- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 13, 2004

It does not diminish the Herculean effort in Iraq, the sacrifice of young men and women fighting so others can have the freedom they enjoy, or the political price being paid by the Bush administration, to question whether the interim constitution signed in Baghdad last Monday will end postwar fighting and establish respect for the human rights of all.

On Jan. 23, 1973, President Richard Nixon announced “peace with honor” had been achieved following a costly war launched for the express purpose of preventing a communist takeover of South Vietnam by the North.

Nixon said the agreement between the United States and North Vietnam would ensure a “stable peace,” guaranteeing the right of the people “to determine their own future, without outside interference.” Less than two years later, Vietnam was unified and communist.

North Vietnam was happy to sign any agreement that would get the United States out of Vietnam, knowing it would never abide by its provisions and no mechanism existed for holding the communists accountable.

Perhaps the most problematic item in the interim Iraq constitution is the clause “guaranteeing” religious freedom. That’s because the document also places Islamic law, as interpreted by whoever ends up in charge, as the supreme law of the land. There is no evidence of religious tolerance anywhere in the world where Islamic Sharia law predominates. Sharia law is the most fundamental of the fundamentalist Islamic doctrines.

The Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) in Washington says Sharia law discriminates against women and Iraq’s small (estimated at 2 percent) Christian population. In a statement, IRD says if a Christian man converts to Islam, he could divorce his Christian wife and she might lose custody of her children, who would be officially decreed Muslim. Anyone converting to another faith from Islam is considered an apostate and, under some circumstances and interpretations of the Koran, could be executed.

That a single ayatollah — Sayyid Ali Hussaini Sistani — could delay the signing of the document and many of his followers still express reservations about the size and role of the Kurdish population in a future government signals the interim constitution may have less cohesive power than American officials think.

In his book, “Islam, Muhammad and the Koran,” Labib Mikhail, an Egyptian who moved to the United States in 1973, notes: “The Koran commands Muslims to fight non-Muslims until they exterminate all religions so that Islam will be the world’s only religion.” In the Koran, Surat Al-Baqarah 2:193 says: “And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against As-Zatimun (the polytheists and wrongdoers).” To a devout Muslim, a polytheist is a Christian, who believes God is three persons in one.

As with Vietnam, there is tremendous political pressure to put something in place in Iraq for which victory, or “peace with honor,” can be claimed. America’s enemies know this, and so they might agree to sign something they plan to renounce later for the purpose of getting the United States to withdraw its forces and make a takeover that much easier.

Secular leaders who fail to understand and appreciate the religious component of those who would rule Iraq miss something of crucial importance. As Mr. Mikhail writes in his book: “freedom of religion was granted [throughout Arabia] to all religions before Islam. When Islam subdued all Arabia, freedom of religion was eliminated, and Islam became the only religion until this day.”

No wonder the IRD is concerned. There should be similar concern and watchfulness by the Bush administration, lest the political doctrine of “peace with honor” — which was neither peace nor honor — be repeated.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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