Friday, January 30, 2004

Iraq: Islamisation, 'Jihad Rock' and death

Date: Friday 30 January 2004
Subj: Iraq: Islamisation, 'Jihad Rock' and death
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


The Iraqi Governing Council has voted to replace the country's civil family laws with Islamic Sharia Law.

Pamela Constable writes from Baghdad for the Washington Post (17 Jan), "For four decades, Iraqi women have enjoyed some of the most modern legal protections in the Muslim world, under a civil code that prohibits marriage below the age of 18, arbitrary divorce or male favouritism in child custody and property disputes. Saddam Hussein did not touch those rights. But the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council has voted to wipe them out, ordering that family laws shall be 'cancelled' and such issues placed under the jurisdiction of strict Islamic legal law or sharia.

"The order, narrowly approved by the 25-member council in a closed-door session on December 29, was reportedly sponsored by conservative Shiites. The order is being opposed by several liberal members and senior women in the Government." (Link 1)

LA Times staff reporter Alissa J. Rubin, comments that "the measure would shift women's fates from the hands of judges to those of clerics, most likely chosen by their husbands, who may have little commitment to protecting their rights.

"The law under Hussein was a progressive amalgam of the most generous Sharia rules toward women - drawn from each sect - on marriage, divorce, custody of children and inheritance, according to lawyers and judges. Although women were never treated better than their male counterparts, under Iraq's civil law at least a judge rather than a cleric heard their cases in matters of divorce and child custody, ensuring a measure of equity regardless of the woman's sect or ethnic background."

Rubin reports that "every judge and lawyer interviewed insisted that Sharia law was superior to civil law. 'Sharia is from God, the law is man-made, and Sharia is better because what comes from Allah is fixed,' said Kadhim Jubori, 55, who has practised family law for 33 years in Baghdad. A similar attitude was evident in the comments of Governing Council members who supported the measure. Ibrahim Jafari, a member from the Shiite Dawa Party, said Islamic law was more progressive than U.S. law..." ("Fighting for Their Future", by Alissa J. Rubin, LA Times 25 Jan 2004)

Pamela Constable's Washington Post article reports, "The chief US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, must approve the council's decisions and aides said unofficially that his imprimatur for this change was unlikely. But experts said that once US officials turned over political power to Iraqis at the end of June, conservative forces could press ahead with their agenda to make sharia the supreme law."

As was pointed out in a WEA RLC News & Analysis posting entitled "Iraq: The IGC and the Battle for Iraq" (Monday 28 July 2003) the US desperately needed Shi'a support for the IGC in order for it to be credible and have authority. In order to win Shi'a support, particularly from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI - the largest and most organised political organisation in Iraq) the US acquiesced to SCIRI's demands and permitted the IGC to be stacked with a majority of Shi'a, most of whom are staunch Islamists.

Under the 15 November 2003 "Agreement on Political Process", a transitional assembly selected through regional caucuses would form a fully sovereign Iraqi government on 1 July 2004, based on a "Fundamental Law". This Fundamental law, or interim constitution, would include a "Bill of rights, to include freedom of speech, legislature, religion; statement of equal rights of all Iraqis, regardless of gender, sect, and ethnicity; and guarantees of due process".

However, Iraq's powerful Shi'a leader Ayatollah Sistani has since insisted on direct elections for the transitional assembly, as well as assurances that the interim constitution will defer to Islam. Analysts argue that the motive behind Al-Sistani's consistent demand for elections is to secure a Shi'a-dominated government.

Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi, a key U.S. ally before the Iraq war, is saying that he supports al-Sistani's call for direct elections. Chalabi is no doubt considering the possibility of standing as a presidential candidate, and is thus keen to align himself more with popular Iraqi sentiment than with U.S. policy.


On 17 January the South China Morning Post published an article on the escalating popularity of "jihad rock" by local singer Sabah al-Jenabi. "The rhythm, you can almost dance to. The lyrics call for guerilla war. Though the lyrics are contemporary, the music is based on a form of religious music, centuries-old, called praising.

"Coalition spokesman Dan SeƱor recently said 'any sort of public expression used in an institutionalised sense that would incite violence against the coalition or Iraqis' is banned under Iraq's current rules. Yet, CD shops and cassette stalls continue to sell Jenabi's albums and those of other musicians calling for jihad, or holy war, against the Americans. They sell for 2,000 Iraqi dinars, less than US$1.25.

"At Sabah Recordings, a popular cassette shop in a Fallujah alleyway, owner Maher al-Ajrari at first denies he even sells Jenabi's music. But after an hour of hemming and hawing, he admits the 'jihad tapes' are bestsellers. He even carries 'video' versions: as musicians sing the anti-American songs, news footage of American troops killing and maiming Iraqis rolls by."

It is not surprising then, that that those considered to be American allies, even Iraqi Assyrian Christian women doing laundry for an American base near Baghdad, would be gunned down in cold blood by fellow Iraqis. (See BBC, "Iraq women gunned down", 22 Jan 2004.)

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) Ruling council tries to ditch women's rights
By Pamela Constable in Baghdad, 17 January 2004