Michael Ubaldi, August 23, 2005.
We would all have been jubilant today, reading about and reading through the culmination of Iraq's constituent assembly, if sundry opinion-makers had not convinced some of us to feel otherwise. The reasons, the good reasons? Hard to say. In Baghdad, drafters asked the elected National Assemblymen to exercise their power to postpone the deadline; the National Assembly agreed. Last evening, hours before the second deadline, committee spokesmen announced their completion of a draft proposal. Iraqi bloggist Omar Fadhil reported the events in greater written and pictoral detail than any mainstream publication, offering readers snapshots of Near Eastern men in suit-and-tie, conversing and arguing on news programs. The National Assembly received the draft and, by majority vote, scheduled three additional days for the committee to debate outstanding issues.
The Iraqi democratic system worked according to design, accommodating the unpredictability — indeed, the frustration — of the freeman political process. Exactly what about all of this is unacceptable?
The left, in politics and media, have carefully hedged headlines. Skittish rightists have found themselves trapped and we have found them panicky. Over the last month, press narratives went like this: either the constitution would be Islamist, or it would be unacceptable to the electoral and political Shiite majority; it would be tardy and destabilizing or it would be rushed and flawed, its remediation tardy and therefore destabilizing; the Bush White House was too involved, or the Iraqis were out of control. Sunnis were anti-federalist, went reports, but then one look at who else opposed federalism — Muqtada al-Sadr's radicals — prompted some to examine Sunni motivations. Sure enough, some of this Sunni reasoning is rooted in tribalism, and not particularly persuasive.
People have been led to worry by forgetting about contentious drafters from the past. Implicit to respective surrenders, a basic law and a constitution were militarily promulgated to occupied Germans and Japanese. In this case, the two finest examples of American creative destruction are not similar. Iraqis, under but moral obligations to America and its democratic allies, have proceeded quite independently. The creation of the United States Constitution, then, is an event critical to sorting out what appears to be ideological and political fisticuffs. Some analogies are valid, others strained but none of them is useless. Either we use whatever perspective can be found in history or we spin around, point and compare the Iraqi constitution to a comic book.
The 1787 Philadelphia convention lasted from May to September, its delegates drawing on experience with self-government; the Iraqis began in May and are hurrying to finish by the end of August, and the postcolonial Hashemite monarchy was brief and only shallowly democratic. A number of Sunni politicians are not pleased with the draft — a plebiscite is set for October, and yet if a coterie of Sunni intellectuals started publicizing opposition to ratification today they could continue for half a year and still fall short of American political disputation. The Connecticut Compromise and the monstrous dichotomy it represented deserves more than to be a tricky question on a grade school civics test. Iraqis, uniquely pressured and inexperienced but two hundred years richer than Philadelphia, should do fine with matters of natural resources and local rule.
The weakest derogation of extended committee debate is the suggested correlation between a constitution and the terrorists who continue to employ clumsy, wanton violence — as if to style Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as an eccentric promoter of the right to bear arms. Or is he aggressively pro-thug-immigration? Intimations rest on the idea that bombers and drive-by gangs act according to political vicissitudes. Is there any reason to believe that the finer points of national and provincial Iraqi polity are being debated amongst terrorists who in their matchless piety, we are certain thanks to the elucidating journalism of Michael Yon, never depart for a killing spree without a sendoff round of narcotics and whoring?
Supporters of Iraqi rebirth have been justifiably worried by the influence of groups like the aptly named Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which — in the largest coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance — began to, through a steady trickle of reports and statements, undermine the reputation of religious Iraqi Shiites as supporters of secular government. Nervous chatter on the right started over the weekend when exasperated Kurds accused their Shiite compatriots of succeeding in turning Iraq into an "Islamic Republic."
Could the statement have been meant to move Washington to action and conservatives to concession? We may never know, and it may no longer matter. An abridged draft constitution has been made public. Iraq is a Republic, "republican, parliamentary, democratic and federal." Islam is the official religion — not a problem, since the origin of civil society established a state religion in 1534. Islam is "a main source for legislation." OK, as is Judeo-Christian, English common law for our own. Iraqi founding fathers have chosen explication where Americans settled for implication.
Article II, Section 1a states that "no law may contradict Islamic standards." Article II, Section 1b states that "no law may contradict democratic standards." The former could, logically, permit an end-run around the rest of the constitution but the latter could, logically, permit an end-run around the former. If there truly are theocrats tucked away in the legislative majority, it is a matter of who can flank who.
Here, the Iraqi character stands up. With momentum on the side of progressives and history on the side of secularism, textual invitations to Islamic theocracy will, in public debate, die a quick death. Good ideas do not require physical compulsion in the town square, and there are more ties between Islamist flirtation and sedition than not. Iraqi polls and surveys alike show the country to be both progressive and tolerant. That is before one considers the growing influence, through electronic import, of the liberal democratic world. If the United States Army were to airlift a paratrooper commando unit comprised entirely of card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union and disperse it across the Iraqi countryside, reactionism's death would come within months.
The Iraqi people have proven their worth to American interests; the closing of this first constitutional stage is evidence again. Secularism is strong, pluralism and libertarianism not too far behind. There should be no need for the 82nd Flying Birkenstocks.
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