Iraqi Democracy: Lessons From U.S. History
The United States claims it wants to establish a fair, responsible and democratic system of government in Iraq. Traditionally, this would mean a speedy election of Iraqis, by Iraqis, and for Iraqis.
But the Bush administration has something different in mind than Iraqis controlling their own destiny by one-man, one-vote. Under its "transition plan," the current hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council would first choose delegates to an interim national assembly at 18 provincial caucuses. This assembly would then hold power indeterminately until a permanent constitution could be written, and who knows how long that might take? And then, ideally, elections for a permanent form of government could take place the following year.
To even further delay this "democratic" process, the U.S. now seeks to involve the United Nations, a body it previously wholly shunned, in its "transition planning." Doubtless, the Bush administration was much taken by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's declaration that general elections in Iraq would be impossible to hold in a timely manner: "We do not have enough time to organize free and just elections for the transitional government," Annan recently proclaimed.
Who has emerged in Iraq as the champion of speedy political freedom and choice? None other than the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq's most important Shiite cleric, leader of Iraq's largest religious group. Tens of thousands of Iraq's estimated 15-16 million Shiites (out of a total population of 25 million) marched in Baghdad last Sunday and in Basra last Thursday, reiterating Al-Sistani's demand that general elections be held immediately. Public opinion polls indicate that elections would strongly favor Shiite religious groups, which are really the only well-organized civil groups consistently functioning in postwar Iraq. Iraq's Sunni and Christian minorities are said to fear that speedy elections will result in sectarian conflict.
Clearly, for the U.S., democratic "stability" is clearly tied to diminutions of passions and careful selection of interests - the two main factors that drive all electoral politics in general.
Is democracy delayed, democracy denied?
In delaying truly democratic elections in Iraq, the U.S. reveals how far removed it has become from its own democratic origins, which commenced not with the colonial revolution or its 1776 Declaration of Independence, but much earlier - 1620, to be precise, when a small group of conservative religious fanatics, hated and reviled in their own European countries, crossed the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the 99 survivors "stayed."
Their original destination had supposedly been the northern part of the then-British territory of Virginia, roughly where New York City lies today, but the fanatics sailed even further north, beyond the Virginia limits.
The reasons for this are in historical dispute. The fanatics themselves officially claimed to have gotten lost or misled by their captain, but scholars now think that they intentionally sought to avoid not only the grasp of the British government and its established religion, but to do something so simple and yet so extraordinary for their time - "to live as they wished," writes historian Eugene Aubrey Stratton in Plymouth Colony; Its History & People, "and take orders from no one." Their notion for independence was borne not of any inherent unity, but from this tiny group's inherent divisions and fractiousness. Thus, "it was thought good," wrote one fanatic, "that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors, as we should by common consent agree to make and choose."
What these fanatics, whom we now call the Pilgrims, desired and achieved was nothing less than a highly conservative, rigid religious state.
What is worth looking at more closely as democracy is pushed further away from fruition in Iraq is that from the Pilgrims' desire to live wholly under God's command was born the Mayflower Compact, which stated essentially that all individuals agreed to submit themselves to majority political rule. Like the modern Iraqis, the Pilgrims' were an unstable society in a harsh environment. Three months after landing in America, half the Pilgrim settlers died, and many others became wretchedly ill. Facing critically low food supplies, daily deaths, and untold dangers, these profoundly religious people did not hesitate or delay their democracy until better, more stable times, but plunged ahead with their brave new experiment of one man, one vote - to take place in an entirely religious context - "for the Glory of God," declares the Compact, "and advancement of the Christian Faith."
The Pilgrims created their own council, an executive and judicial body, and formed a citizen's militia. "From the very beginning," Stanton observes, "all important positions were elective," including the militia.
While some may scoff at comparisons between the smattering of Pilgrims and multitudinous Iraqis, their commonalities, although removed in time, are nonetheless striking. To paraphrase Stratton, just as the Iraqis are "much poorer than we (in the West) are in material things," they, like the Pilgrims, are nevertheless "modern people, much closer to us in mind than to those who lived before them in medieval or ancient times."
