Since his inauguration in 2001, President George W. Bush has sought to undermine the separation of church and state at every turn, promoting “faith-based” initiatives, advocating religious-school vouchers and lauding the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.
Despite this ham-fisted religious agenda, however, there is one place where Bush would like to see a stronger separation of church and state: Iraq.
During a Jan. 11 forum on terrorism in Louisville, Ky., a questioner asked Bush about the best way to bring democracy and the separation of religion and government to the Islamic world. The questioner referred to church-state separation as a major pillar of democracy but noted “a vast majority of the Islamists across nations do not believe in that simple fact of separation between church and state.” He wondered how that could be changed.
“When you think about the Far East, democracy didn’t exist for a long period of time. And so principles, such as separation of church and state, were foreign to a lot of people where democracy doesn’t exist, until democracy begins to exist, and then it becomes a logical extension of democracy,” Bush said.
He added, “So to answer your question, it’s going to be the spread of democracy, itself, that shows folks the importance of separation of church and state. And that is why the constitution written in Iraq is an important constitution, because it separates church for the first time in a modern-day constitution in Iraq. The Iraqi example is going to spread. I believe that. One of the big issues in the Middle East is women’s rights, the freedom of women, that they’re not treated fairly. And, yet, when you’re guaranteed rights under a constitution and people are able to see that life is improving, it will cause others to say, ‘I want the same kind of right.’”
Iraq’s constitution, however, hardly separates religion and government. It bluntly states, “Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation” and mandates that “No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.”
Elsewhere the document says, “This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and the full religious rights for all individuals and the freedom of creed and religious practices.” The document also requires that Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court “be made up of a number of judges and experts in Sharia (Islamic Law).”
Some Iraqi women are becoming increasingly worried about the implementation of Islamic law.
“Muslim women are going to suffer if the civil courts are completely abolished,” Annam Al-Soltany, a lawyer and an activist with the Progressive Women’s League, told Religion News Service. “The civil law offers women more protection, but Iraq is a very religious society, and many people, including women, want Islamic laws and Islamic courts.”
One woman who definitely feels strongly about the matter is Sondus Kudhum, who owns a stationery shop in Baghdad. Kudhum, who is not married, said single women are not safe in Iraq. She keeps pistols in her store and car and an assault rifle at home.
“I’ll leave the country if they form an Islamic government,” she vowed.
In other news about Iraq:
• A Pentagon contractor paid Sunni clerics to assist with disseminating positive stories about the United States in Iraq, The New York Times has reported.
The newspaper reported last month that the Lincoln Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations company, was told by the Pentagon to locate religious leaders who could persuade Sunnis in certain regions of Iraq to disavow the insurgency. The company retained three or four Sunni clerics to help U.S. military leaders shape propaganda messages. The Times reported that about $144,000 was spent on the program.
“We do reach out to clerics,” Paige Craig, a Lincoln executive vice president, told The Times. “We meet with local government officials and with local businessmen. We need to have relationships that are broad enough and deep enough that we can touch all the various aspects of society.”
In November, it was reported that the Pentagon used the Lincoln Group to place positive articles about America in Iraqi newspapers.