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July 19, 2005

Iraqi Women Re-veiled/More on Hersh
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Latest word is that Iraq's draft constitution will roll back the rights and freedoms of women in the name of Shaaria (Koranic law).   The draft provides that family law matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance would be governed by religious law based on the sect to which the woman's family belongs. 

This would require Shiite women to get their families' permission to marry and give men, but not women, liberal rights to divorce.   This would replace a body of law that has for the past few decades been among the region's most progressive in its treatment of women, according them freedom to marry who they please and requiring judicial oversight of divorces.   

Iraqi women are understandably up in arms, taking to the streets to protest.  There's still a chance that public and international outcry may lead to revisions in the draft before its adopted.

Apropos of all the discussion about the Bush Administration's meddling in the Iraqi electoral process, its worth remembering that letting countries alone to set up their own democracies can open the door for infringement on principles we hold dear, even to the point of undermining what we see as precepts fundamental to democracy. 

That brings me to some interesting line-drawing questions that the Hersh article raises.   I doubt there would be much objection to the U.S. supporting, for example, the women's groups that are protesting these new provisions.   But if those groups backed someone for elected office, that equation might change.   

The perception of American interference in a fledgling democracy is obviously unacceptable.   But what does that mean for the reality of what we do and don't support?

Among the critics of the Administration that Hersh cites is the National Democratic Institute, a body that devotes a major portion of its program to helping develop political parties overseas.  NDI's criteria for who to support include things like "policy positions,"  "democratic commitment," and "level of internal democracy."   These may not be overtly political, but they sure are close.  I suspect that a strong case might have been made that according to NDI's written standards, Allawi might have merited the organization's support.   Other groups Hersh talks about like NED and IRI do similar kinds of work.

One could argue that that the difference is that NDI, NED and IRI are all private groups, so that there activities aren't the work of the U.S. government intervening in a foreign sovereign democracy.  But all 3 groups are primarily supported by the USG, and are known to be so by the groups they work with overseas.

If we are going to work on articulating a new vision for the role the U.S. ought to play in seeding democracy around the world, these lines are ones we will need to figure out where to draw.


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I'm not sure why anyone should find this so surprising. Iraqi officials elected by popular vote would want to write the constitution in a way which agrees with the predominant values among their constituents (Islamic, socially conservative, patriarchal)? I'm shocked!

One of the bitter lessons we're going to learn from our intervention in Iraq is that there isn't a market in the Arab world for the system of values we're trying to export. Giving $5 million, or $50 million, to Iraqi women's groups or the country's tiny secular liberal political parties isn't going to change their hard-wired underlying system of social mores. (And despite the presence of a significant number of urban women in Iraq with liberal values, it's mistaken to assume that there aren't also a significant number of women who believe in, and have fully internalized, the dominant patriarchal system of values. Walk into a Baptist church in the rural South in the U.S. and you'll encounter the same phenomenon right here at home.)

The one silver lining to our intervention in Iraq is that it's providing us with a laboratory to test, and debunk, the idea that spreading Western values in the region is a workable solution to our problems there.

The perception of American interference in a fledgling democracy is obviously unacceptable. But what does that mean for the reality of what we do and don't support?


That's pretty funny.

Seriously, we've invaded the country, deposed a government, set up an inteirm authority, held an election, and are in the process of helping Iraqis write a constitution... and you seriously think there's a chance in hell that we can avoid being percieved as 'interfering in a fledgling democracy'?

Of course we're interfering. The US is the reason that fledgling democracy exists. Just about everyone on the planet knows it, there's no point in trying to pretend otherwise.

What we need to figure out isn't if interfering is appropriate, but what kind of interference is appropriate. Rigging elections is out, but I think that if a group that stands for values the US supports asks for the US's support, they should get it.

I expect groups that stand for values we don't like are getting support from beyond Iraq's borders- why should the groups the US likes be deprived?

Perhaps it's just me, but the link to the NYTimes article is broken. This one may work better for some.

Even if Saddam was a tyran dictator he was in fact a secularist (even a modernist) But the media and the politics american circles lied as always. Now we will have an Iraq ressembling more Iran than anything.

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