I spent twelve months in Iraq. We taught and coached Iraqis on the finer points of democracy. I served with some 140,000 other soldiers and service members. As soldiers, I thought we did pretty well under the circumstances. For a country long accustomed to strong central governance, there was visible progress on their ability to govern themselves. But, we could not teach them tolerance.
I know our presence, our money, our training served as a brake on their worse instincts. We did solve some problems at the time by asking U.S. Army higher-ups to exert pressure on Iraqi higher-ups. The U.S. Army is gone, now. The Iraqis must apply their own brake now.
Sectarian strife is rising again. See CBS news report. Someone, surely Sunnis or Al Qaeda, are attacking the Shiites, again, as they simply proceed to holy sites on holy days. As before, I am sure Al Qaeda or its allies, seek to provoke Shiite reprisal for reasons best known to the terrorists.
Its a place where the tension is just below the surface. The Sunni-Shiite differences are superficial, in my opinion. The Shiite revere past Imams. The Sunnis do not appreciate their clergy in the same way. These and other reasons separate the two Muslim sects. They worship differently, yet they worship the same god. U.S. citizens may not believe it, but many, a great many Muslims are very gentle and decent. It is unfortunate that extremists of both sects can generate so much violence so easily.
At a Army Reserve school many years ago, our instructor was a college professor in his civilian life. In his civilian job, he was visiting science colleagues in Malaysia. In Malaysia, they have a large ethnic Chinese community. The Malays and Chinese do not get along there, either. The Reserve instructor, a Lieutenant-Colonel, told us how he was driving somewhere with a Malay colleague. The Lieutenant-Colonel saw a horrible car wreck. A man was killed. He remarked how bad it looked. His Malay friend somehow recognized the victim as Chinese. The Malay merely remarked, "good – one less Chinese." The instructor was describing intolerance. Not to diminish racial prejudice, he did want to put the issues of intolerance in a world perspective.
As a civil rights lawyer, I see racial and religious intolerance frequently. But, thank goodness, our intolerance is nothing like the intolerance we see in elsewhere in the world. I cannot help but think that our mechanisms, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have done much to relieve the pressure of intolerance and hate. I left Iraq very appreciative of our country and all that we have.