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Tue Jun 19, 2012, 12:26 PM

Religious Neutrality In 94% Muslim Iraqi Kurdistan



Stephen Mansfield
New York Times best-selling author

Posted: 06/18/2012 12:53 pm

When Americans sent their sons and daughters to fight in Iraq, whether they agreed with their government's actions or not, they hoped for some result greater than mere retribution. They did not wish for miracles, but they did dare to hope that when the war was over there might be opportunity for a less militaristic, more democratic and certainly more benign Iraq to arise and join the family of well-intentioned nations.

We cannot know yet whether these hopes will be fulfilled. The central government of Iraq in Baghdad remains a scene of contention and conflict, with heated debate over the most fundamental rights. Americans have learned to their disappointment that non-Muslims have been forced to flee from the South of the country, that churches have been bombed, and that the rights of minorities have been denied. It is natural that many in the United States should wonder if their sacrifices will make for a better day anywhere in the Middle East -- but particularly in Iraq.

On June 11, 2012, the government of Iraqi Kurdistan gave an answer. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) -- which is responsible for the northern quarter of the country, an ethnically Kurdish region -- declared that its schools will now be religiously neutral. This means that they will teach the great religions of the world on an equal basis but will not press any one religion upon students or even make what is taught about these religions a part of the final examinations required for graduation. This is a profound change from the previous requirement that Islam be preferred in the classroom and that students master its doctrines as a requirement of graduation. It is an astonishingly broad-mined move by the government of a region that is 94 percent Muslim, that is bordered by nations like Iran and Syria, and in which an American teacher was shot and killed just weeks ago.

Iraqi Kurdistan is now the only region in the Middle East other than Israel in which the religions of the world are taught on an equal basis in the public schools but no one religion is given preference.

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