January 09, 2004

Taliban Lite


The New York Times reported this week: Afghan Council Gives Approval to Constitution. (Via Allah Pundit)

In a carefully balanced wording, the country will be renamed the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, combining democracy and religion. There is to be a system of civil law, but no law will be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of Islam.

This is a "balance" that can only exist on paper. There are plenty of Western ideas in the new Constitution -- e.g., recognition of some property rights, prohibitions on torture, equal rights for men and women, etc. -- but most of them are qualified in some way, often with the phrase "in accordance to provisions of law." Sounds like the "rule of law," but what does the document hold as the foundation of this law? A Final Draft of the Constitution (pdf) can be found here (via Daniel Wisehart of HBL), and it contains the following explanation :

Article Two: The religion of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam. Followers of other religions are free to perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article Three: In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of this Constitution.

It's not difficult to guess which of the two -- Islam or the Constitution -- will eventually be favored in legal conflicts, for Islam is given the most moral significance by its very inclusion within the Constitution.

"Freedom of expression is inviolable," reads the Constitution, so long as citizens do so "in accordance with the law," which by implication means in accordance with "the sacred religion of Islam." Unlike the U.S. Constitution, there's no absolute protection of free speech based on individual liberty.

"Liberty is the natural right of human beings," reads the Afghanistan Constitution -- but this is immediately followed by a qualification: "This right has no limits unless affecting the right of others or public interests, which are regulated by law." If the individual is held subordinate to the "public interests" of the Islamic state, then there is no reason to expect that criticisms of the Islamic state will be tolerated. If the application of the law ultimately becomes Islamist clerics decreeing what is in the state's "public interests" or in the interests of "sacred Islam," then Afghanistan will again be under the "rule of men" not the "rule of law."

There are many socialist aspects -- from "free" medical care to "free" schooling with a state-dictated religious curriculum to appeals to the U.N. -- which are bad enough for a nation starting from scratch. But perhaps the worst aspect is the failure to create a politically secular nation. They didn't even shy away from using a name identical to the world's worst Islamic theocracy: Iran.

Yesterday we quoted an Iranian dissident who expressed a sentiment that should serve as a warning to Afghans: "I'm looking for [a] free Iran, without religion. People, they can have religion as a private thing. But in a political way, we are looking for a free country."

The new Afghanistan Constitution represents at least a temporary improvement over the tyrannical rule of the Taliban, but it will not established a truly free country, only the veneer of a free country. By enshrining Islam as a political force, the new Constitution has laid the groundwork for another Taliban.

Whose fault is this? Certainly Afghans should have learned from the negative examples of the Taliban and Iran. But just as certainly, President Bush and his administration -- as the leaders of the occupying military force -- had great influence on the issue but apparently chose not to exert it. We can only hope that we aren't forced to return one day to depose yet another Islamist regime.

UPDATE Jan. 14: Reader Simon Ward brought to our attention this BBC article that perfectly illustrates our point: Woman singer angers Afghan judges.

Afghan women singers have not been seen on state TV since 1992, when they were banned for being un-Islamic. The mujahideen government and the Taleban -- each of which controlled Kabul for part of the 1990s -- did not approve of women performing in public or appearing unveiled.

Monday's footage marked the latest liberalisation effort by the moderate administration of President Hamid Karzai.

Afghanistan's Supreme Court has often accused media in the country of violating Islamic principles.

The proliferation of Indian movies and cable television have been heavily criticised in the past. The appearance of Salma on state TV led to the first criticism of the media by the supreme court since a new constitution was adopted earlier this month. The new constitution declared Afghanistan an Islamic republic in which women enjoy equal rights to men.

The controversial part of Monday evening's broadcast consisted of one song lasting about five minutes, shown at peak time.

"We are opposed to women singing and dancing as a whole," Judge Manawi told Reuters. "This is totally against the decisions of the Supreme Court and it has to be stopped." [All emphasis added]

Posted by Forkum at January 9, 2004 07:35 AM