We were briefed about fatalism as a part of the Iraqi culture before we deployed, and it sounded exactly like the fatalistic aspect of the cultures of other neighboring countries that I have visited over the course of my time in the military. One of the greatest challenges that we face in training the New Iraqi Army is overcoming that sense of fatalism and replacing it with detailed planning and the use of explicit instructions to subordinates. Getting a group of Colonels that have been doing things "their way" for the last 20-30 years is always a challenge, but when so much of what we believe to be personal action and resposibility is attributed to The Almighty, it can be so much the worse. As an adviser, I have no command authority. I teach, advise, coach and mentor. I am not authorized to force my Iraqi counterparts to do anything. When I do make suggestions, I get one of three outcomes depending on the Iraqi:
- They blow me off and do it their own way or do nothing at all.
- They pay me lipservice as to what a great idea that is and then blow me off and do it their own way or nothing at all.
- They say what a great idea it is or that they will give it a try and execute, doing better than they had previously.
I was explaining this to an Iraqi Major a few weeks ago when he asked me why I had chuckled when a Colonel in the room had answered one of my ideas with "inshallah." - "God Willing." He asked me if I knew what it meant. I replied that I did know what it meant both literally and figuratively, and that I hoped I had not offended him. He stated that he would know whether or not he should be offended when I explained why I chuckled. I proceeded to explain to him that I knew the expression well, and had seen many people use it as a precursor to passive inactivity. It is common in the culture here to invoke the name of God frequently in normal conversation, and many people use it as a courteous and social way of invoking God's blessing on their hopes and endeavors.
I used an example of an instance where I had discussed planning an operation with another Colonel. He had said that the plan would work "inshallah." I had told him that I believe that God helps those that help themselves, and that the plan would work if he developed a good plan." He laughed, but I had made my point.
I further explained to the Major that many times when encouraged to do something to improve their situation, people have said "inshallah" and done nothing. They then attributed the lack of improvement to God's will. I told him that people do the same thing in America, but they don't blame God. They blame the government, corporations or "the man." He smiled, telling me that he was not offended and that I understood Iraqis very well. At this point we both laughed out loud and raise our glasses of tea again.
I try to spend my time focusing on the officers that react in the third way I listed above, so that I can make two steps forward every day. The officers that react in the first two ways will aways provide for a step back. Two steps forward, one step back....inshallah.