2005 February 05 Saturday
Iraqi Shia Religious Parties To Push For Islamic Constitution

Some continued supporters of the war in Iraq are thrilled that Americans are in Iraq because they think America is fighting for democracy. But these fans of democracy lose sight of the fact that democracy is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Democracy does not automatically and reliably produce the sorts of outcomes that most Westerners envision when they think of a democratic society. Classically liberal support for the rights of others - including respect for the right to freedom of speech even by those critical of a government or critical of majority beliefs - is not always a feature of democracy everywhere in the world. The reason is simple: Lots of people do not believe in some of the rights that are recognized in the West and some reject the idea of rights altogether. Take Iraq for instance. The harder core Islamist Shiites in Iraq want a more Islamic constitution now that they appear to be headed to electoral victory.

NAJAF, Iraq, Feb. 4 - With religious Shiite parties poised to take power in the new constitutional assembly, leading Shiite clerics are pushing for Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution.

Exactly how Islamic to make the document is the subject of debate.

At the very least, the clerics say, the constitution should ensure that legal measures overseeing personal matters like marriage, divorce and family inheritance fall under Shariah, or Koranic law. For example, daughters would receive half the inheritances of sons under that law.

Equal rights for women? Not where claims of rights clash with interpretations of the Koran. One irony here is that the Koranic requirement that women get one third of inheritances was a step toward sexual equality when it was first implemented. But the codification of that rule into religious doctrine now is an impediment to equality before the law.

Poorly educated and deeply religious Shia Muslims now have far more power in Iraq as a result of the war and the election.

In educational, political and social terms, the gulf is enormous. A tiny proportion of people in the south can be described as muthaqaf, or cultured and educated, compared to those in the north.

In the south, 60 per cent have not progressed beyond primary education, a difference compounded by the religiosity of the largely Shia south.

News flash: poorly educated believers in an oppressive religion are not enlightened voters.

The two parties that did best in in Iraq are religious in character.

The two most powerful parties in the coalition are the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Dawa, religiously based parties supported by Iran, with whom they were allied during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

...

SCIRI, in particular, was long seen as being partially controlled by Tehran and the Badr Brigade, its militia, fought for Iran against Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.

This is what American boys are dying for: a democratically elected Shia religious state run by people who are fond of the Ayatollahs of Iran. This is the very same Iran that the neocons want to attack next.

Adam Lawson of the Modern Tribalist (cool blog name btw) points to an article by Thanassis Cambanis of the Boston Globe who claims that the constitutional debate in Iraq on the place of religion in government will be between moderate Islamists and hard-core Islamists with the secularists scarcely to be heard.

The clerics of Najaf who orchestrated the Shi'ite political party coalition say they expect a constitutional debate between hard-core Islamists, who want Koranic law to be the constitution's primary source, and moderate Islamists, who want a milder form of religious law. This debate, they say, will dwarf any challenge from secular parties.

Neato, huh? We are helping to give birth to an Islamic state and we are paying for this outcome with blood and money. The US invasion of Iraq was one of George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives.

The Iraqi Islamists are pursuing a long term plan for gradual acquisition of more power.

Already many branches of government ministries and the Army have become "balkanised" by Shi’ite political groups such as the Dawa Party, making it difficult for non-members to get jobs. And after 30 years of systematic discrimination by Saddam in favour of his fellow Sunnis, nobody is optimistic that anti-discrimination laws will be listened to much.

Secular Iraqis also suspect the Shi’ite religious parties have a much longer-term game in mind, one in which curbs on the rights of women, and religious tinkering in government will only begin after the watchful US presence ends.

"The Shi’ite Islamists are not stupid people," said Dr Ghanem Saleh, a senior figure in the Omar Party, a new political grouping made up partly of exiles from the Saddam-era Iraqi opposition movement in Britain. "They will establish rule step by step, just as they did in Iran. Right now they are happy to accept secular figures in government, but they are gradually preparing the country for an Islamic state."

