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  1. #1
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    Default Engaging the Mosque

    Kehenry1 in his introduction of himself as a new member set forth some challenges that are worthy of more discussion outside the parameters of the "Tell us About You" thread. He states:

    "I think the answer to that, for instance, if the mosque is the power, is to identify its role in the power structure and its needs outside of ideological differences. One thing we should have learned is the role of the mosque in a community. It acts as an arbitrator, a job finder, a social networking system and general welfare system. It is one of the first things that the ideologists focus on in a community. It has resources and automatically confers legitimacy on those it supports. Ideologists tend to subvert these resources.

    This fact we should be keeping in mind if we do need to engage the mosque (a big "woops" I think when the insurgency began; we kept trying to separate mosque from state and never got around to the "mosque and the citizen".

    While I don't think we should engage in ideological discussions, I believe that we should have an effective strategy to engage the mosque if it is the de facto or primary power structure in the community. Assist it with its welfare programs, use it as a conduit, everything the ideologists does, doing it first while simultaneously avoiding ideologies (except maybe a little reminder about who is going to provide freedom of religion)."


    Well said, timely and of critical importance, but allow me to start by asserting that the mosque cannot be readily engaged, literally and figuratively, from the outside. In areas where the mosque is used extensively as a social/economic resource, I think we have to involve ourselves, physically, on the inside of the structure. Simplicity can be painful for a complex, technically orientated culture. Men well conditioned to bearing arms and in a hostile environment become vulnerable entering the unknown without their boots on and carrying at least a sidearm. To go in to conduct business and schmooze, the boots must be removed, ablution performed and weapons left outside. That's not as easy to do as it sounds and on top of it, we come from a culture that maintains stringent borders between State and Religion and one's religious beliefs are often very private and not readily shared. We don't bring God to the fight and to the negotiation table and we can't send in the Chaplains. It remains an immense challenge not only in Iraq but all over the planet and as kehenry1 so aptly pointed out, "we kept trying to separate mosque from state".

    Personally, I don't think ideologists subvert the resources and assets of the mosque, rather their force of interpretation rules out because Islam allows them their interpretation, destructive as it may be. In some places, the mosque provides these ideologists a ready made platform of operation from the get-go.

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    Council Member Danny's Avatar
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    Default Separation

    This could become a very interesting and fruitful discussion thread if respondents can think outside the box as it were. I would like to modify what goesh said by saying that we do not come from a society that separates religion and state so much as church and state. It is the mistake of many to see the church or mosque (and what is done in worship) as one and the same with "religion." It is not, and never has been. It is merely a very small part.

    Religion is what is believed and practiced during the week away from worship, and it affects everything from how we vote to how we raise our children to what we value. It affects people in Iraq just like it affects Americans (perhaps Australia is secular enough that the affect is minimal, although one might call this secularism, just another religion). But the point is that we can and should engage the "Mosque" without ever entering the Mosque. There isn't any reason we cannot appeal to aspects of their world view in our counterinsurgency, have our Chaplains meet with their Imams (it has happened before), and in general understand these aspects of the population.

    There is also a darker side. In my disputes with Kilcullen over religion and insurgency, I have always tried to appeal to moderation: "some" people fight with religious motivation, and "some" people probably oppose those fighters with force also because of religious motivation. Religion plays as much a part of forming their world view in Iraq as anywhere else in the world. It pays for us to understand the religion and culture enough to be able to identify players early on and align ourselves with those who would build the state and carefully watch those who would not. This approach might have saved us from letting the horrible Moqtada al Sadr go in 2004. Sadr might be the downfall of the COIN campaign in Iraq. Chalk that one up to Paul Bremer, who clearly didn't understand the culture.

    This isn't holy war. This is just plain ole' common sense -- that frankly, isn't so common sometimes. Any country boy out hunting knows that you must know your terrain, and in counterinsurgency sometimes that terrain is made up of people.

