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Sistani rules, part III

January 21st, 2004

I’ve been arguing for a while that the only sustainable course in Iraq is that demanded by Ayatollah Sistani, that is, early elections which will, almost inevitably, produce a Shia majority government and some form of official Islamism. The occupying powers have no legitimate basis to resist this demand.
Admittedly, legitimacy is not a major concern for Bush, either at home or abroad, but the lack of it produces practical adverse consequence. No serious decision can properly be made under these circumstances. The occupiers have already found this out in relation to their economic agenda of privatisation free-market reform and so forth

Now there’s the news that the ‘Governing Council’ appointed by Paul Bremer has revoked a lot of Baathist laws protecting the civil status of women. If Bremer overrides this decision, he’ll be exposing the Governing Council as a sham. On the other hand, since the Governing Council is a sham, a decision by Bremer to approve the revocation is, in effect, a decision by the US to deprive half the Iraqi population of civil rights without ever giving them a chance to vote on it.

It seems likely that the government produced by an election would adopt similar policies. But, although this would be undesirable, it’s the typical outcome of democratic government in countries where religion is taken seriously – divorce and contraception have been banned wherever Catholicism is dominant, for example. Just as the US would not have been justified in invading Ireland to reform its divorce laws, it is not justified in denying democratic self-government to the Iraqi people because they might pass illiberal laws.

Update This report from the Guardian suggests that the British government accepts the need for early elections.

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  1. January 21st, 2004 at 18:25 | #1

    JQ, you seem to have forgotten that there might be a dilemma, that in some situations neither of two options might work. You can’t go from the fairly obvious insight that you won’t get anything that works hands off that lacks the popular support shown by elections to “the only sustainable course in Iraq is … early elections”. It seems quite possible that that won’t work either.

    But what is actually undesirable about restricting women’s rights anyway, unless you build that conclusion in at some level? I’m not arguing it, just trying to show you that it isn’t a universal but a value of our own culture (and possibly not understood identically by all here either).

  2. Phil Henry
    January 21st, 2004 at 21:54 | #2

    Yes, PM, it is a value of our own culture. I believe it is one of the constituent elements in the concept known as “freedom” which, as I understand it, is the latest, heavily marketed, rationale for the invasion. So the assumption has indeed been built in.

  3. January 21st, 2004 at 23:24 | #3

    If you go to Riverbend you will see that a love of women’s rights is not just a “value of our own culture.”

    The question of true universality is an issue of moral and political philosophy; on the pragmatic ground the value concerned is shared by a lot of people in Iraq. They are probably about to have their lives torn up by an incursion of government which each one of us would see as utterly violating.

    We do seem to be placing a values grid on the situation. What “works”, what “fails”. I guess we would all say that success is a stable government, accepted by most people, that does not involve the oppression of particular segments (like women) and which engages with the modern world so it can adapt in the future. At some point pragmatism takes over, and we put notional relativities aside, and admit that this is on the way to being horrifying.

  4. January 22nd, 2004 at 09:36 | #4

    But women’s rights are clearly not inherent in the concept of freedom – just look at the separateness of the issues whenever and wherever handled. On the one hand, freedom does not imply specific rights at all (or there wouldn’t need to be separate machinery for women’s or slaves’ rights in the US constitution), and on the other hand the women’s rights movement can easily give rise to oppressiveness in its own turn.

  5. Michael Burgess
    January 22nd, 2004 at 11:08 | #5

    The discussion on womens rights not being inherent in the concept of freedom is the type of dangerous cultural relativist nonsense that has gained ground in the post-Marxist era. There are large numbers of moderate Muslims in Islamic countries who support universal human rights and are disgusted with the relativistic nonsense currently in fashion in Western academia and in social movements – and who certainly don’t want to live under Islamic regimes. Read, for example, Ibn Warraq book ‘Why I am not a Muslim’.

  6. January 22nd, 2004 at 11:26 | #6

    What “gained ground in the post-Marxist era”? I’m a good old fashioned reactionary when I want to be, right up there with Chesterton and Belloc. Go and read Chesterton’s “What’s wrong with the World” to see how somebody can quite consistently support freedom and not consider “women’s rights” an integral part of that, that is, a specific means that must intrinsically always be involved with maintaining freedom in a broader sense.

    The point here is not whether Chesterton is wrong but whether the values of “women’s rights” are themselves the later interpolation. It is quite back to front to make out that dealing with them separately is itself a modification of the original understandings.

    Oh, and repetition is not a form of reasoning.

  7. January 22nd, 2004 at 11:26 | #7

    first off there are no rights.

    secondly, everything is relative*

    having said that, clearly what you people mean to be talking about is setting up stable governments which people would like to live under.

    in this pragmatic sense, there is a hierarchy of cultures, with western liberal democracies at the top. cultures which restrict civil liberties based on race or sex are below these on the hierarchy.

