The NY Times reports this:
"Under a deal brokered Friday by the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, Islam was to be named "a primary source of legislation" in the new Iraqi constitution, with the proviso that no legislation be permitted that conflicted with the "universal principles" of the religion. The latter phrase raised concerns that Iraqi judges would have wide latitude to strike down laws now on the books, as well as future legislation.
At the same time, according to a Kurdish leader involved in the talks, Mr. Khalilzad had backed language that would have given clerics sole authority in settling marriage and family disputes. That gave rise to concerns that women's rights, as they are enunciated in Iraq's existing laws, could be curtailed.
Finally, according to the person close to the negotiations, Mr. Khalilzad had been backing an arrangement that could have allowed clerics to have a hand in interpreting the constitution. That arrangement, coupled with the expansive language for Islam, prompted accusations from the Kurd that the Americans were helping in the formation of an Islamic state."
The Times also reports that this deal is unravelling. And much as I'd like to see the delegates who are drafting the Iraqi constitution (or accepting bits of it drafted by us) meet their deadline, I can't say that I'm sorry. Because Iraq under Sharia law is simply not something the United States should be pushing. As one Kurdish politician put it:
"We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said. "It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want."
What's especially galling is the idea that our ambassador would be urging people to adopt a constitution that places Iraq's women under Sharia law. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq had rather progressive laws on women. From Salon:
"Iraq's provisional constitution of 1970, at least until the 1990s, held a fairly progressive family law process. Iraqi women had access to education, the ability to refuse arranged marriages, and the right to full inheritance; their testimony counted in court; and they had a fighting chance to keep custody of their children if divorced or widowed. Islamic family law would change these rights, and not to women's advantage. Activists say that, judging from drafts of the constitution revealed so far, a woman's right to a divorce without her husband's consent, custody of male children past a certain age, and inheritance would be diminished, and she would not longer be considered equal to a man in the law's eyes.
"Previously, women, although politically oppressed, had their minimal rights, could marry [whom they wanted], not get killed for the honor of men, not [be] forced to wear [a] Hijab, and many things that will follow if the Shiite push enough for an Islamic constitution," Kamguian writes. "Islamists push for Islamisation, killing, genocide, etc., [and] then they say we are preserving Iraq's Islamic identity. For many decades people were living their lives without an active role of religion in it, at least in the most important areas of their public lives.""
Since the invasion, women have suffered a lot. From Amnesty International:
"Asma (not her real name), a young engineer, was abducted in Baghdad in 2003. She was shopping with her mother, sister and a male relative when six armed men forced her into a car and drove to a farmhouse outside the city. There she was repeatedly raped. A day later, Asma was driven to her neighbourhood and pushed out of the car.
Women in Iraq remain in fear and insecurity as the violence against them has continued. Although kidnapping resulting in rape or sexual abuse of women appears to have decreased since late 2003, the lack of security for women remains a serious threat. Women and girls live in constant fear of being abducted, raped or murdered.
Girls and women are also under threat in their own homes. With growing lawlessness, so-called “honour killings”, in which the victims are women or girls killed by male relatives for allegedly immoral behaviour, have continued. Such crimes are known to have been ignored by the police."
And from a column by Houzan Mahmoud, the UK Head of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq and co-founder of the Iraq Freedom Congress:
"My women's rights group, the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, has been documenting part of the upsurge in violence against women. In March this year, for example, followers of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr targeted an outing of students from Basra University. Playing football and listening to music, the mixed group was attacked in Basra Public Park. One male student was killed trying to defend his female friends against Islamists who literally tore the women's clothes off their bodies. Sadr's men photographed the dishevelled, half-dressed women, and told them that their parents would receive the photos if they didn't refrain in future from "immoral" behaviour.
More widely, professional women have been deliberately targeted and killed - notably in the city of Mosul - and, recently, anti-women Islamists in Baghdad have taken to throwing acid in women's faces and on to their uncovered legs. So-called "honour killings" are rife, as is the kidnapping and rape of women. Beheadings have occurred and women have been sold into sexual servitude. When I was in Baghdad a few months ago, I couldn't go anywhere without a bodyguard. The sense of danger and threat was tangible."
""A month ago I was walking from my college to my house when I was abducted in the street by three men. They dropped acid in my face and on my legs. They cut all my hair off while hitting me in the face many times telling me it's the price for not obeying God's wish in using the veil," Hania Abdul-Jabbar, a 23-year-old university student, recounted.
"Today I cannot see out of one eye because the acid made me lose my vision. I am afraid to leave my house. Now I am permanently disfigured with a monster face," she added with tears rolling down her swollen and scarred cheeks. (...)
According to local police, dozens of women have had parts of their bodies burned by religious conservatives in a string of incidents throughout the capital in recent weeks. Maj Abbas Dilemi, a senior police investigator in Baghdad, said that most of the acid attacks had occurred in the Mansour and Kadhmyia districts of the city."
"Directors avoid using actresses for fear that they will offend the hardliners who now dominate a city that was once known for its casinos and nightclubs. (...)
While those who stick to the rules can stage religious plays, any deviation can lead to deadly trouble, as a dance teacher, Thawra Youssif Yaqoub, discovered. Some of her female relatives, who were in a musical troupe, played at a birthday party in June. After the party they were dropped off on a main street with their instruments. A Toyota pulled up and a gunman shot her cousin’s wife in the head, killing her instantly. As the troupe fled screaming, the gunman shot her niece in the arm, then chased the group and shot her sister-in-law in the belly. She died later in hospital."
This is a campaign designed to terrorize women and girls into submission, using murder and serious physical violence, including rape: to keep them from entering "male" professions, from leaving home unescorted, from wearing the wrong clothes, from going on school outings with boys, and on and on and on. And against this backdrop, when Iraqi women are already subject to this sort of violence, my government decides to promote the idea of subjecting them to Sharia law. Just what they needed.