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    As far as engaging Mosques, why should Soldiers do it? Wouldn't it be better (less threatening) if civilians engaged? IMO, the only time Soldiers (except Chaplains) should engage is when they are invited or when fighters inside the Mosque are violating Geneva and Hague rules.
    Respect for churches and others' religion in this country is waning. Let's not bring this attitude to countries who show more respect for their religion and places of worship.
    Last edited by skiguy; 09-29-2007 at 11:17 AM.

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    Council Member kehenry1's Avatar
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    Default Power Structures in the Community

    First, let me clarify that I am a "she". Not bothered by the male reference, but wanted to maintain that "truth in advertisement" thing.

    Second, I believe that I am not talking about religious discussions, just recognizing the potential in certain communities that the mosque can take the place of other recognized secular power structures in a community.

    As I once posited to an acquaintance, if tomorrow something catastrophic occurred, regular services desisted and the government was either non-existent, unable or unwilling to provide food, health, education and security, leaving your community isolated, what people or organizations would you look to or organize around in order to provide the same for your community?

    My theory is that people will naturally gravitate towards existing organizational or power structures for guidance. In our community, we are outside of the "incorporated" city limits so our only "security" is the county sheriffs department. Our mayor is technically downtown, over 40 minutes away. In a catastrophe that limited or eliminated contact, he would be fairly unhelpful. We have a few people in community watch. We have a few people who are recognized in the community.

    Organizations in our community that might be helpful are the five churches, the VFW, American Legion and a few other groups. That doesn't mean that all citizens in the community would gravitate towards these and there may be some overlap, but there are certainly groups that perform some organization within the community.

    Recognizing that, in a small community there are formal and informal power structures. A Mosque might be one of these formal organizing structures.

    What we have to determine is how much power or organizing force does the mosque exert in the community? Is there another formal or informal power structure within the community? Can we work with the mosque if it is the only formal power structure without engaging directly in ideological discussions? While we build secular power structures?

    And, in terms of ideology, without directly engaging it, aren't we, by working with them and insuring their continuity, showing that we are the ones that will allow them to practice their religion (ie, freedom of religion in a democracy) as opposed to the extremists that will force their views on them? What better way to convey that than to insure it?

    I would say that we should be careful in not propping up the mosque as a power structure if it is not and to not enforce it too much against our ability to set up a secular power structure.

    I'm just saying, I don't think we should abandon it because it is too prickly.
    Kat-Missouri

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    Council Member Tom OC's Avatar
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    Default

    It's my understanding that, historically, the role of the mosque is to be a place of learning and financial assistance. Madrassas have since come along for the former, and associations now prevent Muslims from begging in the streets. Looking at them as part of community power structure is interesting. For comparative purposes, I suppose that Christian churches support education and financial stability too.

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    Council Member kehenry1's Avatar
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    Default municipal buildings

    yes, that is exactly what occurs. Mosques act as an official organizing structure. It isn't even necessarily the Imam that is the power or most noted leader at the mosque. As in Christian churches, there are always "members" who have the "voice of authority" or who are considered leaders.

    Also, in a catastrophic situation in a small community, there may be no municipal buildings. People might naturally gravitate towards a church or mosque as a "meeting place". Historically, in the US, churches did serve as both a religious establishment and as a meeting place for local government functions.

    In a similar situation in COIN, it would not be inappropriate to include the imam or any "elders" in a local meeting. The Imam probably knows a lot about the community. Who are the leaders? who operates local businesses? Who needs immediate medical or financial assistance?

    Is there anything that the Mosque needs?

    these are not ideological discussions. We listen and act appropriately in our function as outsiders and secular governing force without interfering in their activities. This, by the way, does not mean that we have to intrude on the mosque with "soldiers carrying guns, wearing their muddy boots". We invite to an outside meeting with appropriate respect (even if you suspect he's harboring miscreants).

    Of course, the Imam may want to maintain the independence of the mosque and may not accept any outside assistance. That should not be looked upon as a negative. But, we should also be aware that, in doing somethings outside of the mosque, such as financial assistance and education, or even recognizing its role in judicial matters, etc, we may be causing friction with the organization by interfering with their traditional role.
    Kat-Missouri

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default

    Just a brief note of clarification folks

    First of all, mosques like churches, synagogues, and temples are not all the same. Cookie cutters don't work. A village mosque is but a room with a tower most likely. The Ummayyid Mosque is huge and like a Roman Catholic Church is rich.

