Will the U.S. nurture an Islamist Iraq?
March 7, 2003
by Paul Marshall
A proposed first meeting of the Iraqi opposition on Iraqi soil has been delayed by disputes between Kurds and Turks, the late arrival of the U.S. delegation, and opposition leaders' criticism of American plans to install a temporary postwar military government. Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, fears the U.S. will leave Saddam Hussein's followers in charge. Kanan Makiya, an adviser to the Congress, says the U.S. may shunt aside those "who have invested whole lifetimes, and suffered greatly, fighting Saddam Hussein."
However, another aspect of plans for Iraq may produce longer-term problems. This is the push by some opposition Shiite groups to make the country an Islamist state. So far the U.S. government has not addressed the problem. Unless it does so it will repeat mistakes already made in Afghanistan.
The State Department's "Future of Iraq Project" produced a paper, "The Transition to Democracy in Iraq," for the December opposition meetings in London that called for a democratic Iraq with "freedom of religion, conscience and thought" treating "the members of all religious faiths strictly on the grounds of equality," It highlighted the dangers of any Iraqi state "controlling religious affairs."
Another opposition background document, the July 2002 "Declaration of the Shia of Iraq," also rejected any "sectarian discrimination," and called for "citizenship that would emphasize loyalty to Iraq rather than to any sectarian, national or religious affiliation." It rejected any privileged position for Shiites or Islam, and asked merely to manage their own affairs and have their religious heritage respected.
However, the December meeting departed radically from these expressions of Iraq's moderate Muslim and secular traditions and produced a "Political Statement of the Conference of the Iraqi Opposition" calling for religion to be the basis of a future Iraqi state.
Article 3 states that "Islam is the state Religion," the "Islamic faith is one of the fundamental characteristics of the Iraqi state," and the "rulings of the Islamic Sharia (law) are a key source for legislation." This call for Islamic law could mean anything from the freer systems of Malaysia and Bangladesh to the extremism — with repression of women and religious minorities, and stoning for adultery — found in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or under the Taliban. It is open to interpretation and implementation by any extreme element.
Article 3 also calls for respect for "heavenly religions and other creeds," while Article 5 calls for political participation by "Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and adherents of other divine faiths." But these "heavenly" or "divine" religions are only those, such as Christians and Jews, regarded by Muslims as having received a revelation from God. Members of other religions, as well as agnostics and atheists, are not called to participate.
The "Political Statement" also says that it will respect the charter of the "Organization of the Islamic Conference," whose "Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam" also conditions all human rights on Islamic sharia law, without saying what the content of that law is.
These provisions were added to placate some Shiite groups who otherwise might have quit the conference, something the U.S. sought to avoid. But the result threatens to shift the Iraqi opposition away from moderate Islam and secularism toward religious radicalism.
The U.S. government has turned a blind eye to this threat. The White House has even said, "The conference represents a strong statement of aspirations of Iraq…. We support these aspirations." America's policy in Afghanistan also suggests that we gravely underestimate these dangers.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. is paying the salary of the head of the Supreme Court, who is trying to forbid the broadcasting of female vocalists, has embraced flogging, amputation, and stoning, and threatened to "behead" non-Muslims who refuse to submit to his version of Islam. Since he views the law as divinely ordained, any critic can be charged with blasphemy, which has already happened to one cabinet minister.
Unless the U.S. realizes the danger extreme sharia law would pose to Iraq, America could preside over a process of radical Islamization like that currently threatening Afghanistan's reconstruction. Instead of aiding Muslims who want genuine religious freedom and equality, we will help build reactionary regimes that, as recent experience shows, are likely to become our enemies.
This article appeared in National Review Online.
Paul Marshall is a Senior Fellow with Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.