December 24, 2004

Church and State in Iraq

Hm, digging even deeper through the IRI poll, it looks like about half of all Iraqis want to see a separation of church and state. Kurdish respondents probably skew these numbers, but it's still pretty impressive. Unfortunately, "impressive" is pretty much it. Without a well-constructed constitution and an independent judiciary, mere sentiments about a secular state won't necessarily translate into an actual secular state. Modest encroachments on the church/state wall can appear pretty quickly, especially since 52 percent of Iraqis would prefer to vote for a "faith-based" party. You start by teaching kids about intelligent design and go from there...

On the other hand, plenty of European countries never separated church from state, and many of those became more secular over time. I guess religions become more radical when out of power, or when marginalized, and become either more moderate or more "corrupted" by politics when in power. Reuel Marc Gerecht cited this fact as a reason for letting Sunni fundamentalists form political parties in Egypt, Algeria, etc.

On a related front, it's interesting to see that Iraqis are mostly hoping for leaders that can improve the economic situation in Iraq. (Security and terrorism rank rather low on Iraqis' list of overall priorities, although when asked specifically about security issues, the overwhelming majority (57 percent) ranked full or partial withdrawal of American troops as their first or second priority.)

At any rate, we know that there will be parties focusing on economic populism. And we know there will be religious parties, supporting various degrees of theocracy. But we don't know how the two categories will intersect. In the United States you have an economic populist party that's largely secular in outlook, and an economic elitist party that's largely religious in outlook. Obviously you can have economic populists who are religious—see the Christian Democrats in Europe [Oops!--too much eggnog for me, Christian Democrats obviously aren't economic populists... any other examples?]. But parties that focus on economic elitism—creating a favorable business climate, say—tend to lean heavily on either religion or nationalism, though. This is either because being religious (or nationalistic) leads you to accept a good deal of privation than you otherwise would, or because leaders use religion (or nationalism) as an "opiate of the masses". Weber or Marx, your pick. Of course, none of this matters much right now, but it's interesting, and relevant for understanding how an Islamic democracy will function.
-- Brad Plumer 1:40 PM || ||