January 15, 2004

Sharia in Iraq?

Robert Waldmann reports:

There is one danger to Iraq that Ayatollah Sistani sure won't do anything about -- the imposition of Islamic law. I am amazed to read (and amazed I missed) that the US-established Iraqi Governing Council suddenly passed an "order decreeing abolition of Iraq's uniform civil codes in favor of religious law" -- meaning Sharia for moslems. Iraqi women protest. Western newspapers except for the lefty Financial Times (not joking about lefty) ignore the news.

Al Qaeda attacks us so we go to war to replace a gender-neutral civil code with Sharia ???

The [IGC's] decree does not have legal force because Bremer has not co-signed it...

UPDATE: Juan Cole writes:

as-Zaman reports a "storm" of street protests again on Thursday against the Interim Governing Council's abolition of the 1958 civil personal status laws in favor of religious law. Az-Zaman, a modernist Arab nationalist newspaper close to Adnan Pachachi, ran several essays Thursday by Iraqi intellectuals denouncing the move as harmful to Iraq.

The Financial Times, to its credit, picked up the story for Thursday (most of the Western press had ignored it initially). It looks to me as though IGC members tried to deceive Nicolas Pelham and Charles Clover with claims such as that the IGC decree implementing religious law was "voluntary" and anyway would not be implemented because it needed Paul Bremer's signature. You don't need a government law to have voluntary compliance with shariah or Islamic law. If someone wants to write a will in accordance with literalist approaches to Islamic law, they already can. What is objectionable is the government imposing religious law on people who may or may not want it, and that is what the IGC is trying to do. As for the claim that Bremer won't implement the law, just issuing the decree gives vigilante militias a pretext to pry into the private affairs of Iraqis and to impose religious practices on them.

So, the response of the Bush administration to the September 11 attack on the United States by a group of radical Islamist extremists has been to abolish secular law for Iraqi women and impose a fundamentalist reading of Islamic law on them. Yes, it all makes perfect sense.

Posted by DeLong at January 15, 2004 10:19 AM | TrackBack


US foreign policy has a long history of supporting Arab religious elements. Mostly it was a response to the FSU and maxist leaning secular states (such as Afghanistan in the 1980s).

Posted by: bakho on January 15, 2004 10:44 AM



'About 100 Iraqi women led by a minister protested in central Baghdad against a Governing Council proposal to scrap the secular family affairs code and place it under Muslim religious jurisdiction.[...]

At the demonstration in Ferdus Square women stood behind banners that read: "No to discrimination between men and women in the new Iraq," and "We reject decision 137 (of the Governing Council) which undermines the Iraqi family and society."

Zakia Khalifa, an activist, said the new law would "take away women's rights."

"Even Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s family laws are better than this one," she said.'

All together now...
Zakia Khalifa is objectively Pro-Saddam!
Now wasn't that fun?

Posted by: Dan the Man on January 15, 2004 10:49 AM


Everyone interested in this topic should to to Juan Cole's links page and read Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) post on this. The link:


It would be interesting to find out if Baghdad Burning's claim that Iraqi civil law is designed to mostly be consistent with Sharia law. Gosh, where would I go to find that out? I do know that there is a problem with a hasty adoption of Sharia law, which is that there are four or five schools of Sharia law, some much more liberal than others. And each of the major schools have many variations. And much of what some clerics say is Koranic is actually more a reading of pre-existing cultureal (and often very un-Islamic views) into either the Koran, the Muhammad's sayings (Hadiths) or Muhammad's actions.

So a slap-happy approach to this issue by the US would be shameful.

And I guess I should be reading more macroeconomics so I could follow some of the macro/finance posters commments better...

Posted by: jml on January 15, 2004 10:52 AM


Oh yeah! I'm not holding my breath until I see this covered in the regular press, but its definitely a point to bring up with the remaining republican true believers.


Posted by: Kate on January 15, 2004 10:52 AM


Re last post:
It would be interesting to find out if Baghdad Burning's claim that Iraqi civil law is designed to mostly be consistent with Sharia law *is true*.

