the Disillusioned kid: Theocracy or not theocracy? That is the question...
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Monday, February 07, 2005

Theocracy or not theocracy? That is the question...

Juan Cole remains a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the situation in Iraq. Today he has a thoughtful post on the possibility of Iraq becoming a theocracy, a realistic possibility he suggests. This got me on to thinking about some things...

Much of the debate about "political Islam" is coloured by Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudices, whether these are conscious or not. To this end I think it is helpful to consider the point by means of an analogy with political Christianity. Already we should begin to see the hypocrisy. While "political Islam" is considered an issue worthy of considerable discussion, the idea of a Christian counterpart is rarely countenanced and certainly if it were it would never be reduced so crudely (at least not by anyone other than a Philistine such as myself!). Politicised forms of Christianity, of course, have been very diverse, ranging from the vaguely-Marxist liberation theologists through Martin Luther King and pacifist Quakers to the Christian Right currently asserting itself in the United States and beyond to fascistic white supremacist readings of the bible. "Political Islam" is no less reductionist a signifier and could encompass more or less progressive ideologies.

This is not to suggest that I support the idea of a theocratic state, nor that I think it is a desirable system for Iraq. I am a committed atheist (if such a thing is possible) and believe that we should seek to separate religion and power (whether wielded by the state or some other political institution). Religion (or lack of belief) is a personal choice and should be respected as such. Systems in which religions wield political influence will inevitably seek to impose their belief systems on those within their dominion as we are currently seeing in the States with efforts to have creationism, or the slightly more nuanced concept of "intelligent design" included in the science curriculum.

Conversely I reject the interpretation of secularism which has sought to ban the hijab in schools in France and Germany. While it is important that schools not indoctrinate their pupils with one religion or any other this should not impinge on the choices of their pupils. This is not to dismiss concerns that some muslim girls are forced to wear the hijab against their will. This is a thorny issue, but I remain convinced that it is a mistake to think that we can liberate such people through the imposition of state power. Such families are further likely to be unaffected by the new laws and can simply withdraw their children from the state education system. This will only result in a reduction in inter-cultural interaction, increasing the possibility of misunderstandings and conflict.

The truth, of course, is that my opinions on what is, or is not in the best interests of Iraq are likely to have little or no effect. The ultimate choice must be left up to the Iraqis, even if they make what I consider to be the wrong choice. One only has to look at the conduct of the occupation so far to see the likely consequences if we were to try and forestall theocracy in Iraq. The role of the US and UK in this must also be borne in mind. By destroying the Iraqi state apparatus they left the population with nothing to turn to but the default social institution of their society, the mosque. This coupled with the not inconsiderable successes of Islamic groups engaged in armed resistance has helped to create a climate where "political Islam", an idea which always had some degree of support (a fact Saddam realised and sought to exploit in his later years), has come to have considerable currency. A fact supported by the initial results from last Sunday's elections.

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