At first glance the news story could be seen as weird example of persecution of Christians in the Middle East. The Iraqi Parliament has prohibited the importation, production and sale of alcohol.
The booze sellers are all Christians. And with this move the Iraqi government has attacked the livelihoods of a significant number of people. Many people believe the government is hoping the Christians, who have been a community in Iraq since the first century, will just give up and leave the country.
Drinking alcohol is prohibited to observant Muslims. Iraq has a small Christian minority and it is they who are allowed to consume (and sell) the stuff. My understanding is merchants are supposed to screen their customers and know who they are selling to.
That Christians should be the purveyors of alcohol may seem strange to North Americans who still have memories of the temperance movement. When I was younger, Christians did not consume alcohol in any way shape or form. Except for members of certain Christian groups, and the suggestion was that if they drank, maybe their faith needed a bit of work. These days many have a more relaxed approach, eschewing abuse while enjoying the taste, though others still retain the traditional stance.
The Iraqi situation reminds me somewhat of the situation the Jews faced in Europe during the middle ages. Good Christians didn’t want to dirty their hands with handling money (the root of all evil if I may be allowed to misquote Scripture), so they literally forced the Jews into the moneylending business. Thus were born many of the great banking houses of Europe and a stereotype typified by Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. The Jews really had no choice.
You wouldn’t think that selling alcohol would be all that lucrative in Iraq, given the small Christian population. But there is more to the story.
A friend, who I think is in a position to know, says that 80 per cent of the booze legally imported into Iraq is smuggled out. It is not for domestic consumption at all, but intended for a Muslim country with much stricter restrictions on its minorities: Iran.
That got me to thinking. You don’t suppose the Shia Muslim mullahs of Iran exerted some pressure on the Shia government in Baghdad? That sort of thing would never happen, would it? Is it that they can’t solve their vice problem domestically so they lean on a foreign government to do it for them?
It seems to me Iran then has a problem. The leaders want the populace to follow Islam, or at least their interpretation of it, but perhaps the people aren’t so enthusiastic. That would explain the ready market for illegal, imported alcohol.
Trying to keep the people away from intoxicants is not a new idea. The United States introduced prohibition in the 1920s. That resulted in a number of Canadian businessmen becoming rich smuggling booze across the border. The stuff was legal here, so they were breaking no Canadian laws and not risking prosecution, Eventually the US abandoned prohibition, realizing that the experiment wasn’t working.
Humans are going to sin. Governments making rules that prohibit sinning don’t have much effect. If the flow of alcohol from Iraq is cut off, I am sure Iranians will find another way to get their booze.
I wonder how long before the government in Tehran figures that out?