Kurdish Muslims are complaining that Iraqi government Arabs prevented the Kurds from getting enough ballots to vote while at the same time Christians in the Iraqi north living under Kurdish Muslim domination complain that the Kurdish Muslims prevented the Christians from getting enough ballots.

One figure on the number of northern region people denied the right to vote puts the figure at 200,000.

The Kurdish deputy governor of Mosul, Khasro Goran, said Kurdish parties also would lodge a complaint with the election commission about the alleged irregularities in the north.

"This affects 200,000 people," he said. Without giving details, Goran alleged that election officials had deliberately tried to suppress the Kurdish vote in the north, an ethnic tinderbox.

Possibly 50,000 Assyrian Christians out of about 500,000 to 600,000 Christians total in Iraq could not vote.

Patto also said that while other Assyrian-populated towns had ballot boxes, there was an inadequate supply of ballots. She estimated voting irregularities prevented 50,000 Assyrians from voting.

The total number of Christians of all denominations who didn't get to vote may be as high as 150,000.

In another recent ethnic incident, a Christian demonstrator was so severely beaten up by Kurdish political party workers, he is still in the hospital, Isho said. Christians protested Monday near the northern city of Mosul, complaining that an estimated 150,000 did not get a chance to vote because ballot boxes never arrived.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party is accused of holding back ballots from non-Kurdish voters.

Infuriated Assyrians filled the streets of Baghdeda- the largest Assyrian town in the Nineveh Plain-and demonstrated against the KDP's overt disenfranchisement of Assyrians.

According to Iraq sources, the ballot boxes had been stored in Arbil, the stronghold of the KDP. The resulting unavailability of ballot boxes affected up to 100,000 Assyrian voters and tens of thousands of Yezidis, Shabak, and Turkman voters. The outright denial of voting rights to Assyrians and other non-Kurdish minorities culminates several months of intimidation, beatings, beheadings, burnings, and mutilations of Assyrian Christians in the Nineveh Plain.

Mind you, this is what these groups are willing to do with about 150,000 US soldiers in the country. Imagine what they will do once American soldiers leave.

Protests are taking place in Northern Iraq against disenfranchisement of minority groups.

In northern Iraq, protests have repeatedly broken out over the last few days in several cities, where officials claim that hundreds of thousands of citizens, many of them Kurdish Christians, were not able to vote because balloting materials arrived inexplicably late.

While reading articles to write this post I came across a number of reports of voters voting the way they did because they felt obliged to follow the spiritual leader of their religious sect. Others dutifully followed the instructions of polling place workers to vote for the list that the poll workers favored.

At the Al-Khazrajiya school in the city's old quarter, Najat Ridha, 48, was ushered into a classroom and handed two ballots, one for the national assembly and another for the local provincial council.

An election worker suggested she vote for list 285 headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and a local list headed by governor Duraid Kashmula.

She ticked the boxes obligingly and walked out - just as Zahra Ibrahim, 60, did before her.

"I really just did what they asked me to do," she said as the Iraqi national anthem crackled on a loudspeaker in the background.

One factor holding back total Arab Shiite rule is the current requirement for a two-thirds vote to select a president and prime minister.

For one thing, the assembly will need to elect a new president and prime minister by a two-thirds majority. Since no single group is likely to win two-thirds of the seats, several competing groups are predicted to strike alliances in order to form a government.

In the next round of negotiations to create a permanent (okay, not permanent, but pretend permanent) Iraqi constitution expect to see the Shiites try to remove the super-majority requirement for selecting the Iraqi president and prime minister.

William Norman Grigg argues that Democracy Isn't Liberty.

In a democracy, voting is, at best, an exercise in participatory plunder. At worst, it is a means of empowering a majority to oppress or even liquidate the minority. In a constitutional republic, by way of contrast, the voting franchise serves a fundamentally defensive purpose. It is a means not only of choosing representative leaders, but also of removing them should they prove a threat to individual rights and property. While the vote is a crucial mechanism of accountability, it will avail little for the cause of liberty in the absence of a written constitution that limits the powers that government can exercise.

