Toward a revised Koran

Posted: Apr 14, 2003 12:00 AM
The horror of U.S. Inc., when an enterprising soldier draped an American flag over the bronze head of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, is an early warning signal of the efforts being made to hoist only a nonimperialist flag in Iraq. The challenge ahead is formidable, but not for that reason unappealing. It would be fine if we secured the active cooperation of Saudi Arabia, because in Jedda is the political key to the problem.

In 1969 a summit conference was called, which met in Rabat, Morocco, to form the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) with a permanent secretariat in Jedda. The challenge is to wrest from Jedda de facto sanction for an Iraqi government that will be Muslim but that will observe a separation of church and state. The end is that secular concerns and the liberty of conscience should fuse to create an incipient democracy.

The OIC has 57 member states, not all of them exclusively Muslim, but all with a substantial Muslim population. There are democratic states among them, including Turkey, whose Islamic majority prevailed in the last election and, ironically, refused to facilitate the American expedition.

The scholar Bernard Lewis identifies three schools of Islamic thought in the matter of dissenters, or infidels, to use theological language. There are those who believe that a sacred mission of Islam is to conquer the world by the use of the sword if necessary. A second accepts cohabitation of the planet but with stern monolithic concern for Islamic pre-eminence. The third accepts a division in religions abroad, and the realities and benefits of coexistence.

Tomorrow, the civil administration in Iraq will proceed under an American viceroy. The day after tomorrow will come in a year or two, when a credible Iraqi assembly evolves. The missionary work of the U.S. Department of State is to elicit a commitment to freedom of conscience from Muslim authorities. And there is no shortage of those who would step forward and declare that the Koran does not enjoin such activity as was engaged in by Saddam Hussein.

Professor Lewis tells us that medieval jurists and theologians discussed at some length the rules of warfare, including such questions as which weapons are permitted, which not. "There is even some discussion in medieval texts of the lawfulness of missile and chemical warfare, the one relating to mangonels and catapults, the other to poison-tipped arrows and the poisoning of enemy water supplies."

There is internal dissent. "Some justices permit, some restrict, some disapprove of the use of these weapons. The stated reason for concern is the indiscriminate casualties that they inflict."

Mr. Lewis, in his new book The Crisis of Islam, concludes the paragraph with charming self-effacement. "At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point -- as far as I am aware -- do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders."

Well, doc, if you are unaware, after a lifetime's scholarship, of any sovereign Islamic mandate that permits random slaughter such as was practiced by Saddam Hussein, we should proceed on the assumption that no member of a civil government in Baghdad will come up with a Koranic injunction to resume the random slaughter and oppression sometimes used to enforce one-man rule.

The looming omnipresence will be Jedda, where the secretariat sits representing the worldwide Muslim community. We have working for us the indelible picture of an elated people greeting their liberators. Bearing the scars of life under one Muslim ruler, Iraqi dissidents and converts are powerful missionaries to Jedda, and indeed to Egypt and Iran and Syria. The need is great to move toward a constitution in which Islam is acknowledged as a state religion, but only in the sense that the Church of England is a state religion.

In the best of all possible worlds, the sheer dazzle of the coalition's liberation should serve to illuminate the privations of life without freedom. But it won't be enough. If the inherent allure of freedom were sufficient to convert those who suffer from life without it, autocratic rule would disappear. More will be needed, in effective statesmanship, including persuasion and some tough love for those sheiks of Araby who continue life as though nothing at all had happened in Iraq. A great deal happened, including, for however brief a moment, the Stars and Stripes over the face of the tyrant.