Thursday, August 11, 2005

Understanding an 'Islamic' state of Iraq--New York Daily News

Printer Friendly Version - Understanding an 'Islamic' state of Iraq: "New York Daily News -
Understanding an 'Islamic' state of Iraq
By WILLIAM O. BEEMAN William O. Beeman:
Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

The deadline for drafting an Iraqi constitution is Monday, and there is increasing dread in the West of a de facto 'Islamic republic.' However, the idea of an Islamic republic in the minds of Western observers is far worse than the reality.
The simple truth is that even if a nation labels itself as an Islamic republic, only the smallest part of specific governmental structures can actually be determined by Sharia (sacred law). Islamic governance is mostly just plain governance, with special attention to structures that do not controvert the small body of specific laws incumbent on Muslims. Beyond this, Islamic government incorporates a broad set of principles that few in the West would disagree with, namely that resources are for the good of all, that honesty should be a hallmark of public life and that the disadvantaged should be provided for. The illegitimate use of Islam as an excuse to violate human rights is simple garden-variety repression.

Of course, Islam does have a specific set of laws, including family law and laws governing certain aspects of personal behavior (such as personal dress). However, these laws are applied flexibly from country to country. For example, the law that allows a man to have four wives is frequently modified by the equally important religious demand that he prove that he will be able to treat all of his wives equally. Many laws involving the rights of women are creatively modified in this way. Sharia law makes no mention of the veil, for instance, only that both men and women dress modestly. The Islamic state is free to interpret this any way it wishes.

It is somewhat odd that many in the West find it difficult to accept the desire to preserve a small number of religious structures in the laws of the state. Many religious-minded people in the U.S. would find such laws welcome and regularly lobby for them. The opposition to same-sex marriage on religious grounds is a reality in American politics today, having resulted in legal prohibitions.

The U.S. in particular would do well not to obsess over the potential Islamic nature of the Iraqi constitution. The Iraqis writing their constitution are intelligent, sensitive and competent. They have some horrendously difficult problems to confront, such as problems with sharing power among ethnic groups, distributing oil resources and establishing public safety. Islamic Sharia law provides no specific solution to these matters.

Beeman is director of Middle East Studies at Brown University.