In Business Week (paid subscription required, so no direct link) Robert J. Barro of Harvard University discusses a model that considers economic and other factors in predicting the likelihood that a state religion will be established in a particular country. On this basis he thinks a secular state in Iraq is unlikely. His model also predicts something I discussed in Islam Unveiled: that Turkey will continue to be under pressure from political Islam until its secular and democratic character will be effaced altogether. From “Iraq: One Nation Under Allah” (thanks to Jerry Gordon):
Only a few Muslim countries have substantial representation in more than one category: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen. Some other Muslim countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates — are 10% to 20% Shiite. But our results suggest that overall Muslim share, not size of the most popular sect, is what influences the creation of state religion.
No model predicts perfectly, but ours gets the right answer more than 80% of the time. Thus, it is instructive that the model’s probability for a state religion in Iraq is 96%. True, our method also gives neighboring Turkey an 88% probability for state religion, even though it has been officially secular for decades. One can view this mistaken prediction two ways. One is that, despite forces that favor state religion, Turkey can be a model for Iraq on how to separate church and state. The other is that Turkey’s secular status represents hard-to-duplicate political influence by its strong President, Mustafa Kemal AtatÃ¼rk, in the 1920s and ’30s. Conceivably, the factors that favor a state religion will eventually generate an Islamic state in Turkey. That reversal seems more likely than Iraq’s becoming a secular state.