Iraqis are extraordinarily well educated and well informed, despite Saddam's generational tyranny. And their greatest asset may be the thing we most fear - the undeniable power of their religion, Islam, to motivate community formation.
For Islam to develop democracy in Iraq, the West in general and the U.S. in particular needs to look at the regenerative, redeeming powers that can be harnessed from religion, and become more attuned to our own fundamentalist American history.
One of the fears hindering elective democracy in Iraq is that an Islamic government will establish Shariah as the law of the land. But are Shariah courts inimical to the development of democracy? Not necessarily. If history is a guide to evolution, in some aspects, they may even be necessary. Early American law in Plymouth was undeniably fundamentally religious.
Of course, things did not remain this way in the U.S. and the reasons for such changes are complex. But the recent history of many Muslim states indicates that the Shariah is easily subjected to modernist interpretations, and indeed, was meant divinely to endure and to be constantly reinterpreted to guide new generations.
Could a Shiite government protect other religious denominations, or Islamic minorities? Yes again, if history is any guide. The Pilgrims endured similar religious strife between radical Protestant religious groups - Puritans, Separatists, Anabaptists, Quakers, and general schismatics. Could a Shiite government safeguard minorities? They could, and perhaps even do a better job than early American democrats. That America's famous reputation for tolerance took several hundred years to evolve seems totally lost on present-day politicians.
What made the Pilgrims' democracy unique and so enduring was that, from the beginning, these religious survivors could see to that which was beyond any individual and transcended the state, a concept with which they were well familiar.
If every voting Iraqi could pledge such similar allegiance to their own individual communities rather than the narrower and more divisive focus of individual tribes, emergence of a genuine Iraqi democracy, even in the form of a religious state, could not only be eventually guaranteed, but preserved.
Given the high literacy and education of many Iraqis compared to other Western democracies, and the traditional loyalty of Iraqis to the smaller community rather than to the larger state, perhaps this end, and not the outside-driven, artificial creation of a wholly secularized modern state, is what the U.S. and U.N. should work to evolve.
Sarah Whalen is an expert in Islamic law and teaches law at Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
In relation to Shia's and having met them my school in India had 10 students from Iran on Government of India's scholarship and I had 2 of them in my year for about 7 years and I agree with the bravery nd honourable life of Iraq's Shia population but I do not believ that leadership is honourable.
I also believ that Shia's inIraq were persecuted and I have for Shia's who lived with dignity and honour under very difficult circumstances and hopefully now they will get there rightful place in the Iraq. I have family connection to iraq my Great Grandfather was involved in the civil survey of Iraq after the second world war and his story's were full of the great people of Basra and Baghdad. I sincerely hope that Iraq gets it palce in the pantheons of great nations.
To all many thanks for your comments and maybe we will cross path on another topic and thnaks for having a provision for comments from everybody and I guess the site managers follow true islamic principle. Many thanks again.
What if Saddam created that system anyway? It was made to track down citizens of Iraq, and knowing Saddam he would have made sure of that. So, what is wrong in using it for voting? Can't you see the benefit in that. One can think laterally and turn a negative into positive to suite the times.
Like I said, it beats the hell out of the "imposed democracy" that Bush and his cabal have in store for Iraq. You also read!
I take it as an insult to call Shiites as liers as I am one and proud to be. Where I grew up, there was no lies. My whole clan live on being honest, humble, charitable, hard-working and minding our own business. But we will never give up our right to speak against treachery and deceit whilst upholding truth and the way of Allah, His Prophet Mohammad and The prophets progeny, p.b.u. them all.
Women for my clan made it their business to collect aid and personally deliver it to needy Iraqis for many years during Saddam's inhumane regime. You will have to go a long way to meet trustworthy people like us. Clearly, you have not met one or lived with them. Your knoweldge is second hand and I have no interest to agree or disagree with you, except to say that Allah leads people to light and may He open all our hearts so that we do not brand a people collectively as liers. We loose credibility when we do so.
Goodbye. and let there be peace.
