*According to al-Hayat, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, just returned from Iran, has called for a state in which all would feel secure and in which women would play a central role. He rejected, however, any possibility of continuing to live with Baathism (the former ruling ideology of secular Arab nationalism and “socialism,” i.e. an Arab form of fascism). At a press conference in Basra, he called for a modern, freely elected Iraqi government that would be “contemporary and Islamic.” He denied that the religious forces in Iran want to veil women away from society, saying that they are half of society and need to play a central role in it. He said that if Iraq was governed according to modern principles, it would become an Iraq of “jihad for reconstruction, and of love and amity, not of hatred and destruction.”
Other reports have him saying “”We Muslims have to live together… We have to help each other stand together against imperialism. We want an independent government. We refuse imposed government.” The NYT reports that he said, that “Iraq must base its laws on Islamic strictures and prohibit the kind of behavior that may be acceptable in the West but is forbidden in Islam.” This statement is pretty alarming. One could imagine lots of behavior he would like to forbid. Would it include listening to pop music? Wearing blue jeans? Women going about unveiled? Having a glass of wine with dinner? Iraqis have had someone tell them how to live their lives for 35 years. They should be very careful about letting someone else come along and do the same.
Before he left Iran, Baqir al-Hakim had identified four pressing problems: 1) the remnants of the Baath regime; 2) the presence of coalition forces; 3) the need to establish a new regime that could address the problems of livelihood faced by Iraqis and restore order; and 4) the establishment of a government elected by all Iraqis, including ones from all the ethnic and religious groups.
I would not take everything Baqir al-Hakim says at face value. Remember that the people around Khomeini used to say progressive things like that about women, too, before the revolution in Iran. I think Baqir was being cute in using the phrase “veil women away from society” because it allowed him to deny that he believed in the seclusion of women. Entirely secluding them is anyway not a program held by very many Islamists, though it did characterize the Taliban in Afghanistan. What al-Hakim said would be consistent, however, with making women wear the veil when in public or in the presence of unrelated men, and with segregating education and work places by sex. Segregated education works against women at the college level and at the level of professional schools, because if they don’t form a large enough group, no law school or medical school will be built for them–and they won’t be allowed to go to the men’s graduate schools.