Iraqi alcohol ban: eradication of secularism

By Shuting Xia, on 22 January 2017

Written by Zeidon A. Alkinani

Photo credit: www.newsradio.lk

Photo credit: newsradio.lk

In every period of time, to maintain the dominance and influence of the ruling elite, Iraq has witnessed the suppression of a certain group. Common examples would include the Ba’athists’ repression towards the Iraqi Communist Party following their coup against the first Prime Minister of the Iraqi republic, Abd al-Karim Qasim in 1963, and the Shiite-led governmental De-Ba’athification following the 2003 United States-led invasion of the country.

Contemporary Iraqi politics utilises sectarian quotas, which requires all the top official positions to be split between the sectarian-divided political parties. Today’s Prime Minister, Haider AL-Abadi, is a Shiite Arab. Kurdish Fuad Masum is the Iraqi president; whilst the speaker of the Parliament, Salim Al-Jabouri, is Sunni Arab.

Despite having the role of representing their communities, these parties have actually failed to serve or improve the lives of their own people. They are driven by sectarian motives and supported by interest groups that could be seen as indirect, and sometimes direct, agents of regional power players.

Now none of these parties represents or works in the interests of the secular Iraqis, or arguably even the Iraqi civil society at large. This civil society – which is also embraced by moderate religious citizens – consists of all the tolerant, open-minded, creative, educated writers, artists, poets, actors, professors, doctors, engineers, lawyers, journalists, activists, reformist clerics and many other positions, regardless of their ethnic, religious or sectarian differences. Their cultural hub carves through Baghdad’s Al-Mutannabi street, where historical, poetic, cultural and political books line the sidewalks, and people meet for coffee to discuss music, arts or politics.

They are a group who affiliate their pride and loyalty to Iraq and its rich and diverse cultural treasures, no matter it is Al-Mutanabbi’s poetry, Nathem Al-Ghazali’s songs, or its Babylonian and Sumerian antiquities. This group stands in contrast to those who define their relationship to Iraq with reference to a sect or tribe, a certain leader or political party. This latter group threatens Iraq’s unity and taints its culture of tolerance and acceptance.

Iraq, the land of Mesopotamia, invented beer 6,000 years ago. Contained within a 3,900-year-old Sumerian poem – which honored the patron goddess of brewing, Ninkasi – is the oldest surviving recipe for beer. Even so, on 22 October 2016, the Iraqi parliament did not hesitate a vote to ban the import, sale and production of alcohol.

The Iraqi MPs took advantage of the country’s focus on the Mosul Liberation Operation, whose current aim is to retake the last ISIS stronghold in the country, to vote on a law. This is one of the government’s first constitutional abuses on secularism and personal freedoms. The law enforces violators caught with alcohol to face a fine up to 25 million Iraqi dinars (equivalent to $21,000).

Fighting against or for ISIS?
With regards to the Mosul Offensive – how could the Iraqi MPs pass such a law without any hesitation or uncertainty? What is the point of fighting ISIS in Mosul if we have to follow their standards of life and regulations in our own capital, Baghdad? ISIS is not just a terrorist group, to be eliminated permanently on a battlefield – it is an extremist ideology. Alongside Iraq, ISIS has been able to exploit affected people in destabilized areas, such as Libya, Syria and Yemen, by targeting communities from low-income backgrounds or through highlighting unjust representation and treatment from their governing elites.

Is this not the same Iraqi government that sent its army to successfully retake the southern city of Basra from the Shiite-led militia rule in 2008? And ensure a safer life for the secular Basrawis?

Why this needs a stronger international attention?
Regional and international states and organisations are always ready to play the blame-game and lecture Iraq about democracy. They always seem to forget what the actual reasons are behind the destruction of the governing institutions, including the military one. The dissolution of Iraq in 2003, disabled the Iraqi government which followed Saddam’s regime from controlling Iraq’s borders and defending the country from the increase of armed militias and transnational terrorism. Now is this the alcohol-free, democratic Iraq that George W. Bush was promising the world?

Rumors behind this ban
This law came days after the Iranian-sponsored ‘Supreme Council of Islamic Awakening’ conference in Baghdad on 23 October 2016. At the conference, Iran’s Khamenei’s representative, Ali Akbar Velayati stated the importance of sticking to Khamenei’s version of state Islamization. Faiq Al-Sheikh Ali, a parliamentary representative of the Civil Democratic Alliance, has raised corruption charges against the Iranian-backed Iraqi Islamist parties pushing for this law to be passed. Banning alcohol would make it a lucrative commodity in the black market. This would come as some politicians profit from drug overuse in Basra, a common province in Iraq overflowed by drugs smuggled in through Iran.

This is not an attack on Christians; this is an attack against us all
The argument that this ban only affects Christians is conceptually poor and indeed even dangerous in certain contexts. It is not only those that consume alcohol who protest against the vote, prominent Muslims also oppose this legislation. Their grievances lie with the eradication of secularism and religious diversity in Iraq. These are the principals in favour of the freedom, comfort and right of every Iraqi citizen to be protected by law, regardless of age, gender, background and other affiliations. There is a difference between fighting for alcohol and fighting for the right to consume alcohol. We are fighting for the latter. We are fighting against the governmental religious extremism. We are fighting for the right and freedom to act and practice our lifestyles, as long as we do not stand in the way of others.