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February 21, 2005

"W" Is For Women (When Convenient)

You owe it to yourself to read Riverbend's wrenching post on what the constitutional codification of shari'a law means for Iraqi women:

“And is Iran so bad?” He finally asked. Well no, Abu Ammar, I wanted to answer, it’s not bad for *you* - you’re a man… if anything your right to several temporary marriages, a few permanent ones and the right to subdue females will increase. Why should it be so bad? Instead I was silent. It’s not a good thing to criticize Iran these days. I numbly reached for the bags he handed me, trying to rise out of that sinking feeling that overwhelmed me when the results were first made public.

It’s not about a Sunni government or a Shia government- it’s about the possibility of an Iranian-modeled Iraq. Many Shia are also appalled with the results of the elections. There’s talk of Sunnis being marginalized by the elections but that isn’t the situation. It’s not just Sunnis- it’s moderate Shia and secular people in general who have been marginalized.
...
It’s also not about covering the hair. I have many relatives and friends who wore a hijab before the war. It’s the principle. It’s having so little freedom that even your wardrobe is dictated. And wardrobe is just the tip of the iceberg. There are clerics and men who believe women shouldn’t be able to work or that they shouldn’t be allowed to do certain jobs or study in specific fields. Something that disturbed me about the election forms was that it indicated whether the voter was ‘male’ or ‘female’- why should that matter? Could it be because in Shari’a, a women’s vote or voice counts for half of that of a man? Will they implement that in the future?


It wasn't long ago that Bush was crowing about his compassion for the women of Afghanistan and running on the great changes he's made in their lives. But, like with gays, Bush's ideals never outlive their political utility. He, and his smug, hypocritical backers -- "W" is for women! -- make me ill. Where's your compassion now, assholes?

Where's your compassion now?

Update: Digby gets this right:
We on the left are being chastized daily for being terrorist sympathizers. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are said to be on the other side. Any criticism of the government is Unamerican. And all of this is based upon the idea that liberals are rejecting Western values and putting ourselves in league with Islamic fundamentalists. This is literally nonsensical.

In point of fact, the argument could much more easily be made that it is the other way around. It grows more and more likely that the right, who wholeheartedly supported the war and are currently supporting the political handling of the occupation, deposed a totalitarian dictator to install a repressive fundamentalist theocracy in its place. I fail to see how that advances the cause of our country or western civilization. Indeed, it is a betrayal of everything we stand for.

Who are the real traitors to western enlightenment values --- those of us who find both totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism abominations or those who topple dictators to install theocracy? I'd ask the women of Iraq in about five years what they think. Of course, they won't be allowed to speak freely, so we'll probably never know.

February 21, 2005 in Iraq | Permalink

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Comments

Ezra -- this is somewhat unfair, but only somewhat. Paul Bremer tried to strip the Islam provision out of the interim constitution, but he ended up only enraging the fundamentalists. Still, on this issue he *was* trying to avoid theocracy (or some approximation thereof). Likewise, the White House originally wanted to hold direct elections only after the constitution was written, which might have prevented Iraq from becoming a sharia-dominated state. (It would have been "undemocratic", but so was the occupation in Japan.) Now that was obviously untenable, and they were outmanuevered by Sistani, but what else could they have done? Then there were rumors that the CIA would support some of the secular exile groups in the direct elections, but House Democrats raised such a shitstorm that it never happened.

I don't like people who want to force sharia on a state anymore than you do, but perhaps the only alternative was to install some Ataturk figure, and that wasn't going to work for Iraq. It didn't work for Iraq.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Feb 21, 2005 3:21:06 PM

BP,

Perhaps this simply serves to reinforce the point many have made that democracy cannot be forced upon a population, but instead must be organically (and internally) grown.

If a large segment of the population is likely to be restricted from participation, through ineligibility (codified or practical) to either run on the ticket or vote, then perhaps the population as a whole is not ready for democracy.

We don't seem to have learned much from our own mistakes in acknowledging the long-term damaging effects of starting a participatory democracy that is rife with exclusions.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Feb 21, 2005 7:43:41 PM

Brad -- Your points are all right. This post was more to compare what Bush said with what BUsh has wrought, but in the midst of my rage (Riverbend's piece hit me hard), it didn't come out that way.

