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Post Gen. James Mattis, Dan Carlin, and Islam
Created by John Eipper on 01/28/13 1:53 AM

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Gen. James Mattis, Dan Carlin, and Islam (Vincent Littrell, USA, 01/28/13 1:53 am)

I read this weekend where US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander USMC General James Mattis is being forced to retire, possibly for running counter to the Obama administration in some way I am unfamiliar with. General Mattis was very popular with his Marines and was an effective operational leader. In the history of Marine expeditionary combat and waging counterinsurgency through development and execution of effective tactics and operations, General Mattis's name will resonate for some time. Recently General Mattis and the CENTCOM Deputy Commander held a session with "outside the box" thinkers in Washington DC. General Mattis asked leaders and noted personages from different walks of life to meet and have a brainstorming session with senior US Officials, regarding ways to improve stability efforts in the CENTCOM area of responsibility (namely most of the Middle East and some of South Asia). One of the issues discussed were reasons why the United States hasn't been successful in waging counterinsurgency. I learned about this not-so-publicized meeting through the podcast of Dan Carlin, whose show Common Sense with Dan Carlin is one I occasionally listen too. Mr. Carlin was interestingly one of the invitees to this "outside the box" thinkers' session.  Mr. Carlin had read some material given to him by this meeting's organizers prior to the discussion. He said the discussion lasted about seven hours and was very lively. When he had a chance to speak, he commented that in all his readings of the material given to him the night before, aside from a brief mention of the Sunni/Shi'a divide, he could find no mention of Islam. He then commented that the United States and the West has millions of moderate Muslims who are not utilized by Western policymakers for problem-solving in the Muslim World. Mr. Carlin asked the assemblage, "why do we not see any major Muslim 'ecumenical' councils?" He commented that US/Western policy makers do not address the issue of Islam or utilize Muslim resources in the West.

Aside from the ecumenical Muslim letter which I've mentioned before in this Forum, "A Common Word Between Us and You" (see updated website at:
http://www.acommonword.com/ ), where Muslims from most of the major branches of Islam jointly signed a letter of positive dialogue to Christians and Jews, and occasional things I've seen regarding Sunni/Shi'a ecumenism through exchanges between Shi'a clergy and Sunni scholars of Al-Azhar University of Cairo, little has been done to get Muslim moderates across the spectrum of Islamic practice to meet in great ecumenical councils to come to grips with the scourge of extremism that so blackens the name of Islam in general.

Mr. Carlin's notice of the lack of mention of Islam in the packet received from General Mattis' staff is something I too have noticed in experiences with US policymakers in regards to Muslim world nation-states. A little over a year ago, I attended a meeting of mid-level US officials from different executive branch US government organizations on human rights practice and education in a certain Muslim nation-state. I listened to various human rights lawyers, US government action-officers, and others deliberate for about an hour on educating senior Muslim-world leaders, officials, and officers on human rights, because of perceptions of said leaders' violations of human rights and associated US law (Leahy law, for example see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leahy_Law ). During the hour I sat listening to these various officials, not once was the word "Islam" mentioned. So I finally raised my hand. I introduced myself and then said that I was recently returned from South Asia where Islam was utterly intertwined with all aspects of daily life, to include any notion of ethical practice and understanding. I then shared my concern about trying to educate Muslim leaders through totally secular education methods. I commented that it concerned me that not once had the word "mullah" been mentioned. I then shared my view that any effort at educating human rights ethics to senior Muslims in question may find practical effect only if sanctioned by officially recognized mullahs. There was dead silence after my comments. Finally a lawyer spoke up and said that such a thought had crossed his mind. Then they did start talking about it, and after the meeting several people came up to me to further discuss on the subject. My experience with a number of other US policymakers during my time in Washington led me to believe that religion and its role in policy circles is horribly underrecognized as a factor in developing stability and advancing the human rights agenda in the Muslim world.

I applaud Mr. Carlin's commentary at the General Mattis meeting of "outside the box" thinkers. Hopefully more US and Western policy makers will begin to look more closely at what might be done to properly engage Western Islamic resources to help bring about a serious discussion of ethics and human rights in Islam in general.

JE comments:  How will Gen. Mattis be remembered as CENTCOM commander?  I'd be grateful for other WAISers' thoughts.

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  • Gen. James Mattis, Dan Carlin, and Islam (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/28/13 6:31 AM)
    I enjoyed reading the 28 January post by Vincent Littrell and found little to disagree with, except the statement: "Hopefully more US and Western policy makers will begin to look more closely at what might be done to properly engage Western Islamic resources to help bring about a serious discussion of ethics and human rights in Islam in general."

    I believe that to have real progress in this "discussion" with Islam, we must drop this implicit attitude of superiority. We should not fool ourselves into believing that outsiders accept the implicit notion that we are in a position to debate and judge anyone's ethics and human rights without considering, beforehand or concurrently, that our own Western civilizations are very short on these commodities: ethics and human rights.

    JE comments: Do the types of ecumenical conversations envisioned by Vincent Littrell imply a sense of Western (Judeo-Christian) superiority? Vincent would emphatically reply that they do not. The rub, of course, lies in the verb "imply."

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