as other countries have throughout history, which is to look for the international law that suits them. And it was that free-for-all approach that the U.N. charter was aimed at halting."We could be going back to a pre-U.N. charter world and I find that worrying," said Charlesworth.Of course, what goes unspoken is that the United States regards itself as an exception, and knows that it can probably get away with a preventive war because it has more toys, and more powerful ones, than anyone else in the playground.

"The related political and diplomatic question is 'are we redefining sovereignty?"' said Bhaskar. "It's an Orwellian kind of sovereignty in which some are more sacred than others."Analysts believe that deterrence may work in this new world, and thus a nuclear-ambitious North Korea may not be next. But what, asked one, would stop China taking a swipe at Taiwan?"What will be the restraints?" said Charlesworth. "International law is enforced by a sense of reciprocity and this is doing away with the fabric of international law."Some say international law may have to change to ensure relevance in a world threatened by rogue states and suicide hijackers.

In the comment thread on Kopp below, several readers crisply dismissed the question by tossing out the argument that what Kopp didn't have was "legimate authority." Well, "legitimate authority" is context-dependent, isn't it? So, within a global context, who has "legitimate authority" to pre-empt another nation's perceived threat or violations of human rights?



Coalition Forces trying to avoid sacred sites.

But most sensitive to Muslims, historians say, is the city of Karbala, site of Shi'ite martyrdom during the 680 clash about who would rule world Islam. The rivalry was between the prophet Muhammad's family and the caliph in Syria, who was backed by a cadre of the prophet's followers.At Karbala, the Muslim caliph massacred the prophet's Muslim nephew, but the attack still is viewed as a sin by "unbelievers," said Sulayman Nyang, a Howard University historian of Islam.

"That [memory] is one reason the [coalition] forces have apparently bypassed Karbala," Mr. Nyang said. "You don't want to re-create any mythical revivification of that martyrdom of the past."He said that even if the coalition avoids all conflict in Karbala, or two other Shi'ite shrines nearby, a Shi'ite rebellion against the oppressive regime may arise on its own from that "historically sacred territory."

The Sunni-backed regime has persecuted Shi'ites since the founding of Iraq in 1932, but Mr. Nyang said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would even use conflict about Shi'ite holy sites to arouse world Islam against the coalition forces. "We don't want to play into his hands. Also, you don't want to prompt any emotionalism among the Hezbollah in Lebanon," he added, referring to a Shi'ite terrorist group.


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