Sorry the new year hasn't improved my typing. Combination of bad flu and my nervousness at particpating in the rough world of blogs, I guess.

Posted by: jml on January 15, 2004 11:07 AM


Somewhere in a cave, Osama bin Laden is laughing so hard they can't hook him up to his dialysis machine.

Posted by: Mike Jones on January 15, 2004 11:20 AM


Last Sat., the lead in CNN's On the Story (11AM EST where they feature some of their woman reporters) was wondering how much better life would be in Iraq now that the old regime was gone. Fortunately, the reporter in Baghdad realized she was not in Afghanistan and said so. And we wonder why the average citizen is so easily fooled by this Administration.

Posted by: Harold McClure on January 15, 2004 12:27 PM


Yes, but they can still eat shrimp so its all ok.

Posted by: Rob on January 15, 2004 12:36 PM


In my arguments with Bush supporters I end up believing that they're completely satisfied to get all their information from TV and the front pages of American newspapers. Big stories get wrapped up in a slogan and to Republicans, that's the end of the story. "The Taliban oppressed women and now the Taliban is gone" and "Saddam was a brutal dictator and now he's gone" are both true statements, but the full story of what happened is much less satisfying.

When I ask these people what really has been happening in Afghanistan since the Taliban fell, they don't know and they resent being asked because for them the slogan is the story. As far as I know, outside Kabul women are about where the were before, and inside Kabul the situation is mixed.

If someone knows different, bring on the evidence -- I'm only moderately well-informed on the topic. But don't just repeat the slogan.

The Democratic core is too small to win the 2004 election, and the Republican core is beyond talking to. So the election will be decided by the independents, libertarians, Greens, moderate Republicans, apolitical cynics, and even the rational conservatives if any of them exist.

At this point I don't see how any well-informed, rational person who is not a "movement conservative" can fail to actively oppose Bush. The Democratic frontrunners (Dean and Clark) are both moderate enough that a conservative could vote for them -- despite what the media loons say.

Posted by: zizka on January 15, 2004 01:07 PM





Posted by: lise on January 15, 2004 01:29 PM


American women organizations should probably involve themselves.

Posted by: Leopold on January 15, 2004 01:34 PM


Gosh, where's Laura Bush when you need her?

Posted by: Ann on January 15, 2004 02:50 PM



Way too objective, there! What does their stance on various policies (which is what I assume you mean when you call Dean and Clark moderate) have to do with their acceptability to conservative voters? That's not the way we do politics, is it?

OK, so roughly 1/3 of voters identify themselves are Republican, 1/3 Democrat and 1/3 whatever. I think the only real hope for Dean or Clark is to get ahold of that 1/3 whatever vote.

Posted by: K Harris on January 15, 2004 03:23 PM


"OK, so roughly 1/3 of voters identify themselves are Republican, 1/3 Democrat and 1/3 whatever. I think the only real hope for Dean or Clark is to get ahold of that 1/3 whatever vote."

Too bad competence doesn't count for something among the Republican third. Bush doesn't score well on anybody's card if they're truly being serious with themselves-- certainly not among conservatives.

Posted by: dennisS on January 15, 2004 03:33 PM


hmmm... this could be as it appears to be... or it could be a surprisingly subtle ploy for the IGC to curry favor with the Islamists and also to undermine the Islamists' populist support. Sure it might cause them some short term problems, but I could see a scenario where this helps the IGC to consolidate power.

Try it on from a game theory standpoint... I'm the IGC, I know it will never be implemented (hell I've already talked through the move with Bremer). I make the announcement, the anti-Sharia folks get stirred up, come out of the woodwork, popular support for the strong form of Islamic govt erodes while I curry favor with the sharia faction.

Anyone know if Rove has visited with these chaps?

Watching Bremer's response may provide some insight...

Posted by: Pragmatic Idealist on January 15, 2004 03:36 PM


Way too many details, nuance here in these posts, folks....remember, our fearless leader says:

"I don't think much about what I do".

"It's not my job to nuance".

"What's the difference?".

