Iraq alcohol ban threatens to hurt minorities

Sunday 06/11/2016
Closed liquor store in Baghdad

BAGHDAD - The metal doors of liquor shops across Baghdad have been tightly sealed, looking as if they have been deserted for good just weeks after the Iraqi parlia­ment passed a bill banning the import, sale and production of al­cohol, alienating Christians and other Iraqi minorities who rely on the business.

The law on alcohol stipulates a fine of $8,600-$21,500 for violators but there are other potential prob­lems as several shops have been bombed since the bill was passed on October 22nd.

Rights activist Ammar Satar said the “political fatwa” that reinforces the grip of religious parties over the daily life of Iraqis sets a precedent by implicitly justifying acts of vio­lence against whoever attempts to oppose it.

“This blatant exploitation of reli­gion without any consideration to non-Muslim communities is noth­ing but a blunt violation of funda­mental freedoms that the constitu­tion is supposed to guarantee in a country that lives in a state of ram­pant chaos, with several parties controlling the street with the force of arms and religion,” said Satar, 25.

He argued that the problem lies basically “in the mentality” of po­litical rulers. “They reject the oth­er, disregarding completely that civilisation means order, without which we cannot live in a diverse society like Iraq’s,” Satar said.

While it outraged Satar, the ban on alcohol was welcomed by 22-year-old university student As­maa Hassan. “It is in perfect har­mony with Islamic sharia. We are an Islamic state and everybody should be aware of that. Many practices have intruded into conservative Iraqi society and all should abide by the law,” she said.

The ban on alcohol was included in a draft law regulating the income of municipal authorities without lawmakers being notified. The original article only called for im­posing taxes on liquor stores and restaurants serving liquor, Chris­tian and Yazidi members of parlia­ment said.

“We challenged the bill the mo­ment it was passed, especially as the draft was not read in the first place and the clause (banning alco­hol) was slipped into the draft just before voting,” Yonadam Kanna, a veteran MP and head of al-Rafidain Christian bloc, said in statements to the media.

Yazidi MP Vian Dakhil cautioned that minorities would be driven to migrate to Kurdistan because of such measures. “After the unified national identity law comes the ban on alcohol. Minorities in Iraq have no safe haven except Kurdistan. It is yet another blow to minorities and basic freedoms guaranteed by the constitution in a country that pretends to be democratic,” Dakhil posted on social media.

The identity law stipulates that only non-Muslims may switch their religion and that a minor is registered as Muslim following a conversion of either of the parents to Islam.

Jassim al-Halfi, a member of the leadership of the Iraqi Communist Party, warned that the new law would weaken the country’s di­verse national fabric. “Non-Muslim communities will be forced to leave and this we cannot accept,” he said.

The alcohol ban will have a con­siderable effect on the national economy, depriving the country of a badly needed source of income, economic analyst Abdul Rahman al-Mashhadani said.

“The biggest irony is that the 2017 budget previewed a 100% tax on alcohol, a sheer contradiction of the new law,” Mashhadani said, noting that taxes levied on liquor raise $10 billion annually.

“The ban will inevitably incur big losses on the Iraqi economy. How­ever, it will not reduce consump­tion. The black market will flourish and alcohol prices will skyrocket,” Mashhadani predicted.

Muslim cleric Sheikh Ghaith al- Tamimi said Islam proscribes the consumption of alcohol but does not ban it or call for punishing con­sumers.

“The proscription is a religious matter, while the ban is a debatable issue linked to the jurisprudence of sharia over the political and so­cial system in the country,” he said. “Some believe that you cannot ap­ply sharia in our modern time be­cause it requires the presence of a prophet or a just and knowledge­able imam, which is not the case today.”

Social workers said there would be a rise in drug abuse like in the southern city of Basra, where drug trafficking from neighbouring Iran is soaring and where alcohol is only found on the black market.