Avoiding a Theocratic Iraq A Constitution based on Equality to All

Paul Bremer has now opened the long awaited discussion. Will the new Iraq call itself “an Islamic state?” Will there be a state religion? What role will the religion of Islam as potentially dictated by the clerics and Islamists play? What role and what rights will women have in the new government? What rights will non-Muslims or any minorities have? Most importantly will the Constitution derive the essence of its authority “from the people and by the people” or from a defined group of clerics who want to impose their own so-called learned interpretation of sharia (Islamic Laws) for the Iraqi population? Is there a moderate interpretation of Islam available to the Governing Council that can get past the concept of an “Islamic state”? As America, Britain, and coalition forces oversee a transition of power back to the people of Iraq by June 30, two obvious elements need to come together for the sustainability of Iraqi self-governance. The constitution needs to embody principles that empower a free and liberated Iraqi population based upon equality of all individuals. It must also contain the checks and balances so that the new government can remain free from internal coercion and usurpation by nationalistic or theocratic demagogues standing by for the departure of coalition forces. The discussion of the type of constitution most fitting for the Iraqi people should be first an internal Iraqi issue. However, this cannot happen in a vacuum. Over three decades of Baathist oppression have left very little in the way of institutions and learned liberal individuals who can serve as beacons toward the enumeration of Iraqi principles of liberty. Some liberty-minded Iraqis are slowly making themselves known (many of them women), but no one can deny that among those in Saddam’s mass graves or Arab-Iraqi diaspora all over the world are individuals that would have been far more facile in the legal and political gymnastics of a constitutional convention within a majority Arab and Islamic population. For now, the Iraqi population that remains will have to move forward quickly with the creation of its first free constitution. While Bremer’s most recent language may sound a bit autocratic in nature, it is purely reflective of the level of discourse of the Governing Council. While no one is expecting individual Iraqi leaders to divorce themselves of their faith of Islam and its personal inspiration in the creation of legal foundations for their country, time after time, when they label their foundations as “Islamic” or empowered by a defined set of Islamic theocratic dictums, it becomes no longer the document for a “free” Iraq but rather a “theocratic” Iraq. As the constitutional conveners seek to bring together Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd, while empowering male and female free of autocracy, monarchy, sexism, racism, or fascism, they will need to hold fast to the exclusion of any specific religious discourse from constitutional prose. In any secular system principles can be applied to carry the beliefs of any faith but just not in the name of a specific faith. Semantics? Not hardly when dogma is so often imposed by so-called ‘learned’ religious scholars. Such is the conflict of every religious court of inquisition given jurisdiction over a secular court or government. To codify Islam, as a state religion, or its sharia as its pre-defined body of laws into Iraq’s constitution will be, regardless of intention, a sign to those of others faiths, no matter how small a minority, that they are not as welcome or as equal. Their rights and opinions will be secondary forever. This discussion in Iraq’s constitutional infancy is sure to be fueled with the new-found freedoms of individuals of all persuasions. Freedoms available to all from the moderates to the orthodoxy. Yet, I still cannot understand how it is that any clerics ended up on the governing council? Clerics could always have advised the council rather than represent. Not only does Islam have no clergy, but the concept that a man (thus excluding women) of Islamic theology is the obvious precursor of a man of government is the dogma that requires the deepest reform within Iraqi society, if not Muslim society in general. Certainly, religious laws play a role in marriage, inheritance and other aspects of Islamic life, but that in no way translates into representation or dominion over the populace and any branches of government. A religious advisor in Iraq in 2004 is a far cry from a head of state, but yet clerics were placed on the council. The steps toward democracy in Iraq cannot be forced in a timetable as Fareed Zakaria argues in his recent book, The Future of Freedom. He describes the need to foster constitutional liberty first and then a liberal democracy in developing countries. Self-rule can only arise out of a state of liberty. Liberal democracy, Zakaria describes, arises out of the development of pervasive autonomous institutions and most importantly out of free markets and capitalism. What is in most dire need is the input of moderate Muslims in America and the west. For those living in beacons of democracy like America can share through our experience as Muslims the value of separation of religion and state. This separation will give lasting stability for a nation like Iraq with a Muslim majority reborn in 2003 into freedom. The next few months will be most telling in its test upon the maturity of the Muslim mind in Iraq and beyond as it approaches the affairs of the state while peeling away overt religion. This column first appeared at the Arizona Republic at the following link.

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