Professor Juan Cole at IAGD

Muslim Matters

Professor Juan Cole at IAGD

By Adil James, MMNS

Troy–April 5–Professor Juan Cole gave a detailed analysis of the Iraq war this past weekend at IAGD.

The professor spoke before a packed audience of about 400 people at the monthly IAGD dinner. After salat, some brief housekeeping regarding awards for IAGD’s monthly knowledge of Islam contest, and a wonderful dinner, Professor Cole spoke at length on the history of the war.

Professor Cole speaks many Muslim languages fluently, including Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu, although he argues that “English is the Islamic language of the next century because they need to speak to each other.”

He is a professor of history at UM Ann Arbor. He has written extensively about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia.

He opened with a few brief words in Urdu that drew applause from his audience, then switched to English.

Even for someone who has followed the war in the press, Mr. Cole’s speech showed a comprehensive knowledge of the war from the perspective of an academic non-Muslim.

He explained that Iraq is about 20% Sunni Arab, about 17% Sunni Kurd, about 60% Shi’a, and about 3% composed of other groups like the Turkomens and the Chaldean Christians.

He explained some of the prominent and famous Muslims who are buried in Baghdad, including Sayyidina Abu Hanifa, founder of the Hanafi school, and the “Rose of Baghdad” Sayyidina Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani.

He explained that in his view most of the rural Kurds in the North are Sufis, while those who live in urban areas are largely secular socialists, like for example Iraq’s president Talabani. He argued that the Sunni Arabs are partly Salafi and partly also Sufis.

He catalogued the mistakes of the Bush administration in laying the groundwork for the current insurgency, and perhaps most interestingly gave telling details about the backgrounds of all of the main players on the map today, including Moqtada Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, and others.

As Professor Cole explained it, not only did the Sunnis control Iraq under Saddam, but in fact Iraq was controlled overwhelmingly by the people from his home town of Tikrit.

Cole explained that many of those in the army, fired under Bremer, “had fought against Iran, and knew how to fight.” He explained that Iraq was “massively armed,” with 600,000 tons of munitions in depots across the country, many of which were secret.

When all Ba’athists were fired under Bremer, that also set the stage for a massive insurgency–since even to get a passport in Saddam’s time it had been necessary to join the Ba’ath party. Involvement in the Ba’ath party was very nearly universally required for maintaining a moderately active life in Iraq.

Professor Cole emphasized the statistic that in the Fall of 2003 only 14T of Sunni Arabs viewed attacks against Americans as acceptable, while in August of 2006, 70% of Sunnis said it was okay to attack Americans.

The professor’s lecture showed a very broad knowledge of Iraq, the war, and more generally the Muslim world. He is very conversant with the religious life especially of Shi’a Muslims, understanding the importance of maraja to Shi’a Muslim daily life. He cited for example a fatwa by the marja Ayatollah Sistani that perhaps single-handedly derailed Paul Bremer’s intention to impose an American-made constitution on the Iraqi population.

The professor spoke with dry and acerbic humor about the many mistakes of the Bush administration, which continue until the present day–he explained for instance that “Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed under the nose of Patraeus.”


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