Najaf and other historic standoffs at religious shrines
The Aug. 19 article "Besieging holy sites: past lessons" is excellent and timely. However, it does not mention perhaps the closest parallel to the current siege of the Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, namely the Indian Army's siege of the Golden Temple, a Sikh temple in Punjab, in 1984. A violent separatist leader was holed up inside, promising to die a martyr rather than submit to the national authority.
The Indian Army commanded vastly superior firepower, but wished to avoid damaging the temple. A Sikh commanded the force that ultimately attacked it. Numerous troops died, the insurgent leader became a martyr, and the temple was badly damaged. In retribution, two Sikhs assassinated Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister, the same year. Thousands of people were killed in subsequent ethnic violence. To this day, the Golden Temple is a potent symbol of Sikh/Hindu strife in India. Memories of events 20 years past still fuel powerful feelings of anger, revulsion, and despair.
I read the story on the Israelis bringing a successful conclusion to the siege of the Church of the Nativity. While that may be something to be emulated by the Iraqi and American armed forces in Najaf, there is also the other siege, Operation Bluestar, in India to consider. The militants holed up in the Golden Temple were killed or captured, and while there was an inevitable backlash, the militant problem was surgically removed. Ultimately, the insurgents in Punjab were defeated.
So the question is this, does the US have enough of a dog in this fight to go into the Shrine of Imam Ali? There will be a cost whether or not Moqtada al-Sadr is removed. But if he is neutralized, there might be political stability in the region.
The Aug. 24 article "Pakistan, US take on the madrassahs" fails to address several key issues. In January 2002, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf made a promise to register all madrassahs by March 23, 2002. He also vowed to introduce uniform syllabuses promptly and to end the use of madrassahs for preaching violence.
Those promises remain on paper only. By making registration voluntary, Mr. Musharraf ensured that few madrassahs have joined up. As to curriculum, the key issue is not teaching students math and science, but rather stopping the systematic inculcation of ideas of violent jihad and hatred of other faiths. The World Bank estimates that 20 percent of Pakistani madrassahs teach military skills. Not one of the estimated 5,000 "jihadi" madrassahs has been shut down. Musharraf's choices for ministers in charge of madrassah reform are also dubious.
Suicide is an act of cowardice. Living is heroic. Kids need to know that. Just changing the schools in Pakistan is not enough. They need a groundswell of optimism to overcome the violence and hate of the present teachings. The schools need changing - so how about supporting Musharraf's new program?
At long last we have realized that military actions will do nothing to solve the immense problems we are facing in the Muslim world. Helping to reform the radicalized educational systems that exist throughout the Muslim world is a first and necessary step, but we cannot continue to shoot ourselves in the foot with hated foreign policies, attitudes, and interventions like in Iraq that only enrage the Muslim world.
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