Hanging Saddam Won't Bring Iraq Any Closer to Freedom

Shouting “Allahu akbar,” Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to hang. Said President Bush: “Saddam Hussein’s trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people’s effort to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law. It is a major achievement for Iraq’s young democracy and its constitutional government.”

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With Saddam Hussein definitively gone, however, there remains a significant impediment in Iraq to the rule of law and constitutional government, at least in the Western sense of those terms as involving equality of rights of all before the law. For the Iraqi Constitution as it currently stands stipulates: “No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.” This may seem innocuous enough in a land that is overwhelmingly Muslim, and indeed, many Western analysts have dismissed concern about this as hysterical. Charles Krauthammer declared in October 2005: “The idea that it creates an Islamic theocracy is simply false. Its Islamist influence is relatively mild….No law may contradict Islam. But it also says that no law may contradict democratic principles and that the constitution accepts all human rights conventions.”

Unfortunately, the intervening year has not been kind to this assessment. The Abdul Rahman apostasy case in Afghanistan gave a sobering indication that when the Sharia provisions of these nascent Constitutions came into conflict with “democratic principles” and “human rights conventions,” it was not Sharia that would fall by the wayside. The Iraqi government has thus far shown little interest in enforcing Sharia principles in Iraq, but it has also shown itself unwilling or unable, at least so far, to keep others from doing so—to the immense detriment of women and religious minorities in Iraq.

The crisis for Christians in Iraq has become so severe that Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Policy, recently wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on behalf of the USCCB, asking her to act to protect Christians and other embattled religious minorities in Iraq. “We are especially and acutely aware,” wrote Wenski, “of the deliberate violence perpetrated against Christians and other vulnerable minorities. … The growing and deliberate targeting of Christians is an ominous sign of the breakdown in Iraqi society of civil order and inter-religious respect and represents a grave violation of human rights and religious liberty.”

Wenski noted that “the recent beheading of a Syriac Orthodox priest in Mosul, the crucifixion of a Christian teenager in Albasra, the frequent kidnappings for ransom of Christians including four priests … the rape of Christian women and teenage girls, and the bombings of churches are all indicators that the situation has reached a crisis point.” Christians are being victimized, and some even killed, for selling alcohol—which they are forbidden to do under Sharia law. Christian women have been threatened with death unless they wear the hijab, in accord with Islamic norms.

Ironically, while the Sunni and Shi’ite jihad groups that are fighting against American troops in Iraq both maintain opposition to the Iraqi Constitution, their demand that Islam be the highest law of the land is already enshrined in it. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the father-in-law of Moqtada al-Sadr and the leading intellectual light of Iraq’s Islamic Da’wa Party, explained in 1975 that Islamic law must be the foundation of legislation, and that no legislative body could formulate any law that contradicted Islam. Or, as the Iraqi Constitution of today puts it: “No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.”

Unless this principle is directly confronted by Iraqi and, if necessary, American authorities, the status of women and religious minorities in Iraq will continue to erode, and Iranian hopes to create a Shi’ite Arab client state on its Western border will move closer to being realized. It is thus directly in the American interest to challenge the spread of Sharia in Iraq. If this is not done, the sentencing and eventual hanging of Saddam Hussein will do nothing to bring the people of Iraq any closer to the freedom that so many have fought so valiantly to secure for them.