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Except for "the chopping off of hands," Bremer is fine with Shariah

International

Issue: "The Kennedy Assassination," Nov. 22, 2003

Beyond economics and security, coalition administrator L. Paul Bremer doesn't seem to have focused readily on the emerging Iraqi constitution. That is surprising, given that the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council is under pressure from the UN to come up with its first formal draft by Dec. 15.

Also troubling in a Nov. 4 interview were his comments about religious freedom in a free Iraq. Asked if Islam will be the official religion, Mr. Bremer said the draft constitution will "probably" include statements favoring Islam. He also said the constitution could "include some form of Shariah law."

He cites a recent poll that found that 60 percent of Iraqis favor a state-sponsored religion in their new constitution. Islam could be the state religion, he said. "In principle it is hard to argue against the establishment of a state religion because our friends in the U.K. have a state religion."

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Mr. Bremer said there will be a free-worship clause and acknowledged he is "relatively comfortable with what the constitution will say about religion." He thought it unlikely that allowances for Islam would lead to an Islamist state. "Iran is a big negative example next door," he contended.

Asked about the role of Shariah, Mr. Bremer told reporters, "We need to watch it." He said it could be limited to issues regarding children and divorce, without applying to general crime. "We don't want the chopping off of hands."

Mr. Bremer isn't the only one on the Bush team who appears indifferent when it comes to religious freedom. "Iraqis will draft their own constitution," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a Senate hearing. "I cannot say what the outcome will be as the final product will represent a compromise between Iraqis of widely varying beliefs and ideologies."

Any form of Shariah law written into the constitution would be bad news for Iraq's Christian minority, who make up about 3 percent of the population but predate Muslims and most other religious groups in Iraq. Islamic law discriminates against non-Muslims, who are ruled as apostate or infidel, and promotes the authority of Islamic clerics above the rule of law.

"To be noncommittal about the central importance of religious freedom is to embolden those who hope to establish an Islamic extremist or fundamentalist state in Iraq," said Nina Shea, vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Not all Islamic leaders necessarily favor Shariah themselves, given Iraq's wide diversity between Shiites and Sunnis and among ethnic groups. Muslim cleric Sayyid Farkad Quizwini said he would oppose naming Islam as the state religion and the imposition of Shariah law.

"Whose Shariah?" he said, underscoring that a state religion could even turn Muslims against Muslims.

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