Iraqi and American democracy
bobsheridan at earthlink.net
Tue Aug 2 08:28:37 PDT 2005
A thought on what a constitution is:
Since a nation is not required to have a written constitution, make that
a single written document, in order to be a nation (Great Britain for
example), what function does a single written document constitution serve?
Constitution, w/o the document, is the description (and tacit
prescription) for how a group implicitly agrees to function together
toward some common goal, i.e. nationhood. The document makes the
agreements explicit and lays down some promised goals, methods, and
Iraq is a patchwork, a created state, thrown together and forced to
cooperate, so there is an impetus to agree to something. Suppose the
effort to make a single written-document constitution fails, which I
hope it will not. The place still has to function, otherwise it bogs
down into civil war, outside control, chaos, and failed-state status. As
it almost appears now.
The constitution-making process in Iraq is an attempt to keep strange
bedfellows under one cover and make them like it when several of them
don't want to be together.
Asking some of these folks to give up sharia in favor of our ideas of
equality for women, to take one example, is asking them to give up
embedded religion as well as culture. See "The Bookseller of Kabul,"
Seierstad, Asne, (Little Brown, Back Bay) 2002, for a glimpse, some
insight, into the problem in Afghanistan, which isn't all that far,
culturally, from Iraq, by our lights. All we're asking them to do when
we do this is to give up male supremacy, domination and control over
women as ordained by Allah as they believe in their DNA. The men do
not look forward to losing control over "their" women. The women
enforce sharia with equal or more fervency than the men, left to their
own devices, as the pecking order is so engrained. Exceptions appear to
be a decided minority.
This is before we reach the issues of Kurd, Sunni, and Shi'a, or after,
but the result is the same. They don't want to live together under the
same tent, but are forced by circumstances, and it's a man's world.
The blanket that covers this bunch is going to be thin and raggedy, I
should think. We wouldn't want it for us.
Issues will be postponed, avoided, patched over, and still exist as before.
The thinnest form of written document could simply say, as ours did,
that in order to form a union, we agree to try to function together as a
nation according to the following goals: stop fighting, work toward
peace, try to come up with a government, try to protect the rights of
all components of society ethnically and by gender, and here's how we'd
like to approach the task etc. period. That would be a simple
constitution that describes the goal and how to reach it. The how-to
would be subject to change, probably constantly and with some violence.
Any constitution for Iraq, as it was for us, has to try to postpone the
inevitable civil strife, likely war, when putting such culturally
disparate elements together. Jefferson's fire bell in the night is
ringing now in Iraq, putting it ahead of the curve.
A more detailed form of written constitution tries to tackle the more
intractable problems now instead of sweeping them under the rug, for
later revisiting, as did our Version 1.0. This is where groups bargain
in convention to give up something in order to get something, such as
elimination of the conditions that lead to insurgent bombings. They have
to see a benefit in peace over bombs and so far, some don't. I'd like
to think most do, but the daily headlines obscure the grounds for
optimism, which is not to say they don't exist. There is the convention
despite the threats, which says a lot.
Outside pressure, such as we're providing, and Rumsfield apparently
attempted to provide in a recent visit, is part of the process, as we're
part of the problem and part of the solution. We'll be gone in a few
years, we think, which favors the holdouts.
Patchwork-Iraq has a choice, as the devil-man said, "You can see me now,
or you can see me later."
Or the place can be divided up and parceled out among the neighbors, or
form new units, such as the Kurds, upsetting Turkey. Hence the pressure
to form an amalgam.
And here we all are, wondering how it's going to turn out.
You asked for thoughts, not conclusions.
Sanford Levinson wrote:
> Another point of view: This is the lead editorial in today's
> Washington Post. I will refrain (I'm sure to general applause :) )
> from offering my own comment on the editorial, though I would be
> eager to read any of yours.
> A Constitution for Iraq
> Tuesday, August 2, 2005; Page A12
> TO POINT OUT that Philadelphia in 1787 was a lot quieter than Baghdad
> in 2005 is something of an understatement. The men -- and they are
> mostly men -- who are writing the Iraqi constitution are under
> constant threat of assassination. Some of them have already been
> killed. Their country is very close to civil war. The framers have
> religious views ranging from extremely fundamentalist to secular, and
> very different ethnic and political identities as well.
> Nevertheless, the announcement yesterday that they intend to finish
> the draft document in time for the parliament to approve it by Aug. 15
> -- a decision that partly reflects U.S. opposition to a postponement
> -- is extremely good news. As the Iraqi elections in January proved,
> positive steps taken toward a permanent, legitimate government boost
> the morale of those Iraqis who want to live in a peaceful society,
> even when those steps aren't taken under the best possible conditions.
> More important, there is evidence that the constitution-writing
> process is itself driving some of the violence. Sunni terrorists have,
> for example, targeted Sunni politicians who are members of the
> constitutional commission simply because they don't want any
> democratic constitution to succeed. Elsewhere, in the absence of
> settled law, some groups have begun to impose their religious or
> political beliefs, creating more tension.
> In principle, the Iraqis would also be better off if they resolved the
> most montentious issues now and not leave them to be decided later, a
> solution that some are recommending. But it is also extremely
> important that, in the rush to compromise, the constitutional panel
> makes no irreversible commitment to extreme forms of Islamic law, even
> Islamic family law. Any legal formulation that effectively gives
> unelected clerics the right to overrule the decisions of
> democratically elected politicians carries the potential not only to
> deprive Iraqi women of their political rights but also to undermine
> Iraqi democracy itself. Equally, any compromise that results in the
> further balkanization of Iraq could bring disaster to the whole Middle
> This is an Iraqi process, and American diplomats have been right, so
> far, to stay mostly out of it. But the United States still has
> influence, as the events of the past few days have shown, and it
> should use that influence -- sparingly -- to discourage either the
> eventual emergence of an Iraqi Islamic republic or the destruction of
> the country. On those two issues, postponing a decision -- and passing
> the rest of the draft constitution -- is preferable to making a bad one.
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