As James Madison noted in The Federalist Papers, in a quote all genuine conservatives should recall, "democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

The Rwandan genocide, perpetrated by that African nation’s Hutu majority against its Tutsi minority, could be considered a particularly vigorous exercise of the type of democracy Madison alluded to. The Yugoslavian civil wars of the 1990s were, in large measure, prompted by fears of similar majoritarian massacres. Given the horrible fate historically suffered by ethnic minorities in the region, Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims all sought to create ethnic states where they would be in the majority.

There are many obstacles to creation of sustainable liberal democracy in Iraq which the US occupation either can not or will not address. Also, most US interventions in other countries did not create sustainable democracies. How long will not-exactly-liberal democracy be sustained in Iraq? How long will it take for the elections to become so manipulated that the democratic process in Iraq becomes a charade?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 February 05 07:51 PM  Mideast Iraq Freedom Rights


Comments
Wes Ulm said at February 6, 2005 12:50 PM:

Excellent on all counts, Randall. I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that these Iraqi sham elections will be something we ruefully look back upon a couple years from now. They're obviously not going to forestall the insurgency (violent attacks on US troops and Iraqi forces are already creeping back up again), and there are already major indications that leading lights in Iraq have declared them illegitimate for a variety of reasons; yet in the mix of heady propaganda and false euphoria (fueled not only by the Bushies but also by fools at NYT, Washington Post, and CBSNews, who should no better) that's resulted, neocons now see misleading justification to push their invasion plans further. I have no doubt that the increasing bellicosity against Iran has been a post-election outcome. We'll soon be at war with Iran, while Iraq continues to fall apart, all b/c of cheerleader stupidity of the US press in so uncritically hailing the elections w/o stopping to consider what those elections mean and whether they truly lead to a free and unified nation.

"Some continued supporters of the war in Iraq are thrilled that Americans are in Iraq because they think America is fighting for democracy. But what gets lost sight of is that democracy is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. ... This is what American boys are dying for: a democratically elected Shia religious state run by people who are fond of the Ayatollahs of Iran. This is the very same Iran that the neocons want to attack next."

And if only the US media would wake up to this patently obvious fact! Instead, they're content to journalistically masturbate on the "historic elections in Iraq, a precedent for the Middle East." (Another bullshit statement-- Iran actually did have semi-free Parliamentary elections in the 1950's before Britain and USA toppled Mohammed Mossadegh , and there have already been contested elections-- probably with more legitimacy than the mess we just saw in Iraq-- in Egypt, Pakistan, Bahrain, even Palestine over the past 5 years. Elections have been admittedly uncommon but have occurred in the Middle East.) They fail to realize that elections themselves aren't too difficult to hold, and mean little in themselves. As usual reporters cite straw men to declare them an achievement-- the insurgents, who are a heterogenous group anyway, never claimed that they'd shut the entire election process down, especially in southern Iraq and Kurdistan, which they don't control. They (at least a subset of them) claimed they'd disrupt them in central Iraq and especially among Sunnis, which indeed they succeeded in doing. In fact, even in much of Shiite Iraq and Kurdistan, as you point out, there are bitter claims to electoral illegitimacy. The worst part of this is that now, the window has effectively closed for taking other steps to remedy these concerns. (We could have just started with provincial elections, smaller-scale and more likely to succeed, but no, there wouldn't have been as many cheap, convenient photo-ops.) So time to get the umbrellas out-- the doo-doo's about to hit the fan.

Stephen said at February 6, 2005 6:36 PM:

Washington's strategies make more sense (well just a tiny bit more) when assessed in terms of how the strategy is received for home consumption. Being good for Iraq merely comes a distant second.

Also, we can't really blame the media - it is what it is, unashamedly bi-polar. The media wakes up every morning and asks itself, "Am I going to be up or down today?". Armed with that answer it proceeds to cherry pick the information that supports a report that some event is either an unmitigated disaster or the second coming.

