August 25, 2005

"A remarkable spirit of compromise — and even enlightenment."

Taking a positive view of the Iraqi Constitution:
Americans also shouldn't be too quick to conclude that anything that sounds odd or unfamiliar to liberal ears is evidence of failure. While this constitution does indeed contain general appeals to religion, it is fundamentally a document that empowers legislators, not clerics.

Take the role of Islam, which is designated as "a" (not "the") "basic source of legislation." Some critics see this as evidence of incipient theocracy. But in what Western democracy are laws not generally in accord with the Judeo-Christian moral heritage? In any case, interpretation of that clause will be up to elected representatives.

30 comments:

Eddie said...

One must recall that this is not our document to make for them. This is self-rule, and as such, they are new to it. This will be a work in progress, and there culture is very different than ours. PoliticalHumor

Thersites said...

Oh, the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Right.

But in what Western democracy are laws not generally in accord with the Judeo-Christian moral heritage?

What a yummy bromide!

Ann Althouse said...

Thersites: Instead of reacting to the source, engage with the substance. The historical culture, which includes religion, really does affect how a people thinks about its law, whether the Constitution mentions it or not. You could say that's a platitude, but then why shouldn't we think that the Iraqi Constitution contains what may be nothing more than a platitude? Which is essentially what the editorial says.

HaloJonesFan said...

>Instead of reacting to the
>source, engage with the substance.

In the Dem/Lib dialectic, the source and the substance are equivalent.

Charles said...

Self-rule will be difficult for a while in a country polarized by religion and ethnicity. Look at Bosnia. The WSJ missed that this won't be a "western" democracy - it will be a "something to be defined by Iraqis" democracy. Might be ethnic, religious, Arab, or something else and inbetween. Give them a chance with some support. I guess the big objection is that it's not a everything for everybody however you feel. And it doesn't include the words "Death to Infidels" once, of course.

Goesh said...

- give me liberty or give me an IED, eh? and saddam hussein cut down the palm tree and ran it through a plastic shredder and bragged about it...what tales of democracy will be told there in 200 years I wonder? I wonder if they will have a story about pulling down saddam's big statue in Baghdad? You know, along the lines of Washington crossing the Delaware....Ahmed the Fearless braved rubble and tanks and a hail of bullets from paranoid American soliders and rushed through mobs of starving, aggressive beggars to pull down saddam's statue.....

Jonathan said...

I find the Iraqi constitutional deliberations encouraging, especially since Iraq is relatively new as a national unit and has known only tyranny. Naturally it will take a while to work out the details, and there will be controversy and grubby deal-making in the process. And the results will not be completely to our taste, since our society is different from Iraq. But it appears the Iraqis take the process seriously, and that's important. It would have been a bad sign if they had merely issued a long, EU/Soviet-style document promising everything to everybody. I'm sure they will make some mistakes, perhaps major ones, but even so the developing political order promises to be a huge improvement over what they had before.

Thersites said...

In the Dem/Lib dialectic, the source and the substance are equivalent.

Oooh, what a burn.

Why not consider the source, when it's the clown show of the WSJ editorial page?

why shouldn't we think that the Iraqi Constitution contains what may be nothing more than a platitude?

That's exactly backwards. Highly conservative religious dominance of Iraqi society is not going to flow de jure from the constitution, but de jure from existing religious authorities and structures. It's not the presence of a possible "platitude" that matters, it's the absence of explicit guarantees of women's rights, minority rights, the essentially secular character of the state -- guarantees that there's a strong will to enforce.

Look at for instance the Irish Constitution of 1937. That specified a "special relationship" between the Catholic Church and the Irish State but also included language about respect for religious minorities, etc. But that was beside the point when it came to any rational analysis of how power worked in Ireland in the 20s-60s -- short version, yeah, it was realistically pretty much a theocracy.

The WSJ editorial is disingenuous spin, as usual.

Freeman Hunt said...

Why not consider the source, when it's the clown show of the WSJ editorial page?

Are you trying to prove Halo's point?

Anyhow, it does seem like a platitude to me. Iraq is one of the most secular states in the Middle East. (Granted, that's not saying a whole lot.)

Ann Althouse said...

Thersites: "it's the absence of explicit guarantees of women's rights, minority rights, the essentially secular character of the state." You could say the same thing about the U.S. Constitution, even as amended! But in any event, why do you expect their Constitution to meet all of our standards? They have to work it through their political processes and make it something of theirs, rather than something we imposed on them. And why do you think "explicit guarantees" in a Constitution will do the trick? A respect for rights must be internalized in the workings of the political culture. Do you think taking dictation from the Americans will engender that respect?