    Second the religion using those mosques are not out of a cookie cutter, either. A Shia mosque will have more interaction and greater tendancy to be what we would call "activist". A Sunni mosque is less so but that is not absolute.

    Third the role of the religious leaders in that mosque has many variables tied to points one and two as well as tribal, national, and linguistics. A mosque in a non-Arab country (meaning non-Arabic speaking country) generally does not import a large contigent to run it; again that can vary,

    If that sounds simplistic, it is usually quite simple to point out complexity. I have not seen anything that proscribes interaction with local religious leaders regardless of sect or status. What I have seen are cautions in doing so and rightly so. Committing a faux pas with a tribal leader is not a good thing; doing so and depending on the degree of the error, it can be devestating to local relations. My guidance to anyone is if you must do so, do so gently and carefully. If not, go even more slowly and do your homework ==and I mean specifically on the mosque and community as well as general studies.

    Best

    Tom

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    Council Member kehenry1's Avatar
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    Default Power Structures in the Community

    If not, go even more slowly and do your homework ==and I mean specifically on the mosque and community as well as general studies.
    I think this is why I posed it as a "power structure" or "organization" of the community issue. Noting consistently, that we should identify its role in the community to determine what exactly we should do to engage.

    One point I made on the blog post on the subject and will now make here:

    Whatever its role in the community, by not engaging the mosque, even if it is not "activist" like a Shia controlled mosque or religious leaders, we are leaving space in the "human terrain" of the community for the enemy to exploit.

    Regardless of whether it is "activist" or not, the church/mosque/temple etc has a voice of authority in communities among a large portion of it.

    I am reminded of a few situations:

    Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad that routinely broadcast Anti-American messages from the loudspeakers, housed insurgents and cached weapons. We were so fearful of engaging there that we let that go for several years before they finally arrested the Imam (I believe that is what happened, though he was eventually let go).

    Secondly, Ramadi and Fallujah both report that the enemy either coerced or convinced the mosques there to do the same.

    did we leave exploitable human terrain because of that fear? and, how many of our men and women paid the price for that? (Not to be confrontational, but you see where I am coming from; this isn't all academic, philosophical sociology here; it has a direct impact).

    Caution, yes. Dread, no.
    Kat-Missouri

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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    Default Mosque as a defacto fort

    Let's not forget that Sunnis, in particular, who are the style of Islam of the Taliban and al Qaida, use mosques as firing points to shot from at us, and also as arsenals, storage of weapoons and ammo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George L. Singleton View Post
    Let's not forget that Sunnis, in particular, who are the style of Islam of the Taliban and al Qaida, use mosques as firing points to shot from at us, and also as arsenals, storage of weapoons and ammo.
    Yes, its a good thing we Westerners never used church steeples as forward observer or sniper locations, or fortified abbeys, during WWII
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I think the difference possibly revolves around the relatively

    and almost infinitesimally small number of westerners who get really worked up about such usage of any religious building including their own and the seemingly quite large number of Muslims who make a very large and very public noise about the sanctity of Islamic religious edifices -- but only when the violators of said sanctity happen to be non-muslims...

    You've spent more time in the Middle east than I have, most likely. Surely you've noticed the dual standard of behavior, the punctiliousness if westerners are present and distinct lack thereof among themselves...

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default Warning: unplanned rant follows...

    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
    Yes, its a good thing we Westerners never used church steeples as forward observer or sniper locations, or fortified abbeys, during WWII
    From what I've read, it was pretty much SOP as the US army moved across Europe in WWII (and those who have been to Germany will understand this completely), get your forward observer to the treeline overseeing the next valley, take out the village church steeple first, then lay down an artillery barrage to suppress any potential defensive fires, and then dash across to gain the next position that you could observe fires from. Sounds like there were very few church steeples left on any line of advance by war's end.