Posted by: marty on January 15, 2004 04:14 PM


"or it could be a surprisingly subtle ploy for the IGC to curry favor with the Islamists and also to undermine the Islamists' populist support"

And I thought Sistani's speech today about throwing the rascals out could just be cover with his base as he supports the interim plan

The deceitful internecine politics of *two* countries is just one country too much

Posted by: bob mcmanus on January 15, 2004 04:42 PM


Of course, this is less than a month after we established the Islamic Republic of Afganistan.

Posted by: HankP on January 15, 2004 04:59 PM


Hamid Karzai's Chief Justice of the Afghan Supreme Court established Sharia as the law of Afghanistan in 2002.

Last I heard it was about 50% burka.

Posted by: Josh Narins on January 15, 2004 05:30 PM


Bush explicitly signalled early in 2003 that the U.S. would ACCEPT a democracy that is NOT ON the Western mode, for heaven's sake.

Sistani's coming, fellows, even though he was late to the party. (Perhaps he hoped he could stay above it all.) ( This indeed makes him a rather Western-style prelate. ) But the holy man has stated his position TWICE now--UNHEARD OF from one who usually only says something once, for enough! He can put 60% of the population of Iraq ON THE STREET any hour of any day he CHOOSES.

Care to guess about when THAT will be?

Posted by: Lee A. on January 15, 2004 05:31 PM


Um, July 1, when he tells us that we have 72 hours to leave his country?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 15, 2004 06:05 PM


There's a Washington Post article on it today (finally!).


Here's an interesting quote:

'Nasir Chaderchi, a lawyer and council member who heads the National Democratic Party, criticized the council's action at a professional women's meeting Thursday. "We don't want to be isolated from modern developments," Chaderchi told the gathering of the Iraqi Independent Women's Group. "What hurts most is that the law of the tyrant Saddam was more modern than this new law."'

All together now...
Nasir Chaderchi is objectively Pro-Saddam!
Now doesn't that make you feel better after saying that?

Posted by: Dan the Man on January 15, 2004 10:23 PM


Dan the Man writes: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21321-2004Jan15.html
'Nasir Chaderchi, a lawyer and council member who heads the National Democratic Party, criticized the council's action ...

Compare with:
More on the Family Laws issue.
Al-Sabah has today on its front page a statement by Jalal Talabani, Kurdish Governing Council member, saying that Decision No. 173 by the Iraqi Governing Council cannot be passed because illegitimate. Yesterday Al-Sabah said that the decision was signed by all IGC members except one.

Note that 2 members of IGC say it is a bad decision while there was 1 vote against it. The best friends of US in Iraq are scum.

Posted by: Leopold on January 15, 2004 11:13 PM


Lee A suggests that accepting religious family law is necessary to deal with Sistani. My impression is that Sistani has not been arguing in favor of an Islamic Republic or even the current IGC proposal. My impression is that he has been arguing that Democracy has something to do with elections and a procudure where the parliament and constitutional convention are elected by people selected by people selected by people (us) who obtained power with a gun is not democracy.

I doubt that Lee A would like to debate that point with Sistani. It seems rather than discussing what Sistani has actually said, Lee A prefers to appeal to the assumption that an Ayatollah must be a dangerous reactionary.

In my view, in his few interpetations of Islamic teachings translated into English (see www.sistani.org/english) Sistani is twisting words in order to find as progressive an interpretation of Islam as possible.

Ah yeah speaking of Sistani's doctrinaire obsession with silly things like elections. The Geneva convention forbids the CPA and therefore its creation the IGC from changing Iraqi civil law. What does "democracy that is NOT ON the Western mode" have to do with a fundamental reform passed by an unelected council. 137 is not on the Western mode but it is also not democracy. Of course an unelected provisional government is needed but I and the Geneva convention think that laws should not be changed by such a provisional body.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on January 16, 2004 12:02 AM


Thinking about it I'm not too surprised the Kurds in the IGC voted for it. After all the IGC also gave the Kurds de facto sovereignty over Kurdistan. Looks like there was a de facto trading of votes. The Kurds would get sovereignty over Kurdistan in exchange for the Kurds supporting imposition of Islamic Law. And since the Islamic Law would not apply to Kurdistan because The Kurds would have sovereignty why would it matter to them? I wouldn't be surprised if none of the Kurds opposed the new law.