As to HA, you Sir are not a true Muslim. You cannot even follow the first word of Quran. READ. SO go be true to your religion and I am sure we will meet oneday somewhere in the world.
He is obviously getting a free ride here. We should bulldoze him out of this site or build a wall around this beautiful and all inclusive site. Then he will understand whether it is Syria or whether it is Israel that is oppressing and killing Muslims.
Here is your evidence regarding what spicy food does to your brain cells. My dear Hindu terrorist brother repeating lies and he thinks that repeating the lie would make it become the truth.
However, H.A. comes in love and peace. I would like to meet my brother for A BIG BROTHERLY HUG anywhere! We should love him, cuddle him and continue to allow him to post comments. No need to bull doze him or build an apartheid wall around site.
Saddam Hussein is certainly my brother - but he is also my enemy. I do not recall having indicated otherwise - in submissions posted at this site or anywhere else. In fact, prior to the invasion of Iraq, I seem to recall having publicly supported an overthrow of Saddam's regime. In my opinion, an appeal for compassion on behalf of one's enemies would not indicate that one's enemies were actually one's heroes. Perhaps you would not feel inclined to agree with me. That, in my opinion, is and should remain your prerogative. May you receive what you hope others will receive (Ameen).
To HA and Ahmed your ranting and raving plus insults do not chnage the fact that muslims have killed more muslims than any others. In facts Syrians have killed more palestinians than Israelis, Pakistan (Genaral Yahya Khan) killed 2 million muslims (the largest genocide against muslims recorded in history) so you two should just correct your own house before you lob stones.
And as for Yahya Bergum if you want to folloe Sistani's lies continue to do so. The card system is not UN's system. it was your Arab hero the butcher of Baghdad, messiah of Arabs the Great Saddam Hussiens system that is why hospital did not have medicines while billion dollar palaces were being built.
Anyhow, if you guys follow the Quran than you should read. Read about genocides as published by UN and you will find what I haev said read about the uN food programme for Iraq and you will find Sistani the Shia, is up to his old tricks of lying, and you would know shia muslims have a word and philosophy of lying. So follw Quran and READ.
[al-Qur'an 103:1-3] I swear by Time, verily Man is in loss, except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.
Take HS's advice and keep hindu terrorism in check before lecturing others on anything.
The first word in our Quran is "READ". this is God imploring man to educate himself. Prophet Mohammad p.b.u.h. said, "Seek knolwedge from cradle to the grave."
Yet I am also the first to admit that knowledge alone is not our saviour. It must be combind with a good heart and a yearning to love all God's creation for through our respect for HIS creation we become closer to HIM. One can not respect a man if one has no respect for his family! Bless you dear Nathan for you seem to have those qualities.
As for Manjit Singh saying that Iraq has no records of its population, he should listen again to what Sistani says. Which is that Iraq has a good enough system of the UN food program which was based on every Iraqi family holding a card. This same system can be used as the basis for the electoral voting. AND it beats the hell out of the system proposed by Bush which is designed to install an Iraqi govt subsevient to the US - perhaps if you care to READ this:
The Americans will be able to choose at least two-thirds of the members of the new assembly.
In short: thirst for knowledge with an open heart is a good thing.
Peace be upon all.
Second, in response to Muzammil, you will note my comment actually agrees with an "Islam-based democracy" (your note says i disagree), and don't find anything dangerous with such a system that is established in a strong foundation. I would reference Malaysia for this comment, which I have visited and enjoyed immensely.
Thanks for your questions though, just know I am sincerely trying to understand a variety of opinions as a new muslim. Much as there are things we have been programmed to believe in the west, I think that same can be said to a lesser extent of views coming from a non-western society. There are prejudices we all must work to get past, my country harder than most. We all soak in a bit of what those around us espouse, whether we know it or not.
Forgive me again for any ignorance, or if I offended anyone.
- What have you done to prevent such atrocities of Muslims by Muslims? Aren't you a world citizen? Isn't it your duty to fix the world?