Of course, that raises the question of why are the components of the media (eg the different papers) simultaneously up or down? After all if they are each bipolar, surely half would be up and half would be down. My answer is that they tend to flock together and thereby infect each other (the Washington press corp is a good example of flocking behaviour). I wouldn't go so far as to describe the behaviour as an organised conspiracy, its probably more analogous to a rampaging mob.

The media's great lie is that it purports to provide objective analysis and critical thinking. But the truth is that that isn't something the media is good at, nor is it something that its actually interested in delivering.

harry said at February 6, 2005 9:42 PM:

Have you read this article discussing the same point as here.

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/228jwcnr.asp

Stephen said at February 6, 2005 10:49 PM:
At the very least, the clerics say, the constitution should ensure that legal measures overseeing personal matters like marriage, divorce and family inheritance fall under Shariah, or Koranic law. For example, daughters would receive half the inheritances of sons under that law.

The Ottoman empire had a rather multicultural legal system whereby each province (Iraq being one) was allowed to have its own laws for marriage etc, with Ottoman law covering everything else. In fact, I think it wasn't just limited to provinces, but allowed individual ethnic groups within a province to use their own laws for personal matters. Also, it may have extended into resolving commercial disputes where all the disputing parties belong to the same ethnic group.

The clerics' proposal isn't so very different - particularly as in theory it is the usual case that Shariah laws regarding personal matters only apply to muslims. In respect of non-personal matters (murder etc), Shariah laws are supposed to apply equally regardless of the religion of the person.

The problem with the thoery is that Shariah law is meant to cover all aspects of a person's life and thoughts. This leaves a Shariah judge in a bit of a quandry - how can he apply only a part of Shariah when all of it is God's will.

Randall Parker said at February 6, 2005 11:55 PM:

Harry,

Gerecht wears rose-colored glasses. I don't know where to begin.

First, a quibble about Chalabi: Why does Gerecht still care about Chalabi? Why should the US refrain from putting people in Iraq who have a dim view of Chalabi? Chalabi is a has-been in Iraq.

But a more general point about democracy: Russia gained one when the USSR collapsed. It gained a free press. It is in the process of losing both. Newspapers and TV channels are being shut down or taken over by groups allied with the government. Governors who were elected are becoming appointed. Lots of stuff happening in Russia is making it less democratic. Iraq has more factors than Russia does working against its long term success as a democracy.

Algeria had an election. The elite didn't like it because the Islamists won. So they had a coup. Since then the government has been battling the insurgency.

gcochran said at February 7, 2005 6:24 AM:

The only explanation I've been able to come up with for the neocon's mad passion for Ahmed Chalabi is that they think he's (secretly) Jewish. If he is, or more exactly, if they _think_ he is, it'd all make sense.

Rich Walden said at February 7, 2005 8:01 AM:

Somewhere back in our dim American past there was a phrase written; "to form a more perfect union". It did not say to form a perfect union. Maybe we should allow the Iraqis the same leeway then give them the two hundred years that we have had.

Just a less than perfect human.
Rich W.

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2005 9:02 AM:

Greg,

At this point some of the neocons have got to know that they have screwed up badly. But any of them who show the least bit of deference or loyalty or support for Chalabi are clearly in the ranks of the seriously deluded. So Chalabi serves as a useful litmus test.

Derek Copold said at February 7, 2005 9:52 AM:

Another reason for being solicitous to Chalabi: he knows where a lot of bodies are buried. The man works for the Iranian intelligence service. He could probably drop a dime on Feith and a number of other neocon jokers about the bogus intelligence they passed off during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Yawn! said at February 7, 2005 10:36 AM:

You and Juan Cole should start up a blog together!

gcochran said at February 7, 2005 3:39 PM:


Do we have to pay for Iraq for 200 years? I want to hear why invading and occupying Iraq makes sense: you sure haven't told me. I doubt if you can.


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