Posted by: Dan the Man on January 16, 2004 12:07 AM


Robert Waldmann -- You have misunderstood my point, sir. But perhaps that's my fault, through ellipsis. Let's spell it out. My unspoken assumption (which may be wrong) is that direct elections in Iraq will lead to a Shiite Muslim republic, with a good deal of intermarried Sunnis, and that sharia and other restrictive laws will find a place in this, not simply because a fervent religion was repressed for so long, but also because Islam directs its political institutions.

It DOES appear that Sistani is more liberal than others (as I wrote it, he might be a "Western-style prelate"--perhaps this comment too is oblique) but even so, he wouldn't countermand the simplest things (e.g. sharia, again) for the rabble. Even church politics in the West provides countless examples.

The previous posters had intimated that this was a worrying development, and my point was is that it's rather to be expected, because the game is now about something else.

Direct election to an Islamic republic is fine by me, although I won't be living under it. Perhaps it will even liberalize over time, and make it fun to visit. But the U.S. Administration is worried about oil geopolitics, which got us into this in the first place. The attitude of most Iraqis seems to be: "You helped INFLICT Saddam on us for decades, you got RID of him, so now we're EVEN, go home NOW: there's the door." (That would be my attitude, too.) Conservatives in the U.S. believe that the Iraqis would not be so foolish as to quit the Americans, for fear of invasion by Turkey, Iran, Syria. I'm not so sure. Sistani et. al. could clabber a military together in months. And sell their oil to the French, Russians, Chinese.

Even though we may plan to keep large military bases in hostile desert territory, Guantanamo-style, far from the Iraqi population centers, way out in the middle of nowhere, for a quick strike on shaky Pakistan.

Posted by: Lee A. on January 16, 2004 09:25 AM


I live in Cairo and have studied Islam as a lay person for several years and Riverbend's primer on the subject of Sharia is completely accurate. Her point here is worth quoting: "Women are outragedů this is going to open new doors for repression in the most advanced country on women's rights in the Arab world! Men are also against this (although they certainly have the upper-hand in the situation) because it's going to mean more confusion and conflict all around." There are 5 major schools of Sharia (4 Sunni, 1 Shia) and they are in agreement on major issues but vary on details.

Although secular militant nationalism of the Arab world (regimes such as the Baath regimes in Syria and Iraq, not to mention regular ol' Western style dictators like Bourgiba and Ben Ali of Tunisia) has a lot of bad points, it does tend to have laws that give women more personal freedoms than those regimes that use some form of Sharia.

Another problem of Sharia is what sort of civil code non-Muslism should use. Here in Egypt there's a Christian civil code and a Muslim one. So Muslim women for example have greater rights in some areas than Christian ones (the Coptic church is very anti-divorce so that is one area that's easier for muslims) and less in others (for example, if their husband marries a second wife I believe it's not considered grounds for divorce, whereas polygyny is not permitted in Christian law -- although now there is a new form of quick divorce to make it easier for Muslim women but it involves giving up all financial rights from the husband).

Riverbend is also right when she says that Sharia does not necessarily have to include any of these things if it started from scratch using Quran and a limited number of Prophetic sayings, but the fact is that, as it exists right now, Sharia has been codified over centuries using writings of male theologians, none of whom had a very high opinion of women, which means that in its current form it really does limit women's rights, mobility, etc.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo on January 18, 2004 04:09 AM


Eloquent and sad, Anna in Cairo! And reminded again of the great importance of Riverbend, who has long been a necessary read, to infer what is happening on the ground in Iraq. Her's may become a hallmark in humanitarian letters.

What if American Muslim women currently at college should join into an U.S.-based advocacy group for women's rights across all borders? (This they should do, no matter how personally secular. Others have fought for rights before us, it is time to continue to help others.)

After all, there's been a sacrifice all around, and now the moral consequence. It would be the precise time to hold America to its principles.

Or will this become just cynically waylaid?

Posted by: Lee A. on January 18, 2004 11:33 AM


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