Iraq Constitutional Committee: We Do Not Want an Islamic Constitution - Why Are The Americans Not Supporting Us In This?

By Ken Joseph Jr.

BAGHDAD, -- On a quiet afternoon in Baghdad I waited with some trepidation for a meeting with a member of the Preparatory Committee for the Constitution of the Iraqi Governing Council. This is
the group charged with putting together the recommendations for the new Iraqi constitution. I say with trepidation because after conversations with Ambassador Paul Bremer and sitting in on his testimony before Congressional Committees it seemed clear that the Iraqi constitution would be an Islamic one.
Critic after critic I spoke to was clear that the battle for a secular constitution for Iraq was over.

Words such as "they are just going to have to live with it," referred to the minority Assyrian Christians, of
whom I am one. As can be imagined, many Christians in Iraq are alarmed at the prospect of a post-Saddam Iraq being even worse than when he was in power, and that a secular dictator will be replaced by an Islamic fundamentalist regime.

The most important issue facing Iraq is in fact the constitution. If a secular constitution is put in place establishing the rule of law with a clear separation of church and state, then there is truly a future for
Iraq. Having been born and raised in Japan I have lived the miracle of what an American-imposed constitution did for a nation in a similar state as Iraq now finds itself in. The constitution is critical.
Ambassador Bremer when asked the question "will the future Iraqi constitution contain the words 'Islam is the religion of the State' replied 'that is for the Iraqis to decide -- after all the British constitution is 'Christian.'"

His clear testimony, much to the consternation of the committee members was that they were doing the best to get a good, secular constitution for the Iraqi people but that as a Muslim country they really had no choice and could not insist. Imagine my surprise when I began to speak with the representative from the very committee charged with making the recommendations for the constitution of Iraq.

"The committee will be recommending that there be no inclusion of any ideology or religion in the constitution." I was expecting to get into an argument as to how Iraq must not have an Islamic constitution if there was any hope for the country to succeed.

I was completely taken aback as the representative continued. "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.

I could not believe my ears. I thought the Iraqi committee as had been clearly presented in Washington were going to put together a constitution that was Islamic. The Coalition was doing all it could to
persuade them otherwise but it was a losing battle.

The representative continued: "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.

"We have suffered for many, many long years under dictatorship and we will never, never lose this chance for democracy and freedom that has finally come to us."

I was stunned! Why was the message so different? I then proceeded to explain the testimony of Ambassador Bremer before various congressional committees which I had attended as well as my
personal conversation with him.

The response was immediate anger! "That is none of Mr. Bremer's business!"

Then the anger turned to surprise. "We thought the Americans wanted democracy to grow in Iraq? Why would they even think of an Islamic constitution?"

What could I say? I had no words! Why in the world would the Americans fight a war to liberate Iraq only to let the country fall into an Islamic government worse than the one it had before?

Well, there is hope. The Iraqis are more intelligent than we give them credit for and their message is simple. Do not speak for us. We will speak for ourselves. We will never allow victory to be snatched from us. We will be free.

Rev. Ken Joseph Jr., n Assyrian has been in Iraq since before the war and is currently writing a book based on his experiences in Iraq entitled "I Was Wrong.") and currently in New York.

would lHOME