    But that is moot to the issue being discussed here.

    Americans take an insanely conflicted position on Islam. On one hand we blame the 9/11 attacks and the GWOT in general on Islam ("Extremist Islamic Ideology is the strategic center of gravity"), on the other hand we bend over backward to accomodate our Western perceptions of Islam as we enter their lands to conduct military operations (policies on alcohol, mosques, etc).

    One personal example. Shortly after Saddam invaded Kuwait, I was on a C-5 enroute to Saudi Arabia. We stopped at Dover, Delaware after leaving Ft Campbell, KY prior to heading overseas. Stations were set up to confiscate any potential contraband prior to heading into this state that sees itself as the keeper of Islam. On the list of offensive items that U.S. soldiers were expected to surrender prior to deploying into a combat zone? The Bible.

    I am no fan of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; but it embarrasses me how we subjugate ourselves to serve their will out of our fear that they might somehow cut us off from the oil we need so desperately for our economy.

    Saudis believe that any form of physical or technical labor is conducted by lower class people. They consider the American engineers who have designed the oil extraction systems that are the basis of their economy as well as the American soldiers who fight and die to preserve their borders in much the same light as they consider the Bangladeshi, Philippino or Pakistani laborer who empties their trash.

    The Saudi Royal Family fears their own populace, and they fear Iran. They play the U.S. against both in order to protect the status that they have codified for themselves in their Constitution. They see it as their right to use us as hired security to sustain their arrogant and corrupt lifestyle.

    The biggest threat to American national interests is not an Iran that has a government that resists the efforts of the U.S. to contain the regional influence that they have traditionally held, but with a populace that is largely pro-American. The biggest threat to American national interests is a Saudi government that holds itself out publicly as an ally, but that uses us as a hedge against their own dissatisfied populace and against a long suppressed Shia populace, both internal and external to the Kingdom. Worth considering, that Iranians are seeking legitimate nationalist goals, and their populace is frustrated that America seems hardset to prevent the same. The Saudi Populace, on the other hand, sees breaking U.S. support to the King as being phase one to any successful revision of their own governance at home.

    This has little to do with religion, that is just the facade they hide behind because they fully understand how it throws us Americans for a loop.

    I realize this is a bit of a rant, but I'm really fed up with how we are being treated by the Saudi Royal family, and also by how our own government has submitted to the same. Maybe I'm just still pissed because some little Airman, acting on orders of my own government, asked me to surrender my Bible. I still have my Bible, by the way.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 02-07-2009 at 11:40 PM.
    Robert C. Jones
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Bob:

    The Saudis are, of course, an extreme, and hardly representative of the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. I suspect we don't disagree on the dysfunctions of that political order.

    Regarding cultural sensitivity of the mosque, it depends to some extent on who is doing what. Yes, Iraqis and Afghans are extraordinarily sensitive about non-Muslim soldiers entering such places. On the other hand, as a civilian I've never encountered a problem entering a mosque in Egypt, Syria, Iran, Palestine, etc.—or, for that matter, pre-war Iraq.

    Similarly, most Americans would be happy to invite a Muslim to their local church—but presumably would get rather more upset if it was (say) Iranian combat troops searching for American "resistance fighters."

    I'm not drawing precise parallels (and I agree with Ken up to a point), only observing that the context matters.
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Rex,

    I just stumbled into the rant. No way in response to your comments. Just triggered some old memories and current irritations as I was making what was intended to be a simple comment.

    I guess complex issues don't really allow simple comments...

    Bob
    Robert C. Jones
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    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Non-military engagement with mosques

    I've just stumbled across this thread and on a quick scan it meanders slightly. In other threads there are posts on engagement with mosques in the USA, notably by the FBI.

    There is quite a bit of literature now on non-military aspects of 'Engaging the Mosque' or community policing for counter-terrorism; usually as sub-sections of papers on counter-radicalisation and the potential pitfalls - in the UK and USA.

