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Monday October 12, 2009

Religion must be part of the Afghanistan solution

Connecting with the hearts and minds of the people – not killing insurgents on the battlefield – is central to the US winning the war.

THE United States has a moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan. It is a responsibility to help them use the basic moral underpinnings of Islam to promote a free and democratic society.

In his assessment of the war, Gen Stanley A. McChrystal (the senior American military commander in Afghanistan) makes clear that simply winning battles and killing insurgents will not produce the results the United States wants.

His number one recommendation is to “change the operational culture to connect with the people”.

The vast majority of Afghans do not want the insurgents to win, he said, and they do not see Americans as invaders.

“The US’ strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain and destroying insurgent forces,” he wrote.

“The objective must be the population.”

Nearly all of the Afghan population believes in the basic tenets of Islam. It is the central focus of their lives.

So how can religion be part of the solution?

The United States must understand that Islam itself is not the enemy – only the misguided interpretation of Islam on the one hand, and the incomplete application of its principles that has led to corruption and insecurity on the other.

Six objectives underlie Islamic law.

> It must protect life and provide security.

> It must promote personal dignity and justice.

> It must protect religion, including the freedom to choose religion.

> It must protect property and to help people economically by providing a safety net.

> It must preserve the family.

> And it must protect and enhance the mind through intellect and sobriety, which is counter to the narcotics trade, now Afghanistan’s major income producer.

As Gen McChrystal points out, the people of Afghanistan do not trust their own government to provide their essential needs of security, justice and basic services, which are part of the six objectives.

This has created a fertile ground for the insurgency. When Gen McChrystal says he wants to change the operational culture to reach the people, this means the United States must engage the people at their core, which is Islam.

The US message to the Afghan people should be that America understands these six objectives of their own law, and the US focus will be to help them build their government around these principles.

This would win their hearts and minds. And other Muslim countries should be brought in as part of the alliance that will develop an overall political, economic, military and religious strategy.

The United States does have a moral responsibility – not to mention a strategic interest – in not abandoning the Afghan people. Now America must engage religion to be part of the solution.

> This article appeared first in the Newsweek/Washington Post On Faith web site.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations (www.cordobainitiative.org).

He is the author of ‘What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America.’

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