Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kurdistan: Intellectuals at loggerheads with clerics over freedoms and sanctities

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Erbil, Dec. 12 (AKnews) – Clerics and intellectuals in the Kurdistan region of Iraq are locked in a fight over freedoms and sanctities prompting both parties to resort to legal means to settle the conflict.

Intellectuals accuse clerics of inciting people against their freedom of thought and written expression, and of slander in their Friday sermons, while the clerics accuse them in turn of insulting Islam, and disregarding social norms and values.

More than 1,300 writers, artists, journalists, academics, and lawmakers have signed a bill they have prepared and submitted to the parliament of Kurdistan region calling for the regulating of Friday sermons.

Signatories to the bill say the aim of the project is to serve religion while at the same time maintaining public order and national security. "We believe that religion has to be conveyed to the people in a civilized way, without creating problems," the end of the bill reads.

KRG Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs Kamil Haji Ali, says any cleric slandering anybody or discussing matters of current interest through harsh discourse in the Friday prayers will be interrogated.

"But unfortunately, the intellectuals have separated themselves as if the clerics are not educated and are not intellectuals. Don't clerics in their Friday sermons also talk about the right of self-determination, the environment, federalism, children's rights and diseases?" says the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK)'s affiliated minister.

According to the proposed bill, in any of the three provinces of the Kurdistan Region there will be three sermons in three major mosques and these sermons will be broadcast on TV and in other mosques live instead of different sermons in the different mosques.

Following the submittal of the bill to parliament, the Islamic Scholars Union voiced concern in a statement saying it was a restriction on freedom of though and speech. "…they should have worked for expanding freedom of expression and speech and the horizons of democracy rather than trying to suppress the voices of religious scholars"

"We did not expect people who think of themselves as elite to take such a step in trying to silence the voices of other humans" the statement read.

In the parliament of Kurdistan, the bill met with flat rejection by the Islamic parties and groups while other secular factions have not officially announced their positions.

"We believe the bill looks in no way realistic and it is another attempt to restrict freedoms in the Kurdistan Region" said Bayan Ahmed, an MP of the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) faction in parliament. "Mosques have been serving people throughout history"

Ahmed Warti of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) believes a mosque in a particular quarter of a city has its own characteristics and their own territorial concerns to address in their Friday prayers, therefore the bill is not appropriate.

On Friday, an imam in one of the mosques in Erbil waved a book of poems by a Kurdish poet in the air attacking the writer and the publishing house saying it contained insults to religion and to God.

Erbil's Misdemeanor Court sentenced on Dec. 20 the chief editor of the Kurdish magazine to six-months imprisonment (lightened to three years of supervision) and a fine of 5 million Iraqi Dinars (about US$4,700) was imposed on the magazine because it published a poem that symbolically uses the names of prophets and was interpreted as insulting religion, and an erotic story translated originally from Arabic written some eight centuries ago by a Muslim writer.

Intellectuals say their writings, if not approved of by any actors, have to be responded to by civilized means like writings, not by inciting people against them in the mosques.

However, when a cleric published a book late December accusing some women's organizations and activists of not contributing to the solution of women's problems in the country and that that they defended norms and values that were alien to the Kurdish community, NGOs, women's rights activists and organizations were infuriated.

They organized demonstrations and called on parliament to restrict the clerics and said that such a book should never have been permitted by the ministry of culture.

In the demo, women activists raised banners that read "A Lost Truth and a Made Up Lie" referring to the title of the book by the cleric "A Lost Truth"

The cleric accuses, in his book, the women's organizations of urging self-burning and suicide among Kurdish women.

In an interview with AKnews the writer said he never incited anybody and did not judge anyone but depended on the women activists' own statements and writings to justify his viewpoint in the book.

"When you tell a woman not to accept anything from a male counterpart and when you say burning yourself is a sign of bravery and awareness, that encourages women to commit such acts" he said, referring to statements by some women activists.

While the intellectuals defend the bill that regulates Friday prayers and restricts sermons, they call for absolute freedom of written expression.

A Member of Parliament in the Kurdistan Islamic group (KIG) Ahmed Suleiman thinks that this is ironic because clerics and Islamic scholars are also a slate in the society and they have the right to criticism, expression and defense of their religion as well.

"It is their job to defend the religious values, faith and rituals" he says, "intellectuals have to realize that nobody has the power to manipulate the way of conducting Friday prayers by Muslims or the way of worship in other faiths."

He called on clerics and intellectuals to handle differences through dialogue, talks and conferences to converge ideologies.

Aso Karim of the dominant faction in the Kurdish parliament, the Kurdistani Alliance, says his bloc backs the rule of law and equality and the guarantee of public and individual freedoms.

"It is our job to regulate that and guarantee that these freedoms are not violated by anybody," he said.

Gorran (Change) lawmaker Rebaz Fattah says his bloc has not officially received the bill so that it cannot officially announce its attitude. "We have not officially convened to declare our position about the bill".

Raber y. Aziz

Wednesday, January 12th 2011 3:59 PM