Monday, August 20, 2007
Back in May I accompanied my commander, LTC Silverman, to the newly built Jazeera Council Center to meet Sheikh Heiss. My commander had previously asked Sheikh Heiss if he would introduce us to the religious leaders in our Area of Operations: an often overlooked element of our mission. Among those Sheikh Heiss introduced to us was Sheikh Abdullah--also mentioned in posts below. Maher, my commander's interpreter explained to me that a piece of art hanging above us was a quotation from the Fourth Caliph. He translated the meaning as, "You who are able to oppress others, remember God is able to oppress you." Impressed with the beauty and relevance of the saying, I was able to casually work it into my dialogue with the imams I met that day. I shared with them my respect for this principle, expressed that I could think of nothing more wise, and shared my regret that more leaders throughout the world did not take it's meaning to heart.
Not long ago, I received a heads up that Sheikh Heiss had procured an identical piece and was hoping to present it to me as a gift. It seemed appropriate that I return the gesture--as best I could, and I ordered a copy of my favorite piece of framed art that hangs in my office back in Fort Stewart: Arnold Friberg's "Prayer at Valley Forge". It seemed fitting to present him with art that illustrates a similar principle. (Remembering one's place before God is essential for a leader's success.) On the back of the print I wrote the following: "To my friend, Sheikh Heiss: May your leadership find continued strength in your relationship with the Almighty. Chaplain J. Nathan Kline US Army 3-69 AR (August 2007)". Exchanging art that conveys the same message and hangs on each of our office walls was poetic.
During the day, I was also able to visit with Shiekh Abdullah and make arrangements for our next dialogue session. He also agreed to help me train the commanders and staff of our battalion on Ramadan Awareness. We also have plans to support company commanders' coordination with our civil affairs team to conduct humanitarian assistance missions during Ramadan, as well as distribute school supplies collected by the students of Langston Chapel Elementary School in Statesboro, Georgia. These are small ways I can help support my commander's mission as a chaplain and non-combatant. I believe these are also ways in which I give myself to be an instrument of peace.
As always, our visit included formal courtesies and exchanges as well as problem solving discussions. (Pictured here are LTC McWorter, Sheik Heiss, and LTC Silverman talking through an issue.) It seems the most productive element of these visits is the side-bar discussions that take place afterwards, which can last up to three hours. The long, ornately decorated room becomes a market place of who needs to speak with whom, etc. And the few interpreters in the room are pulled every-which-way. And, not surprisingly, the shared meal is always a highlight. For my part, the food is absolutely delicious. I love the fresh vegetables and the tender and very recently prepared lamb. Adam, who we incorrectly thought was Sheikh Heiss' son (he is his nephew) was as enjoyable as ever. I include a picture here of him and LTC Silverman in a playful exchange.