Goesh said...

Recently while reading an Iraqi Blog, I came across reference and pictures of women protesting their plight and exclusion. What impressed me was the fact that some of the women were wearing pants and most did not have their heads covered. There was a small group of older, traditionally dressed women protesting against the modern looking women. In a time of IEDs and homicide bombers and fire fights, I thought this to be quite remarkable. I think Iraq will be several steps ahead of many nations with regards to women's rights. Saudi Arabia recently had an election where women couldn't vote but I've read where they were allowed for the first time to discuss politics in the privacy of their homes.

Henry said...

If Iraq is on the path to becoming the new Ireland (politically speaking) I for one would be happy.

Here's an example of Irish religious intransigence, 2003:

"The Government does not require but does permit religious instruction in public schools. Most primary and secondary schools are denominational, and their boards of management are controlled partially by the Catholic Church. Under the terms of the Constitution, the Department of Education must and does provide equal funding to schools of different religious denominations (such as an Islamic school in Dublin). Although religious instruction is an integral part of the curriculum, parents may exempt their children from such instruction."

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2003/24414.htm

Thersites said...

If Iraq is on the path to becoming the new Ireland (politically speaking) I for one would be happy.

Kinda bad luck for the women, though. But I'm sure as long as you're cool with it they won't mind. Just tell 'em "hang on tight for 30 years!" What do you actually know about Ireland 1920s-60s, anyway?

You could say the same thing about the U.S. Constitution, even as amended!

Yeah, the US Constitution has nothing in it about not giving the state a non-religious, secular character. Silly me. That's why we recognize a specific religion as a source of law and say we won't pass any laws that contradict it. And that's why specific protections for women and minorities are in our system totally unconstitutional...

No, I don't think any such guarantees alone would "do the trick." That's why I put in the bit about "the will to enforce" them. But there isn't. So, there is no trick to be done. It's a theocracy.

Take that, "Islamofascism"!

Anyhow, it does seem like a platitude to me. Iraq is one of the most secular states in the Middle East.

Was.

Thersites said...

Are you trying to prove Halo's point?

No, I'm saying the WSJ editorial page is a clown show.

Ann Althouse said...

Thersites: The U.S. Constitution in fact does not contain the EXPLICIT provision YOU perceive in it as YOU interpret it to mean what YOUR political culture makes you believe is the right answer. The Establishment Clause is susceptible to a narrow reading and there are respected legal scholars today who would so read it. So, again, my point is that your emphasis on explicit text is unsophisticated. Ironically, textualists are the ones who are most likely to read the Establishment Clause narrowly, simply to forbid a national, established church. England has a national established church by the way. Isn't that outrageous?!

Freeman Hunt said...

Was.

Can you really post that with a straight face? Are you implying that citizens under Saddam had more civil rights than they do under their new constitution? Under Saddam you had no civil rights at all, your life was entirely under his personal discretion. The fact that his personal discretion did not dictate sharia does not negate the fact that it did dictate mass graves and genocide.

Jonathan said...

The way some commenters frame the issues, you would think representative government in Iraq is a hopeless cause unless the Iraqis can instantly recreate the political culture of Marin County.

Thersites said...

Was.

Can you really post that with a straight face? Are you implying that citizens under Saddam had more civil rights than they do under their new constitution?


Uh, my comment was in refence to whether or not Iraq will continue to be "secular."

So, again, my point is that your emphasis on explicit text is unsophisticated.

My point is that without explicit text and, again, the will to enforce it, in this particular case, Iraqi women are in for a bad time of it. You seem pretty desperate to avoid looking this reality in the face.

The whole thing I see here about us not being able to force the Iraqis to do anything is astounding. What was the point of the invasion, again? If you can't use force, then why use force? Sheesh. The secular liberal rights respectin' Iraq was never MY fantasy.

And welcome to the wonderful world of cultural relativism. "Oh, it's their culture, we can't judge!"

Hippies.

Ann Althouse said...

Thersites: If there is a will to protect the interests of women, it doesn't matter whether there is an explicit text or not. If there isn't, it doesn't matter if there is. This isn't cultural relativism, it's realism about how the world works.

The Exalted said...

That simply isn't true Ann.

Read the excellent "Reading Lolita in Tehran." The author notes how the husbands aren't really supportive of the morality police, but are not inclined to fight the system to stand up for their wives' rights. This anecedote writ large, perhaps, constitutes Iranian society.

The constitution gives the thugs the avenue they need to impose their will on an apathetic/cowed population. If what they were doing was patently illegal, then perhaps the populace would not take it so passively?

