November 15, 2005

Afghan, Iraq laws link Islam and democracy

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

VIENNA (Reuters) - The presidents of Afghanistan and Iraq
told a conference on Islam and pluralism on Tuesday that their
countries' new constitutions proved democracy, civil rights and
women's equality were compatible with the Koran.

Presidents Hamid Karzai and Jalal Talabani were among
several Muslim leaders at the gathering urging Westerners to
stop linking their religion with violence just because a tiny
minority misused Islam's name to justify terror.

Austria, the European Union's leading skeptic about the
possible European Union membership of mostly Muslim Turkey,
organized the three-day conference ahead of its EU presidency
starting in January.

"In Afghanistan today, we have a progressive constitution
that is based on Islam ... and guarantees the fundamental and
equal rights of men and women," Karzai said.

He said this was reflected by the fact that female
candidates won more than the 25 percent of seats reserved for
them in the September 18 parliamentary election.

"Afghanistan is both a poor and a deeply religious country,
but our poverty and our religiosity are not a hindrance to
democracy or pluralism," he said.

Talabani described Iraq's new constitution as a guarantee
of civil liberties based on Islam, adding: "We cannot have any
laws not in keeping with the tenets of Islam and of democracy."

But the violence racking his country overshadowed all else.
"Our people face a barbaric terrorism perpetrated by al Qaeda,
a war of extermination against the Shias," he said.

"They also describe the Kurds as traitors and they are
determined to kill everyone setting out on our democratic

Both the Afghan and the Iraqi constitutions were written
with the help of international legal experts after U.S.-backed
military action toppled dictatorships in those countries.


U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried stressed
Washington's view that Islam and democracy were compatible.

"There are some in Europe and some in my own country who
still make that claim, and there are some purveyors of
political fanaticism in the Muslim world who also claim that
democracy is foreign to Islam," he said, adding he could not
understand this.

"The history of the past 20 years shows that there is no
cultural determinism and that democracy belongs to all cultures
and peoples. From Poland to the Philippines, to Portugal, to
Israel, to Iraq, Afghanistan and one day to Iran and beyond,
democracy has and will take root."

While she saw no contradiction between Islam and human
rights, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said many
Muslim countries denied these rights to their citizens,
especially women.

"Women's rights are a common problem in all Islamic
countries," she told the conference opening session on Monday
evening. "In the 21st century, there are still some countries
that say a woman's life is worth half that of a man."

"Today many governments hide behind the shield of Islam to
justify tyranny by presenting a false and distorted
interpretation of Islam," she said.

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami politely chided
the organizers of the conference called "Islam in a Pluralistic
World" for focusing only on how the Muslim faith had to adapt
to changing times.

"Many Christians have an especially radical (negative)
approach to pluralism as some Muslims do -- both are mistaken,"
he said.