Commentary: Not So Fast Mr. Bremer! 550 Young Men and Women did not Die to Create an Islamic Government

By Ken Joseph Jr.

Iraq - The war was over! The Americans entered the country victoriously! They immediately began the exhaustive process of purging members of the former regime, disarming the military and getting basis services to the public.

The first order of business - a Constitution. Sensitive to the charge of having `imposed` the constitution the Americans were careful to do the work in secret and put a local face on the work. Some of the best minds in constitutional law were gathered together and the document was finally prepared against the strong opposition of remnants of the former regime but to the delight of the public, finally freed from the twin tyrannies of the former regime and the imposed radical religious philosophy.

The main sticking point? The role of religion in the state. To make sure there would never be a return to the abuse of the previous regime an airtight article on the role of religion in the state was included. It read:

`Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor excursive any political authority. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice. The State shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.`

There were many areas up for discussion but it was this article in the Constitution that saved the day. Those attached to the former regime were furious. The Public was delirious! They had finally gotten a `normal` government - no more of the previous regime and the abuses in the name of religion.

Iraq? No, Japan - 47 years ago!

It was article 20 of the Japanese Constitution that formed the basis for the separation of religion from Government that launched Japan from a rogue nation and a religious police state to the world leader that it is today.

Amidst the jubilation at the signing of the `Transitional Administrative Law` in Iraq a very important lesson from Japan 47 years ago has been forgotten. This is the critical importance of separating religion from government.

The relevant article, article 7 in the Iraqi `Transitional Administrative Law` says:

Islam is the official religion of the State and is to be considered a source of legislation. No law that contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy, or the rights cited in Chapter Two of this Law may be enacted during the transitional period. This Law respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice.

While much is being made of the bill of rights and other positive parts of the law, the most watched part of the constitution was article 4 in the previous Iraqi constitution which translates to article 7 in the transitional law.

Since when did Americans give their lives to create Islamic states?

Hekmat Hakem, a member of the constitutional committee put it like this.

`If there is any mention of religion or ideology or a phrase such as 'Islam is the religion of the state,' it will be the death of democracy in Iraq." Any such mention would disenfranchise half of the Iraqi population -- namely the women. `

He went on to say `The Iraqi people are secular and will never accept any mention of this in the constitution. We do not want to become like Iran. "We just want to become like a normal country. We want a constitution that is secular and gives local autonomy. It is against the teaching of the Koran to allow religion's involvement in government.`

Beyond that is the clear indication of the Iraqi public, like the Japanese public nearly a half century ago that they want a `normal` government - no more ideology, religion in Government.

47 years ago the United States sided with the people against the remnants of the previous regime and stood up for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

The reaction of Hekmat Hakem, and most Iraqis on the street We thought the Americans wanted democracy to grow in Iraq? Why would they even think of an Islamic constitution?"

And yet that is the reality that has come to Iraq.

When asked `do you want an Islamic government` the vast majority of Iraqis from Shia to Sunni to Assyrian Christian are clear that they do not want it.

Echoing Hekmat Hakem, `Why would the Americans even think of approving an Islamic constitution`.

47 years ago, a generation of the youngest and best American minds came together and worked very hard to create a constitution that would liberate the Japanese people from the tyrants that had ruled them. It took hold and Japan went on to become the world power that it is today.

They had realized a fundamental point that seems to have evaded notice by those that came after them - that `thugs` use `religion` to do what they want to do. They do all they can, as they did 47 years ago in Japan to get some mention of religion, ideology or philosophy in a constitution and in law so they can continue to maintain control under the guise of one or the other.
Ali Hussein, 35 a Shiite Muslim office worker makes it easy to understand.

"We do not want an Islamic government. While we believe in Islam and the Koran too often the religious leaders work more for themselves and not for the people. All you have to do is look at Iran."

Sadek Zamel, 36, and a Shiite puts it this way: "We don't want a religious government. We just want to be normal like the Americans. We want to travel -- we have not been able to travel outside the country for 13 years, we want to be able to take vacations, to be with our families -- to be normal."

Hayder Mousa, 33 is a Sunni Muslim and a producer: "I just want to be able to produce movies and work. I am a Muslim but I don't want religion in the government in any way. We just want to be a normal country. We definitely do not want to become like Iran."

The question remains, why? Why in the world would 550 young men and women lose their lives to create a country that states in its constitution `Islam is the official religion of the State`

Did not the Americans learn the lesson 47 years ago that unless ideology and religion is taken out of the law you cannot have the rule of law, freedom and democracy?

The `Transitional Administrative Law` is still transitional and Iraq is still under American administration. On July 1 Iraq is scheduled to be handed over. While there is still time, the clear desire of the Iraqi people is `we just want to be normal - we do not want religion in government`.

If the current July 1 schedule is maintained and a handover to the `Transitional Administrative Law` goes forward Iraq will immediately go into Civil War and the deaths of 550 young men and women will be betrayed.

Rev. Ken Joseph Jr., known as `God`s man in Baghdad` is an Assyrian, brought the first postwar relief truck into Baghdad and directs

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