Islamic parties intimidate, fear atheists in Iraq – Al-Monitor – Al-Monitor

Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Iraqi National Alliance party, speaks during a news conference with Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani in Baghdad, Iraq, Sept. 29, 2016.(photo byREUTERS/Khalid al Mousily)

Author:Ali Mamouri Posted June 22, 2017

NAJAF, Iraq Iraq’s Islamicmovements and political parties have intensified their rhetoric in recent weeks against atheism,warning Iraqisabout its spread and the need to confront atheists. Suchmovements and parties worry that public sentiment is turning against Islamicparties in politics and that this could be reflected in upcoming elections, scheduled for the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018.

TranslatorSahar Ghoussoub

In alecture this month in Baghdad, Ammar al-Hakimhead of the mostly Shiite Iraqi National Alliance party, whichholds the overwhelming political majority in parliament and governmentwarned against the prevalence of atheism.

Some people resent Iraqi societys adherence to religious principles and its connection to God Almighty, hesaid. Hakimcalled for confronting these extraneous atheistic ideas with good thinking and with an iron fist against the supporters of such ideasby exposing the methods they use in disseminating their ideas.

Hakims message is contrary to the Iraqi Constitution, which guarantees freedom of belief and expression and criminalizes incitement against others and against compelling others to adopt or reject a specific faith.

During Ramadan,religious lectures in Shiite cities in Iraq’s center and south the main base of the Islamic parties attackedthe spread of secular and atheistic ideas, which are viewed as threats to Iraqi society.

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Malikihas extensive influence among the politically ambitiouspro-Iranian factions within the Popular Mobilization Unitsmilitary organization. Hewarned May 30 of a supposeddangerous conspiracy by secular and nonreligious movementsto take power from Islamic parties and gain control for themselves.

Atheism in Arab culture, as described by contemporary Egyptian philosopher Abdel Rahman Badawiin his book, The History of Atheism, covers a vast range of ideas and behaviors. To Badawi, atheism includes agnostics, emerging secular movementsthatrejectthe political role of religion, andthose who criticize various aspects of religion.Secularism and atheism are thus often intertwined in the discourse of political Islam through the use of terms such assecular atheist trends and ideas.These ideas inspire fear in manypolitically-oriented Islamic movements.

According to Sayyid Qutb, a founderof political Islamwho is widely studied by Islamists in Iraq, separating religion frompolitical rule is tantamount to infidelity to Godanddenying divine governance.

DefunctKurdish news agencyAKnews conducted a nonscientificpoll in 2011about faith. When asked if they believed in God,67% of respondentsansweredyes;21%, probably yes;4%, probably no;7%, no;and 1% had no answer.

In a country that has not seen a national census for three decades, it’s not possible to provide official numbers for members of different faiths and beliefs. It isespecially difficult to know the size ofthose communities thatholdtaboo beliefsin a conservative society such as Iraq, which views these outsiders with disdain and wherethey are threatened by military groups andpoliticalleaders, some of whom demand theybe beaten “with an iron fist.” Much of what information can be gleaned comes inanecdotal form. Since 2014, after the Islamic State swept through Iraqi territory, many reportsfrom various quarters have observed that more people are skeptical ofIslamic beliefs and are rejecting Islam altogether,influenced by the negative image of Islam portrayed by extremist groups.

A prominent book storein Baghdad has seen more young people buying books on atheism fromprominent nonbelievers such as Saudi writer Abdullah al-Qasemiand British philosopher Richard Dawkins.Even in a holy city like Najaf and within the Shiite religious establishments, Al-Monitor spoke to several religious students who not only have begun to question the fundamental beliefs of Islam, but the basic principles of religionin general. They would be ostracized by society in a heartbeat if they expressed their views freely.

Human rights activist, writer and satirist Faisal Saeed al-Mutartold Al-Monitor that atheists in Iraq face very difficult circumstances under a government with a majority of Islamic parties and with the dominance of Islamic militias over society.

Faisal, who followsIraqi atheists’activities on social media, said, I clearly see that the numbers of atheists is rising in different areas in Iraq. Faisal recently founded the Ideas Beyond Bordersorganization, which defendsIraqi atheists and helpsthem organize and claim their rights.

Many atheists have been forced to flee Iraq because of harassmentand threats.Jamal al-Bahadly, an atheist who is vocal about his views on social networking sites, said he received death threats from Shiite militias in Baghdad, forcing him to leave the country in 2015. He emigrated to Germany.

As an atheist, I was deprived of the most basic civil rights in Iraq. I feel that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not include me and my fellow atheists in Iraq,”Bahadly told Al-Monitor.Iraq voted in favor of the declaration in 1948 at the United Nations General Assembly.

Leaders of Islamic movements repeatedly say they’ve seen a rise in the number of atheists in Iraq. Their statements of concernfuel even more concern amongthe ruling Islamic parties, who feara decline in their political power.

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