Tuesday, August 23, 2005

There's been a lot of caterwauling this week about Islam being "the a source of law" in Iraq's constitution, generally done alongside the claim Iraq could become another Iran, but I think way too much is being made of this issue.

The problem with Iran is not sharia. The problem is that Iran does not respect the democratic process. The sharia laws as practiced in Iran are extremely unpopular with Iranians, but since the clerics can veto not only the legislature but even who is allowed to run for office, the will of the people is ignored. That cannot happen under Iraq's constitution. As long as the democratic process is respected, Iraq should be OK. Any laws that are too restrictive will be voted out. That's the fundamental reason democracy works.

We already know that the vast majority of Iraqis want democracy, want a unified Iraq, and want secularism mixed with traditional Islamic values. There have been numerous polls to that effect. The Iraqis can see how theocracy has failed as clearly as we can, indeed more so living right next door to it as they do. The Iraqi religious leadership itself says clerics should not run the gov't.

As for the constitution itself, I’ve thought for a while now the best outcome would be the dissolution of the parliament and new elections. This would have several benefits including increased Sunni participation, greater legitimacy and reduced pressure for Islamic law.

Unfortunately, it’s always been the least likely outcome. Politicians never want to give up power.

Of course, if they really wanted to compromise, they could just leave the contentious issues out of the constitution and kick them down the road to the next elected legislature. They don’t want to do that precisely because the people presently in power realize their influence will wane after the next elections.

I wouldn’t particularly mind seeing the the new constitution defeated in the referendum either. It’s a low standard, though. To be defeated, 2/3 of the people in 3 provinces must vote against it, and that's how many provinces the Sunnis control. It doesn’t take much to get 34% of people in one out of three provinces to vote for something.

I think it will probably pass, and that while some Sunnis won't like it in the end that won't matter much as long they get representation in the following elections. People tend to forget we rammed a Constitution right down the Japanese’s throats, literally at the barrel of a gun. At least Iraqis have some input into theirs. And there are amendment periods specified for a couple years from now.

If the referendum is in fact defeated, I’m sure we’ll hear lots of hysterical rhetoric about how democracy in Iraq has failed, but of the course the reality will be that the democratic process has succeeded in doing what it was supposed to: reflecting the will of the people and requiring compromises. And then there will be new elections, with the aforementioned attendant benefits. As long as participation in that process continues, democracy is succeeding. When the major parties start using guns and bombs instead of ballots and words, that’s when democracy has failed.

UPDATE: Bill Roggio has similar thoughts, notes that apparently Islam will only be "a" source of law. Pejman Yousefzadeh also notes this change, and makes the point that supplemental legislation will be important. (h/t Instapundit) Jeff Goldstein has some interesting analysis as well.

UPDATE 2: Norm Geras has analysis from Brendan O'Leary. The level of detail is impressive.


Anonymous Robert Mayer said...

Great post, Dave! I must admit I would be untroubled if the assembly were dissolved and new elections held.

12:48 PM  
Blogger SMK said...

There is a partial translation out there on the AP if you are interested.


Nice post.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Fitch said...

I'm getting sick of the theocracy mantra. As you said, The sharia laws as practiced in Iran are extremely unpopular with Iranians

It's tiresome hearing over and over that Iraq will turn out like that. Last I checked Iran had fake elections and Iraq had real ones. That yields very different results.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Fitch said...

Oh yeah, I referred to this article in a post on Love America First.

10:48 PM  
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