A fine line

May 29, 2011

Is Iraq ready for the future?

The Iraqi constitution describes Iraq as a democratic, federalist country in which no law shall be passed that contradicts the values of Islam and democracy. But in practice this rarely applies.
This contradiction is evident when the Iraqi legislature tries to pass laws that restrict civil liberties while at the same time trying to measure up to the standards and face the challenges of the present day.
The big problem for us in Iraq is that we still don’t know what the new world is about and what its requirements are. At times we ignore the requirements of this world, and say that “Iraq is different from the rest of the world.” Just like how the Syrians used to say that they were different from the rest of the world — and we see what’s happening to them today.
In the new state, the foundations of which we are still trying to lay, we can’t neglect the values of civil rights and liberties. What is interesting here is that some are trying to bring back the characteristics of the past era, despite the fact that totalitarian regimes will no longer be tolerated, as we’re witnessing in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
The reasons behind this lingering attachment to the way things were are various: ignorance of the realities of today’s world; ignorance of its values; a determination to take Iraq back to dictatorship and tyranny. The advocates of restoring Iraq’s former type of rule accuse their opponents of supporting “the foreign powers, who have agendas to destroy Iraq”. What’s worse, some leaders of the new Iraq believe this nonsense.
The draft Journalists Protection Law (JPL) and draft Telecommunications Act are prime examples of this.
The leading Iraqi columnist, journalist, and commentator, Kamran Qaradaghi, described the draft JPL as the Journalists Syndicate’s Protection Law.
While hiding behind its call for greater privileges for journalists who are injured on the job, those who drafted the JPL are trying to take journalistic freedoms back to the dark ages. They are also trying to depict the conflict between those who support the draft and those who are against it as a conflict between good and evil, or between the “Iraqis and the foreigners”, despite the fact that those who are against the law are prominent Iraqi journalists and writers.
Furthermore, a quick look at the draft Telecommunication Act reveals  that it lacks some of the main requirements of such legislation in today’s world. The draft tries to apply a legal code of conduct to journalists, who would be punished if they don’t abide by it. This is happening at a time when codes of conduct are, generally, voluntary charters, the aim of which is to maintain a high professional standard without the interference of the law, which would eventually lead to censorship or self-censorship. When was the last time you heard of such a code being legally enforced?
The draft also shows a lack of understanding of modern media, in addition to the absence of mechanisms that would guarantee the transparency of the Communications and Media Commission and allow for public scrutiny of its work. This would deter serious investors in telecommunications and media, and as a result hamper the progress of these industries in Iraq.
Iraq’s march towards modernization is not easy. With each new piece of legislation or decision, Iraq turns a new corner and a new challenge poses itself to us all, a challenge that defines the difference between being part of the totalitarian and dictatorial past and being a pioneer of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
At times like these, the difference between the two is the difference between making the right or wrong decision.

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