Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Words matter

Babble on.

Reading about Capt Trevor Greene this morning, and having heard anecdotally about Muslim standards of hospitality, I decided to do a bit of digging. I wanted to determine if the Afghanis who sat down with the Canadian officers broke any of their own rules. After all, according to Capt Kevin Schamuhn, the expedition commander that fateful day, the Canadians and Afghanis were engaging in a shura:

Capt. Kevin Schamuhn, the commander who was leading the expedition, told CBC News that the Canadian troops had already visited several villages during the day to attend shuras, or meetings with village elders.

He said all of them had been peaceful events where they shared lunch or tea and introduced themselves.

Schamuhn said the last shura of the day started off well as the troops sat down with about 30 villagers, including many children.

Once I started to look into codes of conduct appropriate for shuras though, the project spun into something entirely different than what I'd intended.

You see, while I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on Islamic tradition - far from it, in fact - I'm not sure that what the Canadians are conducting with Afghani village elders across the countryside actually qualify as shuras:

We now come to the fourth and central constitutional principle of shura. It is important to make two observations here. The first is that the etymological form of shura, derived from the root shawr, or advice, means mutual consultation in its widest scope — a collective deliberation in which all parties are exchanging counsel. The term shura, as such, is to be distinguished from the term istisharah, which means one side seeking counsel from another, and from the term tashawur, which means mutual consultation but on a lesser scale than that envisioned in shura as a nationwide participatory political exercise. For instance, in my country, Oman, the present assembly was first named al majlis al istishari, and only several years later renamed as majlis al shura, thereby claiming a more democratic posture.

The second point to observe is that, in the context in which the term has been used in the Quran, shura consultation is predicated on equality among those consulting in order to arrive at a collective decision. This clear Quranic depiction of the shura as essentially a decision-making process among equals has to be distinguished from the notion that depicts shura as merely an optional exercise in the seeking of non-binding counsel by the ruler, acting from a superior position, from those of his subjects with whom he may choose to consult. This rather disparate version of shura, claimed by the rulers and conceded by the clergy has historically co-opted real shura, thereby condemning Muslim and Arab political life to centuries of despotic rule. However, current Islamic scholarship is showing increasing inclination to restoring shura to its full-fledged legitimacy in the Muslim public life. (Babbler's bold)

Are these meetings really consultations among equals? And even if the Canadians behave as though they were, do the Afghanis consider them to be? How does this affect the dialogue, if the two sides come at the discussions with different assumptions?

Most importantly, is our limited understanding of the complexities of Afghan society hurting our ability to accomplish some real good over there?

Babble off.

Cross-posted to The Torch


At 1:43 p.m., Blogger Tim said...

Excellent questions. If we are there to do more than combat, then these are the cultural nuances that are going to directly affect our success on the ground. I'd be interested to see the cultural orientation sessions our officers are run through prior to deployment.

At 11:17 a.m., Blogger ETL said...

One is no longer permitted to use the phrase "shoot them between the bedsheets and the flip-flops."

And in a combat mission, one does not have to say sorry until prompted afterwards.



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