Secular State is *a* Human Right
And Religious State Creates Religious Wars
Today there was the news of death of Shiite pilgrims in Kazemin of Iraq because of stampede after the rumor of a suicide bomber attack. Some say the death toll are artificially high by some faction of Shiite extremists who intend to push the moderate Shiites from the Iraqi government so that the extremists can take over themselves to deal with Sunnis and other claimants of power in Iraq "appropriately."
Regardless of whether these rumors are true or false, one fact is undeniable and that is reality of start of Shia-Sunni war in Iraq the moment the plan for an Islamic state has been proposed, and the presence of the American military forces and their coalition with the Shiites, has created a perception that the issue of Islamist extremists is the U.S. But the catastrophe of Kazemin was the next step in these religious wars, in the sense that the war of Sunnis and Shiites has now expanded to the war of various factions of Shia when each one of these factions wants their own version of Shia as the prescription of the future Iraqi state and its constitution.
In fact, the war among the Shiites in Iraq is very similar to the war among the Sunnis in Afghanistan which we have been witnessing for a long time, and there too, because of the U.S. presence, the war seems to be the war of the remnants of Taliban with the U.S. But it is interesting that a senior military commander of NATO, in these days that we are near the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, has observed this reality that the increase of aggression is not related to the war of remnants of former Taliban with the U.S., and he is basically saying the aggression is the result of rivalries of those who are in power now. And he thinks the reason is only because of political differences. Of course political differences are the reality of every quarrel related to the government in any society, but in societies that have accepted a religious state, the political differences get the color of fanatic religious views, and in light of viewing differences as religious righteousness, any crime gets justified, the same way that Ayatollah Khomeini justified the murder of Salman Rushdie and later his followers justified the murder of Shiite Aghajari who himself had accompanied Khomeini in the fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie.
The reality is that unfortunately the issue of the right of having a secular government is still not viewed as a "human rights" issue. When we talk of human rights, people think of freedom of expression, association, etc and forget that when we live in a regime, the specific religious interpretation of the state, will have superiority to all other religious interpretations and thus there will be discrimination and violation of human rights in such religious apartheid regimes, and as long as the state is a religious state, one cannot eliminate religious apartheid from it and create a so-called "religious democracy". Therefore, it is self-deception to talk about Islamic democracy in Afghanistan or Iraq as the Iranian Islamic reformists have talked of imaginary Islamic democracy for years and have misguided the people. Observing the human rights and negating the discrimination means throwing away the religious state and to establish a secular state.
All populist formulas of democratic Islamic republics are condemned to end in expanding religious wars sooner or later. If in Iran of the Islamic Republic with the absolute majority of Shiites, and in the Afghanistan of Taliban, with its absolute majority of Sunnis, it took a while before religious wars within Shia or Sunni started, when the likes of Aghajari were called heretic by the majority of clergy because of his Shiite Protestant views and went close to being executed, in Iraq where neither Sunnis nor Shiites are the majority, the Shiite-Sunni war has started long before beginning to write a new constitution of an Islamic republic for that land, and the flames of religious war are going to engulf the region with it.
The issue of religious states in the Middle East is an important point for the progressive forces in the West, to pay attention to, and to defend secularism. Defending human rights in the Middle East means defending the right of the people to have a secular government. And just as a popular vote banning freedom of expression should not be construed as a reason to stop such a human right, a popular vote for Islamist state should not be construed as a reason to drop the human right for a secular state.
Terrorism in the Middle East is no longer limited to the battle of retrogressive religious forces against progress and democracy, but the religious wars with rival retrogressive forces is going to destroy the secular progress of the Middle East. If the events from the beginning of Islamic Republic of Iran to September 11th has taught one lesson to the world, it should be the need for the full separation of state and religion.
Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher
September 1, 2005