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Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2004 / 28 Shevat, 5764

Diana West

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Staring down sharia law | Another big story has come out of Iraq with little media fanfare — and this is one with colossal implications.

Recently, L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, toured a new women's center in Karbala. (The center occupies a former Ba'athist Party headquarters — nice touch.) There, citing a 2003 United Nations report that pegged the poverty and non-productivity of the Arab-Muslim world to the repression of half its workforce — women — under Islamic sharia law, Bremer touted the equal rights and full participation of women in the new Iraq.

This topic was apt, particularly since the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council voted in late December to withdraw Iraqi family law matters from their secular jurisdiction and place them under an undefined Islamic sharia law. Such a legal maneuver could subject women to underage marriages, polygamous marriages, on-the-spot divorces ("I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you," is all a husband has to say in certain sharia proceedings), unfair inheritance laws and other terrible inequities.

Bremer has not approved the Islamization of Iraqi family law. (Nor, as Paul Marshall reported at National Review Online, has Bremer intervened in the Islamization of Iraq's universities, nor the peremptory removal of a female deputy minister for whom hardliners refused to work.) Against such a political backdrop, Bremer discussed the current draft of the interim Iraqi constitution, which is due Feb. 28. The draft designates Islam the state religion of Iraq, Bremer said, and "a source of inspiration for the law" — not the only source of inspiration for that law.

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What would happen, Bremer was asked, if Iraqi leaders write an interim constitution inspired exclusively by Islamic law? "Our position is clear," Bremer replied in an unforgivably underreported answer picked up by the Associated Press. "It can't be law until I sign it." This statement strongly suggests Bremer would veto an Islamic charter — which, of course, he should for the sake of liberty and justice for all Iraqis. Equal rights before the law do not exist under Islamic law. One citizen, one vote does not exist under Islamic law. Freedom of worship does not exist under Islamic law. Minorities — that is, non-Muslims — enjoy rights and protections at the pleasure of the Muslim community that are ever-subject to the capriciousness of a rights-canceling fatwa. Indeed, Islamic law is not the basis of a religion, as the Judeo-Christian world understands religion, but is rather the basis of a controlling ideology that is nothing short of totalitarian.

Sharia's adherents, of course, would disagree. In a January article about the Governing Council's family law decision, every judge and lawyer the Los Angeles Times interviewed in Baghdad insisted on the superiority of sharia law to civil law. "Sharia is from God, the law is man-made, and sharia is better because what comes from Allah is fixed," said Kadhim Jubori, 55, who has practiced family law for 33 years in Baghdad. ("I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you" is fixed?) Fixed or not, U.S. efforts to tend democracy's roots in Iraq would wither under any sharia-based constitution.

This would bode ill, but not just for Iraq. The fact is, as JWR columnist Charles Krauthammer said recently in a magisterial address to the American Enterprise Institute, "You win by taking territory — and leaving something behind." We won Iraq by taking territory — and now must leave the basis for democracy behind. Not sharia. Such a policy — Krauthammer calls it "democratic globalism" — combines realism with an idealistic commitment to human freedom, tempered, he cautioned, by "strategic necessity." That means that the United States commits blood and treasure only in "places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom."

Fifty years ago, that described Germany and Japan, vortexes of fascism. Both nations, Krauthammer noted, "were turned, by nation-building, into bulwarks against the next great threat to freedom, Soviet communism." Today, he continued, the new global threat to freedom is "the new existential enemy, the Arab-Islamic totalitarianism that has threatened us in both its secular and religious forms for the quarter-century since the Khomeini revolution of 1979." He continued: "Establishing civilized, decent, non-belligerent, pro-Western polities in Afghanistan and Iraq ... would, like the flipping of Germany and Japan, change the strategic balance in the fight against Arab-Islamic radicalism."

Krauthammer admits we may fail even as he insists we must try. Certainly, the first thing to do is for Bremer — and the American people — to be prepared to veto a sharia-based constitution in Iraq.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2003, Diana West