Ann Althouse said...

Exalted: I have read that book, but the point is that people in power are oppressing women. It's their will that matters.

Freeman Hunt said...

Can you really post that with a straight face? Are you implying that citizens under Saddam had more civil rights than they do under their new constitution?

Uh, my comment was in refence to whether or not Iraq will continue to be "secular."


And then. . .

The whole thing I see here about us not being able to force the Iraqis to do anything is astounding. What was the point of the invasion, again?

So again I ask: Are you implying that citizens under Saddam had more civil rights than they do under their new constitution?

We wanted Iraq to be a democratic states with civil rights and no dictator. This is what we are getting.

Thersites said...

If there is a will to protect the interests of women, it doesn't matter whether there is an explicit text or not. If there isn't, it doesn't matter if there is. This isn't cultural relativism, it's realism about how the world works.

You seem to have missed the point, yet again. As I said at 12:07:

"It's not the presence of a possible "platitude" that matters, it's the absence of explicit guarantees of women's rights, minority rights, the essentially secular character of the state -- guarantees that there's a strong will to enforce."

Dunno why you have lectured me repeatedly on what I told you I knew after that em dash. But hey, it's your blog.

I am saying that if there WERE a will to protect the rights of women, given that tyey are in obvious jeapoardy, language to that effect would be in the constitution, as language to protect the rights of certain groups HAS been in many modern constitutions when there was a strong will to enforce it.

People put into constitutions what is important to them. Religious authority here gets a bow. Women's rights don't.

So.... all this stuff about whether or not the recognition of the special place of Islam is a "platitude" is misplaced. It's a bromide. We have to accept the fact that women are going to face a hell of a time in the new Iraq, and that is a really, really bad thing.

I find it alarming that you and the other commenters are so blase about this. Oh, it's realism. Oh, it's their culture. The United States invaded and is a major player in the development of this constitution. Take responsibility for that.

If this is the best that can be gotten, a deeply conservative state that is socially and culturally repressive, that stinks.

Sloanasaurus said...

There is a lot of theory going around that a modern democracy requires "liberalism" first before it can really be a democracy.

I believe these theorists have it backwards. The most important part of the new constitution is not the specific rights it enumerates regarding religion or women etc, but how the the government is structured to preserve the democracy. The most important rights should be the basic rights of democracy, ie. the right to vote and the right for that vote to matter (which includes the right to free political speech without retribution). All other rights, including family law rights etc.. will flow from the democracy if the people want them. If the people become more liberal than their elected representatives will push for more rights.

It would be far better for women in the long run if they were able to give a political speech in the public square and vote while wearing a burka, then having everything but the right to make the speech.

The problem with the Iranian constitution is that the vote is meaningless. The people cannot throw out the "guardian Council" and the Guardian Council can limit political speech.

Henry said...

What do you actually know about Ireland 1920s-60s, anyway?

Gosh, thersites, you're right. 40 years of socialism would be bad news.

The Exalted said...

It would be far better for women in the long run if they were able to give a political speech in the public square and vote while wearing a burka, then having everything but the right to make the speech.


The fact they are forced to wear the burka means they are not free. If they are not free to express themselves by even wearing the clothing they want, you think they will be free to say what they want in the public square?

Common sense here . . .

Freeman Hunt said...

If they are not free to express themselves by even wearing the clothing they want, you think they will be free to say what they want in the public square?

Yes. I would imagine that this has been the case in much of our history. One hundred years ago in the US, I, a woman, could have made a speech, but it would probably have been a bad idea to do it in a mini skirt. Run out on a rail and all that.

Thersites said...


Gosh, thersites, you're right. 40 years of socialism would be bad news.


Since you clearly don't know what you're talking about, why did you want to embarrass yourself by making a "joke" that proves your utter ignorance?

Sloanasaurus said...

It's not a joke. Anyone in business knows that Ireland went through a free market transformation in the late 1980s to 1990s. They cut tax rates so dramatically that Ireland became a "tax haven."

Thersites said...

Oh, I agree it's not a joke, though it's pretty silly.

First, whatever about the 1980s, I referenced the 1920s through 1960s. You will note the gap between the 1960s and 1980s. It is frequently called "the 1970s."

Second, calling the Republic's economy from 1920-1960s -- or at any time, really -- "socialist" is ignorant.

Third, my point about the Irish consitution was to do with its reference of Catholicism rather in passing and the reality of a nation that could reasonably be called theocratic in its social and cultural dimensions.

When you don't know something, you should ask.