November 27, 2003

Trumping Sistani

Bruce Rolston rightly points out how imam Sistani has been a major force in post-Saddam politics.

Juan Cole relates that he has proposed a serious challenge to plans to democratize Iraq by demanding that Iraq's new basic law provide for direct elections and a clause subordinating the legislature to the restrictions of sharia, and the interpreters of sharia, the imams.

Coupled with Sistani's other objection, that the writers of the new constitution must be directly elected, a solution is right before our eyes. In a tug of war an effective tactic (if you can pull it off) is to give some unexpected slack, throwing the other side off balance and then pulling them to defeat before they can regain their footing. If Sistani wants the imams over the legislature, that's not unacceptable if the people are over the imams. "No law may be passed in contravention to Islamic law" is a recipe for Iran II, a theocracy that will not serve Iraq well. "No law may be passed in contravention to Islamic law without the assent of the people in referendum" is a workable formula, giving mosque the power to influence but not having the final word. Can Sistani argue for the supremacy of the people in direct elections while simultaneously arguing that the people should have no voice whatsoever if the imams issue a fatwa? You might as well have Sistani nominate the constitution writers. I doubt that the Iraqi people would want to place themselves under another tyrannic yoke. How could Sistani argue against this?

Sistani's demand requires a great deal of thought and adjustment. It's not unworkable though, if Bremer and the CPA can see sense and work for practical solutions. It won't be the United States in the end but it need not be a failed society. Could anyone doubt that a referendum mechanism would override the worst of Iran's theocratic excesses? Properly structured, a recognition of the faith of Iraq's overwhelming majority need not turn into theocracy. Iraq can see what happens when the mosques have the final say, poverty, stagnation, and decline. It's unlikely that this is what they want for their own state.

Posted by TMLutas at November 27, 2003 11:30 PM