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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Iraqi interim constitution 

The AP reports that an interim Iraqi constitution has been agreed upon. I didn't think I would be seeing that headline so soon. Ahmed Chalabi is the source for the article, so take it with a grain of salt. (Or not... I'm lifting the grain of salt requirement.) But if the Iraqi Governing Council really has agreed on an interim constitution to be signed this week, it's a remarkable sign that the various factions can reach the compromises that are needed to make Iraq work as a country. If the story is true, it sounds like a few contentious issues were left for another day, such as Kurdish self-governance and the role of Islam. Those things will have to be fully dealt with when the final constitution is drawn up, and there's no reason to expect that agreement will be reached as quickly when that happens. But this is a promising, and significant, first step toward a democratic and sovereign Iraq.

UPDATE: Cox & Forkum are a little more sanguine:

Apparently the Iraqi draft constitution does not enshrine Islam as explicitly as did the Afghan constitution. But if no law can be passed that "violates the tenets of the Muslim religion," then it might as well. If Islam is the moral standard of the law, then all secular, western legal principles deemed anti-Islamic can easily be overruled. Property rights. Women's individual rights. Freedom of speech. All are at risk.
Or they might not be. Other Arab nations, with quite modern societies, have similar clauses in their constitutions. The constitution of Bahrain (pdf), for example, gives a central role to Islam. Article 2 states, "The religion of the State is Islam. The Islamic Shari'a is a principal source for legislation." That kind of language is not incompatible with modernity. Bahrain is as Western a country as you'll find in the Arab world. The Iraqis could do worse than to follow Bahrain's example. From the constitution's preamble:

The amendments to the Constitution proceed from the premise that the noble people of Bahrain believe that Islam brings salvation in this world and the next, and that Islam means neither inertness nor fanaticism but explicitly states that wisdom is the goal of the believer, wherever he finds it he should take it, and that the Qur'an has been remiss in nothing.

In order to achieve this goal, it is essential that we listen and look to the whole of the human heritage in both East and West, adoping that which we consider to be beneficial and suitable and consistent with our religion, values and traditions and is appropriate to our circumstances, in the conviction that social and human systems are not inflexible tools and instruments which can be moved unchanged from place to place, but are messages conveyed to the mind, spirit and conscience of Man and are influenced by his reactions to the circumstances of his society.

Thus these constitutional amendments are representative of the advanced cultural thought of our beloved nation. They base our political system on a constitutional monarchy founded on counsel [shura], which in Islam is the highest model for governance, and on the people's participation in the exercise of power, which is the foundation of modern political thought.
That sounds like a good balance to me. Bahrain's Shura council, by the way, has a Jewish member. Like I said, Iraq could do worse than to follow this example.
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