Friday, October 14, 2005

Religion in Iraq

Bilal Wahab wrote in National Review Online As Iraqis prepare for a referendum on their controversial new constitution, many Americans have voiced concerns about the possible emergence of a theocratic state there, in which unelected clerics control the country’s politics. The real danger in the Iraqi constitution, however, doesn’t lie in the power it confers on religion over the state; rather, it is the power that it confers on the state over religion.

That sounds like unelected judges here in the USA finding some sort of Separation of Church and State in our Constitution, which does not contain that phrase anywhere in it, and the phrase comes from a letter Jefferson wrote to a Baptist group assuring them the Constitution would not hurt them.
The manipulation of religion for political ends remains the leading problem in the modern Middle East — and the central challenge for today’s Muslims. Islamic extremists — most notably, al Qaeda and its ideological affiliates — have cloaked their totalitarian lust for power in the language of faith, but the problem is by no means limited to Osama bin Laden. For decades, “secularism” in both dictatorships like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and mere authoritarian regimes like Egypt has meant extensive state regulation of religion and people’s faith. For these “secular” governments, independent religious institutions represent a threat to their rule; subservient institutions, in turn, can be manipulated to legitimize their political actions. In this sense, extremist Islamists are actually not so different than the secular despots they yearn to overthrow; both sides view religion first and foremost as an instrument of power and only secondarily as an individual faith.
Something not supported by the Koran.
In the case of Iraq, the political attempt to “own” Islam can be traced to the British Mandate following World War I and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. The British, eager to consolidate their hold in Mesopotamia, created a ministry of religious affairs in Baghdad, through which the state could “manage” Islam. In the modern Muslim world, “secularism” thus came to mean, strangely enough, that religion was a governmental, rather than civic, affair. State funds were used to build mosques and pay clerics’ salaries. And as government workers, clerics had to teach and preach what their employer wanted.
They need a true separation of mosque and state,
Under Saddam, for instance, a cleric’s failure to praise Iraq’s supreme leader in any Friday sermon would inevitably lead to his dismissal or imprisonment. Clerics, in fact, received weekly and monthly memos "advising" them on appropriate themes for their remarks. The government even began to determine which religious rituals would be allowed to be celebrated. It was not a coincidence that Iraq seldom celebrated the Fitr and Adha feasts on the same day
I am not surprised. Eid Al Fitr is the end of Ramadan and Eid-al-Adha is the end of the Pilgrimmage to Mecca
with Iran during its war with Tehran, or with Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War. Even the lunar calendar became a prison to geopolitics.

After the Kurdish uprising in 1991 and the establishment of a de facto autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, similar practices continued. The ministry of endowment and Islamic affairs kept paying clerics their salaries and in turn buying their allegiance, less in support of any Kurdish “national” interest but rather, in a contest between the two main political factions vying for control of the territory. During the civil war between the Kurdistan Democratic party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the mid-1990s, many clerics offered their religious blessing to whichever side was paying their salary. As power swung from one party to the other, the winner would fire unsupportive clerics.

This unfortunate dynamic has led Iraqi religious sects today to take a radical opposite stand in drafting the new constitution. Shias have imposed more sectarian rights and Sunnis, in reaction, have circled around their clerics. And this worries Kurds, since religion was often a Saddamian pretext under which they were oppressed. Thus, the abnormal relation between the state and religion will continue, harming both.

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