Fort Bliss officers gain first-hand cultural awareness in community
December 2, 2008
FORT BLISS, Texas--More than 50 students from the Fort Bliss Basic Officer Leader Course visited the Islamic Center of El Paso to gain first-hand knowledge of the Muslim culture to better prepare them for deployment.
"There are two ways to approach the war - with hearts at war, or hearts at peace," said Chaplain (Maj.) Anthony Horton, 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade ethics instructor. "This quality information gives our troops facts and understanding of what the people of Islam are really about. Muslims are humble people and their religion is of peace and by getting this cultural experience, hopefully commanders will make choices to bring peace about."
Horton said this was the second time they offered the cultural lesson to junior officers and will continue to do so because, as future leaders, they will be conducting civil affairs operations. Therefore, they need to understand how to most effectively communicate with the people of Islam, said Horton.
Future leaders learned to say "peace upon you" in Arabic, which the Imam of the Islamic Center of El Paso said was the proper greeting and the best way to connect with the people of Islam. Another crucial aspect of their culture is respect, he said.
"People over there live in very poor conditions," said the Imam. "Poor people don't have material things to show off with. The only thing they hold precious is their dignity. If you hurt that, you lose them. If you give them respect, you will own them. This is my message to you."
Another way to gain their confidence is by drinking their coffee, said the Imam. He said many times their cups have fingerprints and are not the most spotless, but advised not to inspect them because that is the best they can offer due to their living conditions.
"If they offer you their coffee, they are offering you their life," said the Imam.
The Imam said it was very important to have the right principles and understanding of the culture to earn their trust.
The Imam also talked about the structure of the Mosque, the Islamic ritual prayers, the women's rights, religious customs, their humble and modest attire, their diet that prohibits consuming pork and alcohol, statistics, and some of the misconceptions people of Islam have about Americans and vice versa.
The Imam, who has been living in the U.S. for nine years, said most people get their misconceptions from watching television. He said most people in the Middle East watch two things on TV: politics and Hollywood movies. Therefore they perceive women as prostitutes and men as thugs, drug dealers, criminals and violent people. The Imam said the only way people in the Middle East will change their perception of the U.S. is by visiting and talking to them.
"Especially if you are a foreigner and you try to speak their language, they will laugh and joke about you, but eventually they will invite you to their home and force you to drink their coffee," said the Imam.
Second Lt. Will Andrews, a student, said it was good to hear a moderate version of the culture versus the extremist view, which was what he saw during his deployment.
"He was definitely real and upfront about how Iraqis are," Andrews said. "If you disrespect them, you will lose them. You will lose not only their trust, but also their cooperation. We were blessed where we were at, because we got the community's trust and they helped us tremendously."
Andrews said it was interesting to hear about some of the fallacies and rumors they have about Americans and said it works both ways. He said the visit made him realize that everyone is human and the only way the Middle Eastern conflict can be solved is by working together.
"I specifically learned about how to earn their respect," 2nd Lt. Jeffrey Cho, a student. "To me that was very important because you definitely have to gain their trust. One of the most amazing parts was the perspectives of both cultures. They are both obviously wrong in many ways. That is the part I found extremely interesting."