    (civil liberties is actually a nice term, instead of right. right implies something which is guaranteed and inalienable, instead they in reality are something which is provided for by a society if possible. in our abundant western society we conflate the term civil liberty which we are allowed to take with right, a nonsensical concept)

    john, we didnt bother with all this iraq invasion stuff just to give the shia majority a chance to oppress women. the US should force a republic down their throats, and not purile democracy (the rule of the majority, or mob)

    *nothing is universally right or wrong. think of a crime you think is terrible, say rape. if there was a time in a species history where for some reason the only way for genes to propogate themselves was through rape then this behaviour would become dominant, irrespective of what we think today is right or wrong.

  8. January 22nd, 2004 at 17:18 | #8

    Sistani apparently has his own web page.

  9. Homer Paxton
    January 23rd, 2004 at 09:56 | #9

    JQ you have naively fallen for the moderation tag.

    Would Mr S be acting so openly if he weren’t the recipient of gaining power post elections.

    What of the need to protect both the shias, Kurds and not to mention the 4 million christians.

    The only decent constitution which can do this is ironically the US.

    Your opinions reminded me of Macquarie University when messrs Springborg and Indyk were at each other throats. They actually agreed that Khomeini in Iran would prove an enlightened leader. If my aging memory serves me correct the Communists backed him in Iran thinking they would step in later.

    What is it that that Mexican philospher said about people who froget the lessons of history?

    P.S.

    look at Pakistan as an outstanding example of sharia law. There is little prosecution of rape there because Male evidence is given vastly more inportance than female if it is allowed.

    If the case is then dismissed the female can then be charged with offences relating to adultery or fornication.!

  10. John
    January 23rd, 2004 at 10:10 | #10

    Homer, in this context “moderation” is relative. Relative to the alternatives, a democratic government with policies similar to those in Pakistan would be a pretty good outcome. As PML says, there’s no guarantee that even this much can be delivered.

  11. January 23rd, 2004 at 11:24 | #11

    And that post is a model of “moderation” as a civilised value.

  12. January 23rd, 2004 at 11:26 | #12

    democracy…such a dirty word…

    having 5 million jews elect a government to oppress the 1 million non-jews in israel is democratic…

    quiggin, why create the same situation in iraq?

  13. Michael Burgess
    January 23rd, 2004 at 12:57 | #13

    C8to – If Palestinians had not pursued their disgusting suicide bombing strategy (supported by the vast majority of Palestinians)and if the Palestinian elite had not been so corrupt, Israel would have had no option but to accept a Palestinian state.

  14. Mike Pepperday
    January 23rd, 2004 at 14:46 | #14

    To function, Iraq must be a federation. The constitution has to say that the feds have their areas of power (military, quarantine, communications and others) and the states have theirs (health, police, marriage, etc). The Shia state can have its laws, the Sunni state its, the Kurd state has its and feds have nothing to say on those matters.

    If you don’t like the way your own state works, you can go live in another. In practice one hopes that ultimately the states would compete to be attractive to residents.

    Well, it’s all theory now. It’s apparently too late. They have messed it up.

  15. January 23rd, 2004 at 18:59 | #15

    Mike, Riverbend has a bit to say on the federation idea – she is horrified by it.

  16. January 24th, 2004 at 08:35 | #16

    burgess, i think thats wrong.

    the palestinians would be long gone (to jordan or gehenna) if they just bent over and let the jews shaft them…

    the only reason the palestinian state idea is on the cards (and this is very recent) is because moderate and reasonable israelis have become sick of their children being blown up on buses because of an expansionist government and the nut-case (mainly american, i think but id have to check) settler zealots…

    they started to ask themselves…hmmm, if theres all these people willing to kill themselves in exchange to hurt us, maybe their lives are pretty shit and not really worth living…

    sure the suicide bombers have been misled (virgins in heaven etcetera), theyre not that smart and probably not even that good militarily, but the fact remains that they are making their own rational choice to kill themselves, as opposed to living their existence.

    furthermore, what you’re saying is pure opinion and speculation. some facts on world opinion can be found in the countless UN resolutions, usually with every country in the world except the US and israel, condemning israel: http://www.mideastfacts.com/resolutions.html

    im not a left wing bleeding heart, and i think the israelis have as much right as anyone to kill their neighbours in the name of security, but to say the palestinians have not been successful in their PR campaign is, i believe, nonsense.

    sure theyve made mistakes, but the only reason we’re, or anyone, is talking about a palestinian state is because they made it a bloodbath. otherwise they just wouldve got shafted and pushed aside, not even a footnote in history.

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