- It appears that you're are very good at giving big lectures. You and your Hindu terrorist gov't even failed to prevent burning and gang-raping innocent Muslim women in Gujrat, India by your Hindu terrorists who are in large numbers in Indian gov't after the end of Gandhi administration.
You think Christians and the WEST is the savior of mankind! How come no one ever heard of such gang-rape and burning of Muslims on the mainstream American or western Media?
HAVE YOu yourself ever COMPLAINED ABOUT such crimes? Have you even complained about your stupid caste system of your Hindu religion in which women vitually have to kneel at feet of their husbands???? You and your cronies live in the high rises and so many poor Hindus living in the street of Bombays. You eat lobster and delicious tropical fruits and when you devouring is done, you throw the skins/shell on the streets at the poor Hindus while they asleep. Have you no shame???
I can go on...and on....
Don't respond by saying What I (H.A.) have done to the help the poor Hindus? Come up with something smarter.
On a side, but crucial note:
H.A.,however, can't wait to give you BIG BROTHERLY hug. Let's meet anywhere in the world for a brotherly hug. Mother Eve approves of such brotherly unions. H.A. can't wait to hug you. H.A. missed you dearly, my DEAR BROTHER/DADA Manjit Singh. (NOT A JOKE!!!)
I am sorry to say that I do not agree with your comments. I think a few things need to be clear:
1) Elections have to held under some law (thus the need to have constitution) this happened in India after independence where while the constitution was being drafted Lord Mountbatten remained Govenor General.
2) After Saddam Hussien had killed more than a 500,000 muslims (Saddam has been the biggest killer of muslim the world has seen in the last twenty years) and destroyed all records of rolls for election a census programme to ascertain the current census data of Iraq will naturally take time.
3) Muslims brothers none of you complained when Sdaam killed millions of muslims, you never spoke Jihad against the butcher of muslims, the evil Saddam Hussien, this so called Ayottolah could not even pray at the Karbala Mosque and niether could shia muslims take out their pilgrmage to Karbala now they can and Sistani was hiding somewhere out of sight. Please be patient democracy will come.
And finally to all the opperessed muslims of middle east (incidentally oppressed by Muslims)hpefully you will get democracy as well. Hope you have the courage to fight for democracy yourself.
What does it mean by Islam-based democracy?
And why do you think it is dangerous?
Doesn't that shows your mistrust towards Islam and Muslims?
Those are my sincere qs.
People like yourself and Jason Miles are well-meaning but have little knowledge of Arabs and Muslims and how Israel/Zionists started. You have read volumes of what your own biased mdia dishes you out. I am sure you have nver visited any muslim/Arab country. You really owe it to yourselves to read more - this war was truly ordered in Tel-Aviv and there is more to come if Richard Perle and his bunch of bastards get their ways - they have the same plan for Iran, Libya, Sudan and few other Islamic countries. WAKE UP.
Perhaps a good place to start is to google for PNAC and if you have not heard of the term then I worry even more. Then google for Ben Gurion. Then visit these sites:
My brothers Madmax, Muzzamil and Ahmed are not alone because I sincerely share their views and feelings. We muslims are totally misunderstood in the West and in the last 100 years the Zionists have done everything in their power to keep it that way. Time you guys did some unbiased reading.
Peace be upon you all.
I would agree with the author that the roots of my country are deeply steeped in our religious and cultural history, and that it seems highly ironic to accuse a country of ignorance for trying to do the same. I would also agree that it is by no means a dangerous thing to allow an Islam-based democracy to take root.
However, I do disagree on the timing, and not with issue towards religion. The current situation in Iraq does not lead to legitimate democratic choice. I feel personally that immediate implementation of an Iraqi vote would lead to the election of only candidates whose own power was well established prior to the war. The prime examply of this currently is the Ayatollah.
I can see both sides (and I would like us to be the hell out of that miserable place), but I just doubt the motives of the currently available leadership.
What you and I feel about US, the west and the whole world today may be shared by majority of Muslims around the world.
If white house or downing street is reading this comments, please understand how we feel towards you. Not so that you can shut our feeling, with force sometimes. Rather, so that you can change your attitude towards us Muslims for better future to the whole world.