Personally, I am not very happy with the idea of forcing the Iraqis to draft a constitution under the gun. (It's not entirely clear to me why we couldn't let the Iraqis live under the TAL until they saw fit to write their own.) Nor am I happy about our very heavy-handed intervention in the process of drafting that constitution. I think that constitutions are just about the last thing that one country should force on another. Besides, the more we force, the less legitimate the resulting document is likely to be in the eyes of the Iraqi people, who do, after all, have to vote to ratify it. But if we have to interject ourselves into the process in this way, is it too much to ask that we should try to bring about a good constitution rather than a bad one? That we should try to protect the rights of 60% of Iraq's population, rather than throw them overboard? Here is a summary of Sharia personal status law:
"Marriage: Islamic marriage is a contract between a man and a woman. In the broadest of terms, the husband pledges to support his wife in exchange for her obedience, Brown says. Women can demand certain rights by writing them into the marriage contract, but the man is the head of the family, and traditionally, a wife may not act against her husband's wishes. (The Quran permits men to use physical force against disobedient wives in some circumstances, Powers says.) (...)
Divorce: Under sharia, the husband has the unilateral right to divorce his wife without cause. He can accomplish this by uttering the phrase "I divorce you" three times over the course of three months. If he does divorce her, he must pay her a sum of money agreed to before the wedding in the marriage contract and permit her to keep her dowry, Powers says. Classical sharia lays out very limited conditions under which a woman can divorce a man -- he must be infertile at the time of marriage; insane; or have leprosy or another contagious skin disease. (...)
Polygamy: The Quran gives men the right to have up to four wives. There are some traditional limitations: a man must treat all co-wives equitably, provide them with separate dwellings, and acknowledge in a marriage contract his other spouses, if any. A woman cannot forbid the practice, but can insist on a divorce if her husband takes a second wife. (...)
Custody: In a divorce, the children traditionally belong to the father, but the mother has the right to care for them while they are young, Powers says. The age at which a mother loses custody differs from nation to nation. In Iran, the mother's custody ends at seven for boys and girls; in Pakistan, it's seven for boys and puberty for girls. Many nations, however, allow courts to extend the mother's custody if it is deemed in the child's interest.
Inheritance: Mothers, wives, and daughters are guaranteed an inheritance in the case of a man's death. In the seventh century A.D., when the law was developed, this was a major step forward for women, Powers says. However, sharia also dictates that men inherit twice the share of women because, traditionally, men were responsible for women, Powers says."
Divorce is a serious issue. If women can sue for divorce only in cases of existing infertility, insanity, or contagious skin disease, she cannot sue for divorce on the grounds that her husband is physically abusing her or her children. Obviously, this is very, very bad news. Here are some more issues that the draft Iraqi constitution raises:
"• The substitution of Sharia for the current civil law on "personal status" matters — that is, marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. The language in one draft would allow each person to choose to have their case handled in Shiite, Sunni or Christian court. It is unclear whether there would even be a civil court option. On inheritance, religious law is particularly punitive to women, awarding a sister at most half the amount her brothers would get.
• The mandate that the state develop the status of the tribes "and benefit from their values and … traditions that do not go against religious principles." The vast majority of families in Iraq have tribal connections, which can either protect or completely subjugate them.
Tribal justice can include the use of women as payment to settle scores between tribes. The tribal chief has absolute power and can order a woman accused of adultery to be killed or can require, or forbid, a marriage. Even women who support Sharia express alarm at any language in the constitution that would accord authority to the tribes.
• The elimination of the 25% quota for the number of women in the National Assembly. The transitional administrative law requires that not less than 25% of the representatives be women. An early version of the constitution would have eliminated that quota after two terms, all but guaranteeing that women would hold fewer seats, because it is unlikely political parties would include that many women on their slates of candidates. Despite the initially bleak prospects, the women's lobbying appears to be having an effect: The constitutional commission has already restored the 25% quota and has put no time limit on its duration, members of the constitutional committee say."
"The use of women as payment to settle scores between tribes". "The tribal chief has absolute power and can order a woman accused of adultery to be killed or can require, or forbid, a marriage." How delightful.
Again: this is the line our ambassador is taking. This is what he is trying to get the people who are drafting the constitution to agree on. Still, one might say, if they do agree, at least they are a somewhat representative body of Iraqis. But, of course, they are not that representative of the group whose rights are on the chopping block. Women are 60% of the Iraqi population, but only 17% of the 55 member committee drafting the constitution. One might think that our government might therefore feel a special obligation to ensure that their rights were protected, at least to the minimal degree required to ensure that they not be used to settle debts, or locked forever into abusive marriages. Unfortunately, one would be wrong.
"MR. GERECHT: Actually, I'm not terribly worried about this. I mean, one hopes that the Iraqis protect women's social rights as much as possible. It certainly seems clear that in protecting the political rights, there's no discussion of women not having the right to vote. I think it's important to remember that in the year 1900, for example, in the United States, it was a democracy then. In 1900, women did not have the right to vote. If Iraqis could develop a democracy that resembled America in the 1900s, I think we'd all be thrilled. I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they're there. I think they will be there. But I think we need to put this into perspective."
This -- both the dismissal of the rights of 60% of the population and the urbane, unconcerned tone of it, makes me furious. Rather than saying the various angry things I feel like saying, I'll just say this: I hope that Mr. Gerecht never has to understand what it feels like to be married off at 13 to a drunk and abusive man, and to have no hope whatsoever of escape for the rest of his life. And if he should ever find himself in some analogous position, I hope that the people around him have bigger and more generous hearts than he has.