Saturday, February 05, 2005

Iraqi constitution-making

. . . Or how the "values" debate comes to Iraq.

Just read this latest NYTimes article on the constitution-making process in Iraq.

The fact that religious Shiites won a resounding electoral victory has a number of implications for the future of Iraq. The Shiite victory really shouldn't surprise anyone, given that Iraq is predominantly Shiite, and many Sunni Arabs washed their hands of the election. But given this Shiite victory, further insurgent activity cannot be viewed as anti-American, anti-occupation. The Sunni insurgents will ultimately become warriors in an ethnic conflict between the Shiite majority and a militarized Sunni minority. How Shiites will effectively govern their country without a meaningful Sunni minority party remains to be seen. Many of the cities that proved difficult for the American military will prove just as problematic for a Shia government. Conservatives who looked to elections as yet another corner to turn in the fight against insurgents will be disappointed. The motives for the insurgency will not change—the Sunni rebels will still be fighting what they view as a non-representative and malicious government.

The other implication is that secular Iraqis may find themselves alienated and targeted by the resultant constitution. American conservatives who object to how religious the product of the constitution-writing will be, and many of them will react badly, since there are secular American conservatives, ought to remember their party's alliance with the Christian right. The resonance between the language of Shiite clerics who want to enshrine Islam as a source of law and the Christian conservatives who would like to do the same with Christianity is telling. A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist . . .

One could hope that this constitution-writing process in Iraq, and the inevitable complaints of too much religiosity, of too little democracy, will inspire Americans to take a more critical view of our own system. One could also hope that Americans will come to their senses in a myriad other ways, but one would be, more than likely in both cases, hoping in vain.

One other thing: All of those pictures of Iraqi women proudly raising their blue-stained fingers now have a distressing irony. The Shiite forces that have come to power thanks to that election are bent on reducing the rights of women, especially in marriage, divorce and inheritance. And if they allow women to vote, it's no doubt because they trust religious women to vote in line with their religious husbands, and not with feminist causes. So all of those pictures of women raising their fingers for democracy were also raising their fingers to the codification of anti-woman discrimination. Sigh.


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