Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sheikh Abdullah Jalal Mahklif

Lately, I have been discussing with our Soldiers the success experienced here in the Anbar province. President Bush's recent interim report mentions this province specifically; the quotation and link to the larger story follows: "The president touted successes in Iraq's violent Anbar province, a Sunni-dominated region which he said had been ‘considered lost’ and ‘because of what we call bottom-up reconciliation, Anbar province has changed dramatically.’" Even though they interact with the local leaders who are bringing about this "reconciliation", our Soldiers are largely removed from the stage on which this reconciliation takes place, and except for a drop in enemy attacks and a rise in cooperation from local citizens (significant improvements to be sure) they don't see the success.

In addition to speaking with Soldiers here at Camp Blue Diamond and at the various combat outposts, we also address this issue in our weekly non-denominational worship service. We make it a point to pray for the success of our mission, which includes sustaining our own leaders (resisting the urge to merely criticize) as well as praying for specific success in training and supporting local political, military and religious leaders—an essential element of our mission. We are not occupiers. We want this country to be stable and to have the skill, resources, and resolve to sustain itself. And if you think this sounds overly idealistic, we also regularly pray for our enemies—the insurgents—that God will soften their hearts and open their minds.

My developing relationship with Sheikh Addullah Jalal Maklf (briefly mentioned in the 8 June 2007 post below) is a helpful illustration of this aspect of our mission, and more particularly as it relates to a limited aspect of my commander's intent for me. Again, my primary mission, and that which occupies the lion share of my time, is caring for Soldiers and their families. However, because I am seen as a fellow religious leader, Imams and Sheiks are particularly open with me. Although he uses the title of “sheikh”, Sheikh Abdullah is also an Imam; and not just any Imam, he is the president of the Sunni Endowment, an office with ties to the local government, responsible for the distribution of local Mosques’ collections of tithes (or zakat).

Recently, Sheikh Abdullah visited me here at Camp Blue Diamond Chapel. Our dialogue on this occasion was unusually personal. I shared with him a slide show that addressed: my family, my professional and educational background, my ministry prior to being a chaplain, and what ministry to Soldiers in combat looks like. He was bewildered that my son, Benjamin, owns a snake and feeds it live mice which he buys at the same store he bought his snake. He found the religious diversity and population of the United States fascinating. I could tell he was wrestling with my conviction that such a diversity makes for a stronger society. We are looking at various ways we can sustain him in his leadership.

One of the more exciting elements of this is Langston Chapel Elementary School’s (of Statesboro, GA) sponsorship of several schools in this area. In addition to sending personalized letters, they will be helping to provide simple school supplies to over 400 elementary-aged students in the Jazeera district. One of their teachers, Mrs. Cindy Bozeman, is helping to spearhead this effort.

At the conclusion of my most recent visit with Sheikh Abdullah, I presented him with one of my chaplain’s coins (a military tradition of giving a medallion to another in recognition of accomplishment or expectation). The coin I use is designed on the theme of Ephesians 6:11-18: Paul’s admonition to “Put on the Whole Armor of God”. Sheikh Abdullah was impressed with this spiritual emphasis, and listened most attentively as I explained its meaning--as relevant to a Muslim as it is to a Christian.


Mitch Lewis said...

Great story! There's quite a bit of discussion within the chaplaincy, as I'm sure you know, about this "extra" role of chaplains in religious leader engagements. Your experience contributes significantly to that conversation.

Rock of the Marne!

Chaplain Kline said...


Thanks for the comment. I would like to discuss this with you:


Anonymous said...

You know, I don't doubt your sincerity, but as occurred in Vietnam, when you speak of "success" you speak of it as a sincere person who basically knows nothing about Iraq despite being there. I hope you come home safe, but sorry, you are an occupier and the "success" in Anbar is only temporary and tactical on the part of the Iraqi resistance (the ugly ones and the not so ugly ones).

Given that I do think you are sincere and would like to learn something about the place you are occupying (many good folks get caught up in bad things after all, and many good folks caught up in bad things have a hard time facing just how bad what they are doing is), might I suggest you start to teach yourself by reading this book by Hanna Batatu: said...

What people like Anonymous don't seem to understand is "Why?" "Why would we want to occupy Iraq?

The mission is clear and simple. An Iraq that is able to govern and defend itself, period.