As long the west is suspicious and misunderstood Muslim and Islam, these nonsenses that are happening around the Middle East and the world will not only continue, but worsen. Trust me.
First, Muslims who want to practice Islam completely are looked at as being fanatics and thus are never trusted as potential friends to the west. FIS in Algeria is again an example. FIS was denied their rightful claim to form next government because they were not trusted by the west even though they were elected by the majority of the voters.
Then, the west, especially US, have blatantly support Israel's atrocities against our Muslim brothers in Palestine while ignoring the disgust of a billion Muslim around the world towards your arrogance.
Do you then expect us to sit quietly and not making any noise what so ever? This is exactly how some Muslims turn to violence to express their angers and frustration.
In short, it is time for US and the rest of western world to really undersand and respect Muslims as being part of humanity who also deserve fair treatment and good life. Let the Muslims be free people and not governed by dictators who are supported by the west to bring benefit to them. Be honest towards Muslims.
Be sincere in your intention to bring democracy to the Muslim world and not just a lip service or a promise with condition.
Let the Muslims be free men to choose their own government as you westerners enjoy now.
Then only we all live peacefully without any suspcicion towards one another.
Otherwise, the world will be in chaos til
Naomi Klein The Guardian
"Iraqi sovereignty will be established by appointees appointing appointees to select appointees to select appointees. Add the fact that Bremer was appointed to his post by President Bush and Bush to his by the US Supreme Court, and you have the glorious new democratic tradition of the appointocracy: Rule by an appointee's appointee's appointees' appointees' appointees' selectees."
Re-elect your Zionists US administration and allow 4 more years for your country to be de-troned from it's so called "supremacy".
As George Soros said "The US must examine its global role and adopt a more constructive vision". However even if your unfit president and his warriors are no longer your employees, it will take decades to clean up your reputation and gain some respect from the rest of the world, muscles without a brain are useless in a long term, but we can't demand too much from short terms visionaries. If I may repeat it again; the rest of our beautiful planet is not populated with stupid people, time for you to learn that.
P.S. People that think that any web site who make such articles available to the public is somehow "anti-western", are doing nothing but displaying their own ignorance about anything outside their cocoons, although these kind of people may not be stupid they are still displaying ignorance, how desolately embarrassing it must be for them.
Whether or not assuring some degree of provincial autonomy might provide the means of resolving civil war in Iraq is (I would imagine) anyone's guess. Such assurances might none the less - once the issue of has been resolved - provide Iraq's (Shiite) majority with a means of promoting 'solidarity' among the various peoples residing within the current boundaries of Iraq - insha'Allah.
"The global triumph of democracy was to be the glorious climax of the American Century. But democracy may not be the system that will best serve the world -- or even the one that will prevail in places that now consider themselves bastions of freedom." -Robert D. Kaplan
Keep in mind that the world is not populated with stupid people, very far from that, and the end of the US "supremacy" is near along the American "freedom" ; all the American voters have to do to expedite the downfall, is to re-hire (vote for) the current administration in 2004, and let them persist in making more and more mistakes that have already cost so much to America in less than three years.
Sincerely I wish good luck to the good people of the United States.
I don't think so.
Democracy will be established in Iraq if and only if US can be assured that the democratically elected Iraqi government will bring benefits to them. Otherwise, to hell with democracy! Ask Bush and his neocon idiots.
Democracy is fine as long US and western interests can be safeguarded. That was exactly what has happened in Algeria a decade or so ago when a new government was elected democratically but was denied the chance to govern by western power since it was the Islamist (FIS) party who won and the west may not get benefits of it.
The question is whether democratic Iraq will benefit US or not. Democacracy or dicatorship is secondary issue. Right Bush?
In fact, US was behind Saddam when he was a dictator and was 'abused' to fight Iran (even though Iran was and still is more democratic and Iraq! Bull..!).
Such a hypocrites.
Can US and other western powers be more honest, sincere and transparent in their foreign policies?
Otherwise, shut your mouth and don't ever preach democracy, human right, religious right to others anymore. Just shut up!...