February 05, 2005

Shari'a In Iraq

I'm not wholly upset that Islamic law is going to rule far and wide in Iraq. Well, okay, I am upset, because it's barbaric and makes life miserable for at least 50% of the country. (Um, so that's my nuanced take on the tension between multiculturalism and feminism.) At the same time, what else can be done about it? The U.S. can't very well go assassinate all the Shi'ite clerics—and besides, judging from Ayatollah Sistani's views on oral sex, he might be the least puritanical of them all—and the last time the U.S. tried to shoot down a constitutional provision enshrining Islamic family law, we ended up sparking a backlash and making the constitution even more Islamic. (Do note the striking parallels with the Intelligent Design debate.)

In retrospect, had we made Islam the end-all and be-all in the Transitional Administrative Law (the interim constitution that we helped Iraqis write), then Sistani probably never would have mobilized his election-day forces so heavily. Maybe the secular list would be in charge right now. But no turning back the clock now.

But I ramble. Two key issues here. First, will the Shi'ites and the Sunnis each have their own separate courts, since they obviously each have their own separate interpretation of Islamic law and Islamic family law? Probably. This was how it was done prior to 1959, and there's no reason to do otherwise, but that obviously gets very complicated. (Will other sects, like Christians and Jews, get their own courts?)

Second, how will Islamic family law (the stuff that screws over women on matters of divorce, inheritance, etc.) actually be implemented? If the religious Shi'ite slate has a 50% majority (final results are not yet in), then they can just pass a whole bunch of ordinary laws and get their way. Or they can try to enshrine it in the Constitution. But as numerous liberal pundits here in America will tell you, relying on the courts will only make the religious Shi'ites fat and lazy and complacent. But the Shi'ite fundamentalists also probably know that they won't have a legislative majority forever. Tricky stuff.

In all this, there's the question of execution. The Shi'ite fundamentalists say that Islamic law should guide the new laws. But who's going to say that a law passed by parliament actually hews to or contradicts Islamic law? Is there going to be some sort of constitutional committee made up of clerics and Islamic lawyers, ala the Council of Guardians in Iran? Or will there be judicial review by independent courts like here in America? Well in that case, will we need to replace the secular judiciary with some sort of religious judiciary? Will secular-trained judges need to consult with clerics on matters of interpretation? Whattup?

Messy, messy.
-- Brad Plumer 4:50 PM || ||