September’s Atlantic has a wonderful article by Reuel Gerecht on the future of democracy in Iraq.
Before I put my two cents in, I’ll just say that my forays into current events and politics will be limited. My illustrious, hoary, and somewhat bitter colleague has that well covered.
Gerecht has written a cogent and persuasive article on the role of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani in Iraq’s future democracy that has the ring of truth to it. Whether you were for or against this war, it happened. I say were because only the most vitriolic and nearsighted individuals hold the position that we should simply “pull out” of Iraq. I am by no means an advocate for occupation, but abandoning Iraq now would be disastrous. We all know this. What, then, to do?
Gerecht has provided the sensible person with a stance to support. The conservative party line is that elections cannot be held haphazardly lest a fundamentalist Islamic regime take hold of the country a la Iran. The differences between Iran and Iraq are quite large, both in ethnic makeup and in the particular character of the religious leadership. We are all familiar with Ayatollah Khomeni’s repressive regime in Iran and violently fundamentalist demeanor. We recall the fatwa on Salman Rushdie. Why on earth support a character like al-Sistani?
Friends, this is a different Ayatollah who has issued a different fatwa. The link to the article above cuts off right before the good part (unless you are a subscriber to the Atlantic). I’ll just have to cheat and give you the good stuff. From al-Sistani’s June 29 fatwa:
The Occupational Authority in no way has the authority to choose members for the drafting committee of Basic Law. In no way does any authority exist for such a drafting committee to represent the lofty interests of the Iraqi people or to translate into law the wishes and basic identity of the Iraqi people, the pillars of which are the glorious faith of Islam and society’s values. The current plan discussed is fundamentally unacceptable.
Accordingly, popular elections are necessary so that each Iraqi who is of voting age can choose his representative for a constituent assembly. And then any Basic Law written by this assembly must be approved by national referendum. It is incumbent upon all believers with their utmost commitment to demand this, and asserting the truth of this path is the best way that they can participate in this process.
Now, this fatwa was widely denounced in the West, but what few noticed (and what is the crux of Gerecht’s argument) was the fact that “it was a flawlessly secular proclamation that clearly and concisely established ‘the people’ as the final arbiters of Iraq’s political system.” Nevermind the fact that an Iraqi democracy as proposed by an Ayatollah would look almost nothing like ours… I cannot believe that anyone hopes Iraq would adopt an officially agnostic-and in some cases outright anti-religious- form of government. Anyone who heard the speech given by Iraqi’s interim Prime Minister last week can deduce that he is a puppet. Hell, his remarks sounded like a watered down version of Bush’s stump-speech.
If our aim is truly the “liberation” of the Iraqi people, we should resign ourselves to the fact that the Shiite clerics who hold so much sway over public opinion over there will play a HUGE role in how things go. We should also pay close attention to the fact that this is not so bad. Anti-Western? Sure they are. So are many people IN THE WEST. Materialism, Consumerism, and haughty anti-spiritualism simply don’t fly with some people.
I can live with that.