    In the UK a good portion of the research is by a team based at the University of Birmingham, here an example:http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News/Latest/Do...y%20Report.pdf

    Their (new) website is:http://www.pcct-hub.org/

    Not immediately found alas there are guides on the etiquette of visiting a mosque and initial steps in trying to build a relationship.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-20-2012 at 11:55 AM.
    davidbfpo

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    No good engagement can happen unless it is done for its own sake, rather than some politicized ask, i.e. "okay so we'll refurbish your mosque for FREE.... BUT you gotta...."

    This is how imams get killed in Afghanistan and this is why many of the Ulema Shura are considered by locals as corrupt and illegitimate.

    All religious engagement should just be basic non-political support to strengthen the chosen body/entity for its own sake.

  17. #17
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Engaging the mosque, not guiding the mosque

    Quote Originally Posted by francois View Post
    What we should want to be careful of is empowering the mosque beyond its established role. We still want to set up a secular government, security and economic structure. If we support the mosque beyond its existing role, we could actually alienate it from the public and cause the reverse of the "human terrain" issue above. Or, equally, once it is empowered and we depart. Who might move in to exploit that power?
    Francois,

    Engaging the mosque is not "one size fits all" and in the Small Wars context there are very different situations. A mosque in Dearborn, Michigan is not like a mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan nor in the suburbs of Paris.

    I don't recall anyone in this thread seeking to empower a mosque beyond its established role - very few mosques say in B'ham, UK want to have anything to do with governance or social improvement. Others want to with their congregation push their role, by providing full-time education at secondary level.

    As for:
    We still want to set up a secular government, security and economic structure.
    Perhaps for some, somewhere in a foreign land, in Dearborn?

    Engaging the mosque wherever it occurs we, as outsiders and most likely non-Muslims too, seek to exchange views, gain understanding, respect and just maybe some partnership. The biggest gain is by listening.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member graphei's Avatar
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    I'm going to jump in.

    I'm going to relate a little story of mine. It was my sophomore year in college (2004) and I was taking a course called 'Religion and Resistance'. It was team-taught by a Professor of Islamic Studies and a Professor of Christian Studies, and it was a brilliant course. Great reading. Snagged an actual copy of Jalal al-e Ahmad's Gharbzadegi. Anyway, a debate was raging about religion and politics, as usual, and one student uttered, "Well, take the politics out of Islam." 'B', the Iranian Professor of Islamic Studies, looked up and said, "You can't. Islam is politics. Religion is politics." Everyone shut up and thought about that for a bit.

    So, to run with that train of thought: If Islam is politics, and the heartbeat of Islam is where the faithful converge, then the mosque is politics also. Granted some mosques take on that role more so than others, but nevertheless, it is a political place. It's just as political as a church, temple or synagog.

    Also, as a scholar of Islamic Studies, I'm a bit curious as to what you're all referring to when you say a "mosque's established role?"

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default What is a mosque's established role?

    Graphei asked:
    I'm a bit curious as to what you're all referring to when you say a "mosque's established role?"
    I too went on a journey to reach a level of understanding, which is still far from adequate, but sufficient to enable my own engagement. For a long time even though policing a multi-ethnic and multi-religious area of Birmingham I had next to nothing to do with mosques and very few exchanges with the public on their faith. After time in Pakistan I knew a little more; mosques were visited for their architecture.

    Skip forward I was lucky to have time to read, meet Muslims without conflict who knew I was a police officer and listen to others explain their views on the Jihad, not the Muslim faith.

    Then I met several Muslims who wanted to explain themselves and it progressed from mutual points of interest to some conversations about their faith. One mosque repeatedly made me welcome, with invitations to Iftar and courses on understanding Islam.

    In my journey it was clear each mosque had their common ground on enabling their faith - which I would describe as their 'established role' - but differed over interpretation. There is a wide divergence beyond that role, for example some play an active part in the wider community, encouraging voting and hosting non-Muslim organisations within mosque grounds on public safety and public health.

    I think pushing the boundaries of the 'established role' depends on a wide range of factors. In the local context here, what language Fridays prayers are conducted in can attract or repel converts.
    davidbfpo

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