Middle East - Religious Freedom and Civil War

April 1, 2006 -- Listening to the news over the last few weeks about the concern of a civil war developing in Iraq and many Arab countries having death penalty laws for converting from Islam to another faith . . . has caused me to think about a more serious situation developing if Iraq’s democratization fails.

Now, I am not talking about an American democracy either, but one that is based on the same fundamentals characteristic of all democratic countries . . . And freedom of religion is about as fundamental as it comes. In fact, I see it as a direct extension of God’s gift of free will to all mankind. Nor does that mean one should disrespect another for believing in God through another faith or even denomination / sect.

Sadly, the western world has had its own problems too. We all can look back with disgust and outrage about the middle age inquisition by the Catholic Church against those who started and joined newly formed Christian denominations; similar persecutions of Catholics in England when the Anglican Church was founded by a King Henry VIII; genocidal atrocities of the Jews in World War II; and, more recent clash of Christian based faiths in Ireland with Catholics and Protestants killing each other.

And while condemnation of the killing of anyone for practicing a different faith should be loud and clear, casting stones today about what is still practiced in some countries is not what we should be doing or thinking. Developing a unified approach to change these convictions to that of tolerance and acceptance of each man and woman’s right to believe and practice as God allows through free will should be the goal. Hmmm… isn’t that what is found in democracy to flourish, which in turn should result in a better understanding and tolerance for the practice of other religions / faiths.

Unfortunately, listening to non-Muslims might be the single biggest problem for those in the Middle East who prefer to approach matters with a similar Middle Ages’ attitude born from the wars over Jerusalem. Distrust of non-Muslims by them might be so deep that it could take another generation of religious leaders with a better understanding  of religious tolerance by today’s western culture.

Okay, now imagine what might happen if democracy doesn’t take hold in Iraq . . . and full-scale civil war between Shiites and Sunnis occur. How will other Arab countries with a substantial Sunni majority react if genocide of Iraqi Sunnis is perceived? (Sunnis represent approximately 85% and 70% of all Muslims in the world and Middle East, respectively.) What else will Iran (89% Shiite) do in reaction to Sunni populated countries sending aid and fighters into Iraq? And what would Iran do to these countries if it had nuclear weapons? (More to think about than just Iran providing nuclear waste materials for dirty bombs in the USA and allied countries.)

Hopefully, escalation beyond what is now happening in Iraq will never occur, which would prevent the potential direct involvement of other Middle East countries coming to the aid of Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, respectively. However, we should keep in mind the underlying issues among these two Muslim’s sects that are deep rooted and have no single country border.

Therefore, seeing democracy take hold in Iraq might be even more important than any of us first thought! We should all be united in prayer for a stable, functional democratic government in Iraq, sooner rather than later, which should expedite the reduction of American and coalition troops . . . and the lessening of civil strife.

Note... While Afghanistan is further along in the democratic process, it too is in its infancy with a long way to go . . . Remember how long it took the USA to end slavery and give the vote to others besides white males.

David G. Bancroft
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