Book Club Channel
Book Excerpt: Read Chapter One of "Religion, Terror and Error"
The knowledge that Americans who are engaged with the Muslim world (whether as ally or adversary) need most to acquire is found in the Qur'an. Quite simply, it is the Muslims' guide for living, their constitution for both personal and community behavior in service to God. In essence, the Qur'an is for Muslims a cross between Saint Benedict's Rule[xv] and the U.S. Constitution. Like our own Constitution, the Qur'an is subject to different interpretations by scholars of the law. Parts of it are ambiguous. What is the context of the different proclamations and ordinances? Should it be modernized and updated, or should it be interpreted in light of original intent? How does one determine original intent?
The Qur'an is orders of magnitude more difficult than the U.S. Constitution, especially if one is not religious. Arabic and Chinese are not easy languages; nevertheless, U.S. foreign service officers are expected to learn them. Like reading the Bible, understanding the Qur'an requires finding learned, pious, and humble guides. Any text can be trashed or misunderstood with a hostile attitude. Knowing enough of the Qur'an to be able to follow it wisely will win respect from foe and friend alike. It was in recognition of this fact that Alexis de Tocqueville recommended that translations of the Qur'an be provided to French officials in his report to the French government on its 10-year-old misadventure in Algeria that began in 1830. [xvi]
Equally important is understanding what it means to live sincerely a life of submission to God's will, as the Lord's Prayer enjoins Christians to do. Americans who are estranged from religion could benefit by getting to know their own God-loving communities for whom tight adherence to scripture is their higher law: the Amish, Mennonites, Trappist monks, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and other Christian communities of faith that attempt to live by The Book. Such people can serve as bridges for the secular and nonreligious in understanding Muslims whose thinking about God is little different from that of committed Christians. For God-fearing believers, God, not nation-state, is the ultimate Commander-in-Chief. Spiritual engagement is precisely that-engaging not scornfully but empathetically with those whose "spirit" is different and playing to that spark of the Creator that resides in all His creatures, albeit some more visibly than others. A fundamental challenge inherent in this changed approach to decision making is the possible unwelcome effect of dividing the military soul. It is difficult to be empathetic and fight to kill, hence the tendency over history to dehumanize one's opponents both on and off the battlefield.
The insights that flow from such inquiries belong to the orientation phase, which Boyd considered to be the most important link in the chain. Of particular importance is the "implicit guidance and control" function of this phase that concurrently feeds back to the observation phase and ahead to the action phase, based on the observer's ongoing ability to synthesize a number of different variables such as cultural traditions, religious imperatives, genetic heritage, previous experience, and new information. It is this guidance and control function that enables the observer to adjust his or her responses to a constantly changing situation. Although the timelines for aerial combat and the conduct of international affairs are vastly different, the OODA principles remain valid for both. This new frame of reference should enable us (1) to acquire a more nuanced understanding of today's circumstances, (2) to reorient our thinking, and (3) to reshape our strategy accordingly.
Douglas Johnston is the president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Johnston comes to this work after a long and productive career serving in the United States military and government. His edited collection Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft has long been cited as a key text in conflict resolution studies.