Religious Reconcilliation in Iraq and Beyond
With the stunning election in Iraq, and the accompanying rise of expectations for greater participatory democracy throughout the Middle East, the call has gone out: Democracy is much more than elections. And it is so true.
The courageous Iraqis have led the way by dramatically demonstrating their commitment to universal emancipation and self-representation. Let up hope they can establish another precedent for the region: minority protection.
In a democracy, there are no second class citizens, minority rights are respected, religious expression permitted, discrimination prohibited, and civil rights upheld by an independent judiciary and enforced by the police. These goals for a democracy are often difficult to attain.
In the US, it took over one hundred years from Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the US to the Voting Rights act of 1965 which sought to assure that “no person shall be denied the right to vote.” The Voting Rights Act was designed to provide black Americans with equal access to polls by abolishing literacy requirements, establishing federal voting examiners, prohibiting changes to local voting laws without federal approval, and providing enforcement provisions.
Iraq does not have one hundred years or even one hundred months to get this principal right. It has about thirty weeks before the next election to ratify a constitution. The next one hundred days will be critical for the Iraqi people to demonstrate a consensus on the embrace of religious pluralism.
Thomas Jefferson said during his first inaugural in 1801, “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”
The fear of many analysts is of a tyranny of the majority in Iraq that shatters society into its constituent parts rather than fosters a national identity.
Thus it is quite heartening to see regional leaders take a strong stand in support of minority rights by calling for Sunni enfranchisement in Iraq. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa in a speech at Rice University called for equal rights for all minorities. “It should be Iraqis for all Iraqis, regardless of religion,” Moussa said.
When Moussa says “regardless of religion,” one logically assumes that he also is advocating that the Shiite minorities in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Pakistan, and Syria be afforded greater civil rights in some of those societies where they are now lacking.
Moussa and other regional leaders so actively lobbying for an inclusive approach to the Iraqi Sunni are implying by extension that Shiite, Christian, Sufi, Islamist, and Secularist minorities in Sunni majority Arab states must be respected with the same dignity now being demanded for the Iraqi Sunni minority. This new policy of concern for civil rights is to be applauded.
A popular word during the last weeks has become “reconciliation,” as in, “All Iraqis should come together to discuss the future of Iraq. I wished for this reconciliation to start before the elections,” Moussa said.
It is also the time for the ethnic reconciliation of Yemen’s Akhdam community and of the Kurds in Syria. The goal of religious reconciliation encompasses Christians in Arab states and Muslims in Europe as well as Sunnis in Iraq. All the world could do with a step forward in this direction-down the streets of Brooklyn, Baghdad, Bangkok, and Berlin.
Let us hope that in Iraq the principal of minority rights is as treasured as the principal of self-determination and that the promotion of religious pluralism and ethnic diversity is the premise of the New Iraq. Embracing Sunnis, Christians and even exiled Jews as Iraqis, Iraqi Shiites and Kurds have the potential to set an example even more powerful that of voting.
By Jane Novak
Daily Times in Pakistan