We say no to a medieval Kurdistan

Around seven months ago, a draft constitution for the Kurdistan region was made available for discussion, suggestions and amendments. Article seven of this proposed constitution states: This constitution stresses the identification of the majority of Kurdish people as Muslims; thus the Islamic sharia law will be considered as one of the major sources for legislation making.

It is clear to the world that in those countries where sharia law is practised – or simply where groups of Islamic militias operate – freedom of expression, speech and association is under threat, if not totally absent. The rights of non-Islamic religious minorities are invariably violated and women suffer disproportionately.

The implementation of sharia law in Kurdistan would be the start of new bloody chapter in the Islamists’ history of inhuman violence against the people, of oppression sanctioned by religious law.

In truth, sharia law contains explicit legal prescriptions that justify the violation of women’s rights, specifically when it comes to family matters such as inheritance, marriage, divorce and custody of children.

Violent acts against women are already practised in Kurdistan. For decades, Kurdish women have been denied rights and have been oppressed due to patriarchal and religious cultures. Women in Kurdistan are still caught between the “values” of Islamic teaching and the desire for liberation. Thousands of women have been murdered in so-called honour killings, and the slaughter goes on to this day.

Women “self-burning”, being forced into marriage and being denied the right to choose a partner are widespread. According to the Kurdistan human rights ministry, more than 533 women are reported to have committed suicide over the past year alone.

Historically, women played an important role in Kurdistan in all political, social and economic spheres, and still do so today. However, this did not win them civil and individual freedoms, owing to the dominant culture of religious patriarchy. A male relative is still entitled to make the decisions for “his” women, and impose his will upon them.

Just recently Iraq’s central government passed a law denying women the right to apply for passports without the consent of a male relative. This has all the appearance of treating women as somehow inferiors, or even minors, who need to be “looked after” by “responsible” males.

Here and now in Kurdistan we are facing the forced Islamisation of people’s lives. This draconian draft proposed constitution has prompted an international response. Along with five others, I launched a campaign to bring together all those who believe in secularism, and who therefore demand the removal of Article seven, to fight this reactionary clause, which would allow the Islamists to use official state law to justify their crimes against the women of Kurdistan.

Our campaign created a huge and unprecedented debate at the very heart of our society, a debate that has found expression in the Kurdish parliament. We gathered many signatures and support letters from political parties, civil society organisations and women’s organisations in Kurdistan and worldwide.

I travelled back to Kurdistan in order to meet with two other members of our campaign, Sozan Shehab, member of the Kurdistan parliament, and Stivan Shamzinani, a journalist, to present our petition calling for removal of article seven to the Kurdistan parliament.

We met the committee responsible for the writing of the constitution and we held a press conference in the parliament buildings. Our campaign and our unequivocal demand for secularism became big news in Kurdistan and we were featured in the national papers and on TV channels, radio and websites.

The media attention given to our campaign panicked the Islamists, and just few days after our visit to parliament they launched a counter-campaign. They have announced their intention to “campaign to retain the Islamic identity of the Kurdish people”. They have started to propagate the nonsense claim, via their various media outlets, that we want to impose secularism and forcibly deny people any right to express their identity as Muslims. Of course, this is simply another cowardly lie from a group of reactionaries who have been put on the back foot by our campaign’s successes.

The demand for secularism – and a movement that fights for it as a cause – is now a reality in Kurdistan. It has divided the society between two poles: those who want a secular society with space and freedom accorded to all religions and schools of thought, and those who have a programme of the imposition of political Islam on every aspect of our lives.

Our campaign for the removal article seven has opened a new chapter in the fight for secularism and against the medievalism and obscurantism of sharia law.

This struggle marks a particularly bright period in Kurdistan’s contemporary history. It is an historic movement for human dignity, for freedom of religions and other forms of thought, for women’s equality and human rights.

It is worth mentioning that without international support and solidarity, our campaign would simply not have been as successful as it has. Therefore, I call on all freedom-loving people worldwide to give consistent and unconditional support to important fights of this kind.

Our unity and worldwide solidarity does make a huge difference. It always leaves an impact. My thanks to all who stood with us in our struggle. We will continue with our fight until we win and push sharia law back to where it belongs – in the dark ages.

Houzan Mahmoud is the UK representative of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

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