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Reject State Religion in Iraq

June 21, 2003

Re "Don't Separate Mosque and State," Commentary, June 16: I think Amitai Etzioni underestimates the institutional and spiritual efficacy of government neutrality on religion. Carving out a clear space of religious freedom is essential because "liberal Islam" may become decidedly illiberal if the apparatus of the state comes under the control of individuals who find such a limited form unacceptable.

Spiritually, Islam demands the submission of the individual to the will of God. Such submission is undermined by the coercive involvement of the state in religious matters. One cannot submit, in the true sense of that word, if one is being coerced or pressured by a state-established religious institution. In the end, devout Muslims will be better off if the United States stays the course and establishes a government that is proscribed from concerning itself with the salvation of souls.

Nick Buccola

Pasadena

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U.S. policy in Iraq is to establish a state governed by democratic and human rights values. People will be free to practice any religion, including the Islamic faith, as in any democratic, secular country; for example, Indonesia. It is hard to understand why this system will restrict spiritual values, as claimed by Etzioni.

Iraq was a secular country and it should regain secularism. Mixing religion with politics or the state, as taught in madrasas, plunges states into primitive values, depriving women and minorities of equal rights.

Nirode Mohanty

Huntington Beach

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Etzioni made a cogent argument that it is imprudent for the U.S. to try to impose a secular democracy upon Iraq. He wrote that "separation of church and state ... is a peculiar American conception." This "peculiar conception" mutated from what in 1790-91 was a pragmatic concept for keeping the religions discrete in each of the separate states.

That model could be useful in Iraq if the "democracy" that arises there is a federation instead of a monolithic democracy. Such a model could permit a Shiite entity centered at Najaf, a Sunni entity centered at Kirkuk or Mosul, a laic Sunni entity at Baghdad, etc.

The drift toward a completely secular democracy in America actually began with the 14th Amendment, when Bill of Rights restrictions on the federated national government were extended to apply also to the individual states. This is not to say that federated autonomous regions within Iraq ought to be prevented from having theocratic bases, but rather that both secular and theocratic autonomies are fully consistent with a proscription against a state religion that is applicable to an umbrella government.

David M. Hudelson

Horse Shoe, N.C.

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The founding fathers included the 1st Amendment in the Constitution because of religious jealousies rampant at the time that were capable of denying the liberties sought by the document to anyone not adhering to a state religion. The compromise found in the 1st Amendment arose out of defensive postures for most of the signers, not out of a drive to shove the Enlightenment down everyone's throat. We know enough about Islam to believe a similar constitutional provision would be the best guarantee that we will not be back in Iraq in a few years to settle religious civil wars.

Harold Dilbeck

Santa Ana

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There is a world of difference between promoting religious values in the home or in schools and lending the authority and resources of the state to the promotion of those values. You only have to look at those places in the world where the wall separating religious practice from government institutions does not exist or where it has been compromised -- Iran, Afghanistan, Ireland, Israel -- and see the suffering of those people whose beliefs and practices are at variance with the state-sponsored religion. There is a reason Americans enjoy a degree of religious freedom unknown anywhere else in the world. It's called strict separation of church and state.

Rose Cohen

Woodland Hills

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