Talking Points by Terry M. Neal

War Supporters Concerned That 'Theocracy' Will Be Final Word in Iraq Saga

By Terry M. Neal Staff Writer
Monday, August 29, 2005; 6:30 AM

With the original security arguments for going to war with Iraq now undermined, President Bush's sole standing justification is the prospect of spreading democracy through the Arab Middle East.

President Bush this weekend hailed the agreement between Shiite and Kurd negotiators for a new Iraqi constitution, even while expressing disappointment that Sunni negotiators rejected the deal. Voters will have an opportunity to accept or reject the constitution in an October referendum, and it remains to be seen what effect the Sunni rejection will have. But even if the constitution is approved by voters, a large question will remain about exactly what type of democracy will take root in that country.

President Bush hailed the constitution as an "inspiration to all those who share the universal values of freedom, democracy and the rule of the law."

But in recent weeks, some civil rights leaders and social conservatives had raised concerns to the White House over language in the proposed constitution calling for Islam to be the official religion of the state. The concern is that a religion is being specifically named. They note that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution did not name Christianity as the official religion of this country, considering religious freedom a basic tenet of democracy.

"Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation," the constitution reads, according to the Associated Press. "No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed principles of Islam."

Even though the constitution also demands that "no law can be passed that contradicts the principles of democracy," some in the United States who have typically supported the president's foreign policies worried that the outcome could be yet another Middle Eastern, pseudo-democracy that tramples on the rights of women and religious minorities, including Christians and Jews.

In an Aug. 18 statement, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, wrote on that group's Web site: "I have sent a letter to President Bush encouraging the Administration to redouble its efforts to ensure that the Iraq Constitution provides genuine religious freedom for all Iraqi citizens. An Iraqi Constitution that does not protect religious liberty will seriously undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq and the larger Middle East. The sons and daughters of Americans are not risking their lives to establish a theocratic government that denies its citizens the fundamental right of religious freedom."  (Here's an updated Perkins memo.)

Reached by phone on Thursday, Perkins said he wanted to make sure that the end result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq would not be the establishment of an Islamic state. And he questioned whether America's sacrifice would be worth it if it is.

"Let me speak as a veteran of the Marine Corps who has been supportive of the military action taken in Iraq. The idea has been to deliver the people from a [repressive] regime ... I think there are some who would question if we leave in place a structure that is less than sufficient in guaranteeing the freedom of the Iraqi people," Perkins said. "There are those who view that as less than successful."

Nina Shea, vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and an adviser to Bush, has urged the administration to take a more interventionist role in the drafting process, warning that what the proposed document both includes and excludes could undermine the larger goal of democracy in Iraq.

"I'm protesting," said Shea, who also directs Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, in an interview on Thursday. "I met with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld yesterday. I have been in discussions with the National Security Council and telling them that this would not be a step forward. It would not be a model in the region. It would be a model, but the wrong model. It would lead to the radical Islamization of the region. The dominos would fall in the other way."

Shea worried about the ambiguity of the language in draft versions of the constitution. If certain rights are not specifically spelled out, women and religious minorities could be discriminated against as they are in countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where clerics play a role in interpreting law. Among her specific complaints is that the constitution called for the Supreme Court to include religious experts on "sharia" (Islamic law).

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