Thank you for yet another informative post.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I understand "why" quite well. It has nothing to do with the propaganda Washington tries to convince it's soldiers and citizens are the reasons (the propaganda you repeat here). The reasons are Machiavellan in the extreme (though with this administration Klondike-Kopish in the implementation). It has to do with the politicians' deep ignorance and racism towards the Arab and Islamic worlds, a complete unwillingness to admit that our past and present malevolent actions and intentions are one of the single largest sources of the problems in Iraq and Middle East (following from a long line of prior British and French evils). Ultimately it's about ensuring Israel is allowed to go on engaging in Apartheid (in the US' case, primarily to fulfill the nutty anti-Christian visions of right-wing evangelicals and also the racist visions of right-wing Likudniks in the US and Israel), and it's about these guys in Washington being boneheaded enough to believe that through force of arms they can compel the Arab and Muslim worlds to accept American hegemony over their strategic resources (i.e., primarily oil) and force them to try to adopt our visions of the world. Read Naguib Mahfouz's "The Journey of Ibn Fattouma" for a good, nuanced fictional review of that topic. And I say boneheaded because even this administration (supposedly the biggest oil boys ever to inhabit the white house) don't know jack about how oil markets work or how oil works as a strategic commodity. If Machiavelli had an IQ of 4, that's what we have leading us now. What's worse is, the founding fathers designed a system of government checks and balances which were supposed to rein in any nutzos like this, but instead we have them trashing the Constitution and trying to undo our system of government with claims of executive power (i.e., no checks on us please, just trust us when we say we know better than everyone else despite our unbroken chain of screwups) even as they lie to the soldiers in the field and tell them they are defending us and our system of government. Sorry to the soldiers in the field, but your lives are being put on the line to destroy our Constitution (using the destruction of Iraq as the means), not its defense. I can assure you, neither Captain Moroni nor the Anti-Nephi-Lehis (to use two otherwise opposing examples of how to behave in times of violence) would approve of that.

I had enough conversations with Paul Wolfowitz to recognize that and have spent enough time immersed in the world of Elliot Abrams, Dick Cheney, et al. to recognize what they're up to. These men hold a deep, deep ingrained racism towards all things Arab and Muslim which they only (barely) paper over with occasional kind but insincere words of supposed respect. They also hold a deep sense of fear of that which they hate and live their lives convinced that they know better than all the rest of us and better than the Constitutional system itself what we supposedly need. Not very American if you ask me. And on the other side, living in multiple parts of the Arab and Muslim world (speaking the language and not just living in a western camp or base) with my friends and family there, then contrasting that to my years in Washington and in the heartland, it's not hard to see what completely different worlds each inhabits and how Washington manipulates ordinary folks to implement quite frankly stupid, racist visions in the Middle East.

No offense (even though I'm sorry it probably will sound offensive), but the average American - including the average American soldier in Iraq - doesn't know jack about what their own purpose for being there is, let alone what in the world the various Iraqi, Arab, and Muslim peoples think, even as they talk with them (guns and wads of cash in hand or silently in the background). Even the sincerest of Americans, is for the most part just one of 150,000 blind men feeling one square inch of the elephant and declaring they know what the whole thing is like. And again, that goes for US policy as well as Iraq itself. Sorry if that sounds harsh, I say it to my own friends and family who have been and are soldiers in Iraq. Most silently nod their heads recognizing they don't really know what's going on around them. Whether you are one of those or one who vehemently defends this bizarre ocupation, I wish you well and hope you come home safely. But I have to say, for your own good as well, I hope you do not kill or destroy the lives of any of the Iraqis whom you have been sent to kill and destroy the lives of. You may label them bad guys this week, and next week Washington may decide they're really good guys. The truth is, it is not our place to judge and certainly not to shoot, it is only our place to get out of there and when the dust finally settles to offer hundreds of billions in compensation as a minimal token of contrition for what we did to destroy an already broken country.

Read Batatu, read anything by Sinan Antoon, read anything by Imad or Walid Khadduri, read anything Raad Alkadiri and you will start to understand a little bit about Iraq.

Chaplain Kline said...

Together with several emails I've recently received, I see from the comments here that my latest post has helped stir an already boiling pot.

I am not offended by Brother Anonymous' comments. In fact, I welcome you to email me to discuss this more immediately: If we aren't talking with people who disagree with us, then we are not alowing our views to stay sharp.

I use the term "success" in a very simple and progressive sense. Our Soldiers have been given a mission, and they are carrying it out. They are eating meals and helping to rebuild neighborhoods with folks who were shooting at them less than a year ago. That this success may be superficial is fair for discussion. I see my prayers answered through the development of meaningful relationships and fewer casualties of war.

However, because MY mission is to care for Soldiers and their families, my personal quest for success is partially dependent on your continued support and prayers. And for these, I thank each of you in advance.

annegb said...

I'm still checking in and I appreciate this effort. I like the simple way you define success, also, I think it's a good definition for many parts of life. Simplifying success is a difficult task, or maybe an oxymoron.

My feelings about the war are ambivalent, more so as my grandsons near draft age. Anonymous, you seem pretty well informed and in the know with important people.

But, you know, there have always been wars. And with wars, tragedy, great suffering, and atrocities. It's awful. Terrible. But I'm beginning to wonder if your political answers or blaming are not important in deciding who's at fault. Perhaps what is at the heart of fault is man's basic contentious nature.

Maybe even Satan. It heartens me to know that there are men like Chaplain Kline out ministering to these young men who, despite your argument, are basically putting their lives on the line for (and IN, much to your chagrin) your country.

Frankly, though, I hope to God by the time my grandson turns 18 (in only 5 months), a miracle happens.

Tim said...

Chaplain Kline, I commend your effort as part of the overall mission. You follow a long line of Chaplains who seek to promote peace and faith in the middle of fire. Thanks again for sharing your experience and continue the great work. There is more going on than even the nations of this world know.

Anonymous said...

Chaplain Kline,

I have one of these coins that was given to me as a gift. Can you tell me the origin and the story behind the creation of the coin? Who created it? Why? And how long has it been in circulation?


Annie said...

I am so impressed by your experiences. I love the reference to Ephesians.

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