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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 31, 2003

Islamic Expert Says U.S. Invasion Hinders, Not Helps, Iraq Democracy

The U.S. invasion of Iraq will serve only as an impediment to building democracy in the Arab world, not as a help, said Abduallahi An-Naim, a proponent of Islamic democracy, in a lecture at the UI College of Law Thursday.

"America cannot in a million years give Iraq its freedom and create democracy," said An-Naim, a professor of law at Emory University. "Only Iraqis can do that."

An-Naim, a Muslim and a native of the Sudan, is an international leader in a movement to bring democracy and human rights to Islamic countries and to incorporate those notions into everyday Muslim life and thought. However, he characterized the U.S. war against Iraq as "reckless, irresponsible and counterproductive," and termed the continuing American presence as a colonization. As a result, he said building the kinds of social institutions that promote democracy and human rights in Iraq will be difficult, and trying to persuade other Arab dictatorships to adopt similar institutions will be virtually impossible.

"You just can't become democratic overnight," said An-Naim. "Instead, it must be a process of incremental success. You have to build institutions that are democratic and accountable to the people over time, until they are accepted."

Similarly, he said the top-down authoritative approach that the Americans are using to create social change will only build more resentment among Iraqis. In addition, he said the United States cannot hold itself up as a proponent of human rights because it is violating human rights itself in Iraq everyday as it seeks to create its social institutions.

"We don't hear about what goes on in the lives of Iraqis everyday, when American forces break into their homes and detain them by the tens of thousands," he said. "That is a dichotomy that shows that America uses a double standard."

But, he concedes, now that the United States is in Iraq, it must proceed in a way that ensures democratic institutions that respect human rights. And he said all people must ensure that no similar war is fought again.

"We must restore our belief in human rights and the supremacy of international law," he said. "We have to work with the United Nations and other international organizations, and build on the best of what humans have accomplished."

An-Naim is the co-author of the 1996 book, "Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and International Law." His scholarly work arises from his personal experiences as a Muslim from Northern Sudan struggling to reconcile his Islamic faith and identity with his commitment to universal acceptance of and respect for human rights. He seeks to promote a liberal modernist understanding of Islam, and the cultural legitimacy of international human rights standards. He is also concerned with promoting human rights that lead to positive social change.

An-Naim is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory Law School and irector of the Religion and Human Rights Program of the Law and Religion Program at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, tom-snee@uiowa.edu