WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Daniel Heimbach has a unique perspective on the war in Iraq. He served in the first Bush administration and was credited with composing the moral framework adopted by President George H.W. Bush for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Now an ethics professor at Southeastern Seminary, Heimbach recently fielded e-mail questions about his thoughts on the Dec. 15 Iraqi elections. The questions, and Heimbach’s answers, follow:
BAPTIST PRESS: How will these elections impact religious freedom in Iraq in light of the draft Iraqi constitution accepted in October?
HEIMBACH: “The constitutional referendum passed in October was a major milestone toward Iraq becoming a fully constitutional democracy. And while there is much to evaluate and criticize in that document, we should not overlook how much progress this constitution represents compared to the Iraqi situation two-and-a-half years ago. Essentially, to assure passage of the constitutional referendum, negotiators allowed some contradictions that will need working out in the future. And the issue of religious liberty is actually the most important matter left to be worked out. That is because Islamic law is given a powerful role in the Iraqi constitution. It is not an ‘all powerful’ role. But it is nevertheless a very powerful role.
“What has happened is that drafters of the Iraqi constitution have tried to combine two diametrically opposing views of government: one being the rule of Islam and the other is the rule of civil law that guarantees equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion. So in one place the new Iraqi constitution says the government will make ‘no law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam,’ and in another place it says the government will pass no law that contradicts ‘the principles of democracy.’ This has to be a matter of grave concern to Christians. But we should also be grateful that religious liberty is being debated so seriously. For all its faults, the draft Iraqi constitution makes religious liberty a very real possibility in the midst of the Islamic world. And although it is not ideal, what has been achieved is amazing compared to what the Iraqis were under just a few years ago. In view of this, the elections to be held Dec. 15 will set the stage for how the Iraqi people will start working on the tension that now exists in their constitution over religious liberty. This one issue will determine just how free and democratic the Iraqi people wish to be.”
BAPTIST PRESS: What election outcome would be most favorable to religious liberty in Iraq?
HEIMBACH: “The best result will be one that is regarded by the Iraqi people themselves as having been fair, inclusive and truly independent and therefore worth supporting. It is especially important that these elections include some real participation by the Sunni minority that has been so suspicious of democratic government. That appears likely to happen at least in greater numbers than participated in the constitutional referendum. As it affects religious liberty, I think it is most important that two things come together in this election — popular Iraqi support for recognizing the legitimacy of this election combined with moving ahead with the provisional constitution that treats religious liberty as essential to democratic government. Sunni participation in this election will soften opposition to democratic government in Iraq. And softening of Sunni opposition to democratic government will mean greater support for religious liberty among Iraqi factions.”
BAPTIST PRESS: Can a stable, democratic Iraq result from these elections?
HEIMBACH: “Yes, I believe there is good reason to expect stable results from these elections. The Iraqi people have been going through a tremendously challenging transition from brutal tyranny to free democratic self-governance, all compounded by prodigious currents of religious turmoil. So it is truly amazing they have made so much progress in such a short period of time. They have moved from tyranny, to liberation, to free elections, to a democratic constitution, to a fully constitutional government in only two and a half years. And this process is working because it is supported by the vast majority of the Iraqi people. It is even being supported by growing numbers of the Sunni minority. Popular support for democracy has spread across Iraq and is visible in many practical ways. There is stability and growing prosperity in the Kurdish North. The economy in the Shiite South is now better than it ever was under Saddam. And even though tensions still exist in the Sunni triangle, those tensions have been growing less while the common people in those areas have been getting back to work and thriving more than ever before. Iraq is making steady progress toward ever greater stability and the December elections will help speed that progress even more.”
BAPTIST PRESS: How could a genuinely democratic Iraq influence the Middle East?
HEIMBACH: “A genuinely democratic Iraq in the center of the Middle East is sure to have a tremendously calming influence on its neighbors. Freedom is infectious, and nothing inspires a thirst for freedom than seeing others you know gain the benefits of freedom. A genuinely democratic Iraq will make monumental difference, because it will become the first ever genuine democracy in the Islamic world. Until now, Israel has been the only genuine democracy in the region. Other Islamic states — like the Palestinians, Lebanese, Kuwaitis, Egyptians and Saudis — have been moving carefully toward greater freedom and democracy for their people. But with their December elections, Iraq will become the example for others to follow. That is really why the terrorists groups in Iraq are feeling so desperate. They are actually losing ground and freedom is on the move.”
BAPTIST PRESS: How likely is civil war to break out following the elections?
HEIMBACH: “We should not be surprised if unrest continues. In fact, we should be surprised if unrest and tension does not continue after the election. But I do expect that tensions will continue to gradually subside. That also means the chance of civil war is growing ever more unlikely. The greatest reason we have for feeling encouraged about this is the behavior we have been observing in the Sunni areas of Iraq. Leading up to these elections, instead of taking up arms the Sunni community has been running candidates and registering people to vote. And as a result, a much higher number of Sunnis are expected to participate in electing a constitutional government than participated in the October referendum on their provisional constitution. That is a very hopeful sign indeed. It means the Sunnis are accepting the process. It means they are starting to believe the process will work in a trustworthy way. And that means civil war is no longer very likely.”
BAPTIST PRESS: How should Christians pray for the Iraqi elections?
HEIMBACH: “Christians should definitely pray for the upcoming elections in Iraq. We should pray the election process will not just be fair and just, but that everyone (and especially the Iraqi Sunni minority) will perceive the election process as having been fair and just. We should pray that a good majority is elected that is committed to securing religious liberty for the Iraqi people. We should pray that candidates will be elected who will resolve tensions in the provisional constitution in favor of religious freedom and equal civil rights. We should pray that more and more Sunnis in Iraq will have courage to support a freely elected democratic government in Iraq. We should pray for the safely and protection of Iraqi people going to the polls. We should pray that God will soften the hearts of the terrorists and Saddamists who have been trying so hard to spread fear and confusion, so that they grow to be ashamed of causing so much violence and destruction. And finally we should pray that God would start a movement to lead some of these terrorists and Saddamists to faith in Jesus Christ.”