Saturday, September 03, 2005

Sense and Sensibility

Charles Krauthammer, one of my favorite columnists--and not just because he a psychiatrist--has written a sensible and optimistic piece on the Iraqi constitution:

I wrote two months ago that forcing a resolution of Iraq's cosmic dilemmas by some arbitrary date could serve only to exacerbate existing divisions. This has indeed happened. Nonetheless, the Iraqi constitution project is a fact. It has produced a document. It goes to referendum on Oct. 15. And all the lamentations and rending of garments over the text are highly overblown.

The idea that it creates an Islamic theocracy is simply false. Its Islamist influence is relatively mild. Chapter One, Article One: "The Republic of Iraq is . . . a democratic, federal, representative [parliamentary] republic." The word Islamic is deliberately and importantly omitted.

More specifically, the rule of sharia is significantly constrained. All constitutions have their "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots." In America, the Constitution proper says what the government can and should do. The Bill of Rights says what the government cannot and must not do -- impose religion, force confessions, search and seize. It is the "thou shalt nots" that are your protection from tyranny.

The constitution writers in Iraq finessed the question of Islam by posing it as a thou-shalt-not. No law may contradict Islam. But it also says that no law may contradict democratic principles and that the constitution accepts all human rights conventions.

This means that there are two gatekeepers for the passing of any law. Insofar as the constitution is adhered to -- a heretofore dubious assumption in that part of the world -- democratic rights are protected from the imposition of sharia. Establishing a double roadblock to new legislation is an excellent way to launch Iraq's first experiment with limited government.

It was too much to expect that the Iraqis could iron out their differences in a few short weeks, and they didn't. But they have done a decent job of addressing the issues that divide them. The Sunnis remain recalcitrant because they had been in power so long under Saddam that it is difficult for them to accept that their day for controlling everything is over. You might even imagine them as the "Democratic Party" of Iraq, if you will--still smarting over their change in fortune, and with an extreme wing willing to cause a lot of damage to the national fabric as long as they think it will bring them back to power.

Fortunately for the Iraqis, they don't have a media controlled by that extreme Sunni wing, desperately trying to stir things up to further their agenda. So, given time, the Iraqis might solve these challenging problems.

The sensibilities of the Sunnis are the major obstructing point, but they will have plenty of time and many opportunities to get over their snit and join the democratic political process, if they wish to.

For the most part, the future is truly in the hands of the Iraqis now. They have a decent chance to forge a democratic state and ensure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.

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