I have stated for quite some time that any democracy movement in Iraq or anywhere in the Muslim world would always be under pressure from Muslims who considered that no government was legitimate unless it obeyed the Sharia. The Sharia for significant numbers of Muslims is the law of God. That being the case, they are not lightly going to set it aside for the manmade laws of a republic.
This is not a startling or original point, but it is one that few seem willing to make. More confirmation of it comes now from Iraq, where rights that women have enjoyed for years under the relatively secular rule of Saddam Hussein are now being threatened by Sharia advocates.
These events also threaten Iraqi non-Muslims (who are already quite threatened in other ways): with the Sharia comes dhimmi laws that institutionalize discrimination and inferiority for religious minorities.
This report comes from the Washington Post:
For the past four decades, Iraqi women have enjoyed some of the most modern legal protections in the Muslim world, under a civil code that prohibits marriage below the age of 18, arbitrary divorce and male favoritism in child custody and property inheritance disputes.
Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship did not touch those rights. But the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council has voted to wipe them out, ordering in late December that family laws shall be “canceled” and such issues placed under the jurisdiction of strict Islamic legal doctrine known as sharia.
This week, outraged Iraqi women — from judges to cabinet ministers — denounced the decision in street protests and at conferences, saying it would set back their legal status by centuries and could unleash emotional clashes among various Islamic strains that have differing rules for marriage, divorce and other family issues.
This point about clashes between Islamic “strains” — more precisely madhhabs or schools — is most likely being used by these women to try to score rhetorical points against Sharia hardliners. For in fact, there is little difference among the Islamic schools, or between Sunnis and Shi’ites, on one fundamental point: all deny women equality of rights and dignity with men.
“This will send us home and shut the door, just like what happened to women in Afghanistan,” said Amira Hassan Abdullah, a Kurdish lawyer who spoke at a protest meeting Thursday. Some Islamic laws, she noted, allow men to divorce their wives on the spot.
“The old law wasn’t perfect, but this one would make Iraq a jungle,” she said. “Iraqi women will accept it over their dead bodies.”
The order, narrowly approved by the 25-member council in a closed-door session Dec. 29, was reportedly sponsored by conservative Shiite members. The order is now being opposed by several liberal members as well as by senior women in the Iraqi government.
Charles at LGF points out trenchantly: “An annoying trend in mainstream media is to refer to theocratic troglodytes like these Shi’ite council members as ‘conservative.’ But Western political categorizations are meaningless in terms of Islamic politics; when Western media uses them, they inform us more about their own bias than about the politics involved, by associating ‘conservatives’ with the worst elements of Islam.”
Ultimately, all this is up to the United States:
The council’s decisions must be approved by L. Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, and aides said unofficially that his imprimatur for this change was unlikely. But experts here said that once U.S. officials turn over political power to Iraqis at the end of June, conservative forces could press ahead with their agenda to make sharia the supreme law. Spokesmen for Bremer did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. . . .
In interviews at several meetings and protests, women noted that even during the politically repressive Hussein era, women had been allowed to assume a far more modern role than in many other Muslim countries and had been shielded from some of the more egregiously unfair interpretations of Islam advocated by conservative, male-run Muslim groups.
The problem is that these “egregiously unfair interpretations of Islam” are deeply rooted in the traditional sources — so deeply rooted that any attempt to remove them from consideration in Iraq today will run up against those who insist that they must remain because they are integral to the nation’s Islamic character.
“This new law will send Iraqi families back to the Middle Ages,” Hakki said. “It will allow men to have four or five or six wives. It will take away children from their mothers. It will allow anyone who calls himself a cleric to open an Islamic court in his house and decide about who can marry and divorce and have rights. We have to stop it.”
This chronological argument — this will send Iraq back to the Middle Ages — may look impressive to Western non-Muslims, but it lacks force in the current debate. Sharia advocates will never accept arguments that the law is outmoded or non-modern. It is the law of Allah, applicable for all times and places. So too, Hakki’s points illustrating that the Sharia violates clear norms of human rights are likely to fall on deaf ears for the same reason.