During the struggle between the Church, secular intellectuals and politicians in France, a republican politician made the following the statement in 1870: “who controls women controls everything. They begin with women, then move to children, and end with the men, in other words, the entire society.” That is why the Church focused on winning over women for their obscurantist project, manipulating them and enforcing upon them its ecclesiastic chains. And it is also for the same reason that secularists focused their efforts not against religion itself, but against the control of the priesthood over society and the state.
There is a parallel with the agenda of Islamic fundamentalism, and the various currents of political Islam in all its sects. For instance, Islamists have turned the issue of the veil into a symbol of a political struggle towards the greater Islamic republic. In the West, the issue of the veil is a Trojan horse to fulfill their agenda of changing constitutions and democratic laws to benefit Islamic groupings and organizations. Since the 1980s, we have been witnessing the battle of Islamic organizations in France over the veil in public schools, even though the law of 1905 had banned all religious symbols, including crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary, in public schools. Although some French politicians talked of amending the law of 1905 in order to win votes in Muslim communities, the law of 2004 settled the matter.
Hundreds of articles and studies have been published on the attempts by Arab political Islamists to impose a siege on women, and how they have made that their first battle in their fight to establish an Islamic system. Here we note the infamous decree 137, advocated by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim [in Iraq in December 2003] which called for Shari'a law to replace the 1959 civil law on personal status. The law was strongly opposed, especially by democratic women's organizations that fought against all kinds of discrimination against women, and called for the International Declaration of Human Rights and international treaties on women's rights to be the source of Iraq's laws on civil affairs.
Anyone who studies the main points of contention over the draft of the permanent Iraqi constitution cannot miss the attempts by Shiite parties and organizations to impose an Islamic system on Iraqis. This is precisely their point in making Islam the main, i.e. the only, source of legislation, and insisting that civil laws may not contradict Islam. This request is paralleled by the demand to impose Shari'a law over personal status. And who is not aware that Shari'a law, and Shiite and Sunni legal interpretations, conflict in most matters of personal status with modern constitutions and international treaties that Iraq had already signed, and with the International Declaration of Human Rights?
These fevered attempts, especially by SCIRI, are, in my view, the heart of the other kinds of contention with the constitution. For should an Islamic system like Iran's or Sudan's rise in Iraq, then the center in Baghdad will, when the right moment comes, oppose all the articles of the constitution that are not to its liking and that empower other ethnicities. Kurdish federalism will not be safe, nor will the rights and freedoms of other religions, nor will freedom of expression and thought, and other provisions that they agree to today, only to renege on tomorrow, as the clerics of the vilayet-e faqih did in Iran with the democratic forces and the Kurds after the Islamic Revolution.
It is a shame to see the level of the Iraqi street – ruined by Saddam, and increasingly battered by Islamists through the incitement of sectarianism – reach a deterioration such that we see respectable female MPs from the coalition list demonstrate publicly and appear on television to defend a man's right to beat his wife because it is sanctioned in the Qur'an. They reject the modern principle of civil equality in favor of equality in “virtue” and religious duties, and so forth. The women of SCIRI held a conference last July in Najaf demanding the inclusion of a provision in the constitution specifying that the Shiites are the majority: “the majority of Iraq's people, of all ethnicities, Arabs, Kurds, and Turcomen belong to the faction of the [Prophet's] Household [i.e., the Shi'a]” (on this, read the article published on the site of the Organization for a Future Iraq, on 7/21).
The women of SCIRI also demanded that women's rights be tied to “Islamic values,” and the equality of men and women be tied to “the view of Islam on equality between the two,” meaning the right of men to beat their wives, placing divorce in the hands of the husband, and allowing marriage to minors and the “marriage of pleasure” [temporary marriage] permitted in Shiism, and whipping and stoning, etc… As for the veil, Saddam and the Islamists after him have turned Iraq into a black forest of women, from childhood to old age. On the topic of veils, it is worth mentioning, as a humorous aside, how some go so far as to refer demons to justify the veil. In a funny article, Saadallah Khalil mentions a book on demons published in Egypt that argued that a demon will posess a woman who shows her face but is incapable of entering the veiled woman!
What is making me return to this topic, which our brave free writers have treated repeatedly in the papers and on Internet sites, especially decree 137, is the demonstration that was held by brave Iraqi women in front of Firdos Square for days demanding their modern civil rights, and on 8/15 in front of the headquarters of the National Assembly as it debated the constitution. I believe that all parties, organizations, and national figures who believe in human rights and democratic values, and civil society, should support the demands of the demonstrators and their sisters who are requesting a civil, democratic, federal constitution, out of reach from clerics, Shari'a law and the chains of Islamic legal interpretations that are no longer valid in the modern era.
The real issue in the ongoing constitutional, intellectual and political battle in Iraq is: will we have an Islamic constitution and Shari'a law, i.e., a religious system, or will we have a secular democratic constitution that separates religion from the state? That system alone guarantees complete freedom for religion and the religious, and safeguards this freedom which is lacking in every Islamic system when it comes to other religions, as well as freedom of expression, thought, and belief.
When the French secularists sought to legislate modern laws in accordance with the French Revolution's declaration of Human Rights, they raised slogans such as the following: “The teacher for the school, the mayor for the municipality, and the priest for the Church.” Or, “We are not enemies of religion, rather, we want religion to be protected, safeguarded, and free.”