In any case, I really do believe they bumbled this, they failed at this reconstruction, they alienated (and didn't do nearly enough to win back) the Sunnis, and so on. What evil comes now is, in many ways, attriubtable to poor planning and hubris, and the fact that Bush campaigned on the freedom he brought Iraq's women -- a freedom they enjoyed under Saddam but will likely lose under Sistani's chosen one -- makes me ill.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 21, 2005 10:29:49 PM

You know, the key words are *was trying*. That's the bottom line. Not that he *tried* to avoid theocracy, but that he FAILED. They failed. They all did. All we're doing at this point is propping up a government like all the others. Religious, biased towards women, run by X ethnic group.

Last April, when the violence really started increasing I thought: It's so terrible now, but I'm sure it'll get better by November and this idiot will win again. It's hard to understand how it can be a thousand times worse now.

Honestly, this country needs a stiff wake up call: What Have We Done?

Posted by: Kate | Feb 22, 2005 2:56:38 AM

I'm sorry, but this is a decidedly second-order problem. EVERYTHING about this administration's Iraq policy has been deeply flawed from the beginning. That's 01/20/01, not 09/11/01. That said, the best we can do with the lousy hand Bush dealt himself is to establish some sense of civil order so we can get the hell out of someplace we never should have been in the first place.

Americans may be the only nation where history is measured in decades, and even then, full civil rights to women were won not very long ago. My mother changed her mind about Yale Law in 1945 because, even with that credential (and a Wellesley PBK key), hardly any law firms were hiring women. With the same credentials 25 years later, Hillary faced at least a slightly different world. Women could get hired, but they were and still are regularly passed over for partnerships. Then there's Larry Summers' idiotic remarks a few weeks ago.

Just looking at news clips from Iran & Iraq it's clear that some women have carved out a bit of modernist freedom. At least some women voted in the Iraq election. The mullahs led the Iranian revolution against the Shah. They were the only indigenous leadership operating beyond Saddam's regime. It's not surprising that they are wielding power for now, but it's hardly certain that they will continue to do so.

We will compound this disastrous invasion if we insist on managing the Iraqi governnment. Once we're out, there are plenty of ways to aid the modernization process.

Posted by: ozoid | Feb 22, 2005 3:05:55 AM

A second-order problem?

Posted by: nolo | Feb 22, 2005 11:47:13 AM

Noto:
Second-order: secondary, low priority. By comparison, equipping all Iraqi students with computers would also be desirable. But it would be a third-order problem, something so low on the priority list that no one at the U.S. embassy should be devoting any resources at all on the problem, unless Dell spontaneously decides to provide the computers.

Posted by: ozoid | Feb 22, 2005 1:50:55 PM

Don't mean to nitpick, ozoid, but women being considered equal to men is equvalent to giving all Iraqi students with computers?? I think you need to check YOUR priorities.

Posted by: Kate | Feb 22, 2005 6:37:08 PM

Kate--
The computer example is third-order. Please read my first comment. Look, I thought my first post made it clear that women are fully equal to men and should be treated that way throughout the world. They aren't though, not even in the U.S. This is about priorities and what is feasible to accomplish as an occupying army in a thoroughly foreign culture. Right now, it isn't safe to drive to the Baghdad airport. This isn't Santa Monica or the Upper West Side.

My point is that we need to get out of there ASAP. Let Iraqis deal with their state-mosque issues on their own, just as the British, French, Italians and Israelis do. There's absolutely no reason to believe that what it is when we leave is what it will be 10 or 30 years later. That's a blink of the eye in terms of Iraqi history. It's madness to think that American Christians and Jews --hardly any of whom speak or read Arabic -- can successfully impose ourselves on this issue as occupiers.

Sharia law is open to interpretation, just like the Bible. The major mullahs, like Sistani, are very circumspect in the language they use to describe how Sharia will be applied to civil society.

One more thought: a woman's right to control her own body is a pretty important tenet. I have more confidence that Iraqis society will evolve over time toward that principle than the Bushies.

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