A Theocracy, If You Can Keep It


Amy Phillips takes a look at Afghanistan's new draft constitution and finds it woefully lacking in protections for the rights of women and religious minorities.

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  1. Having been to Arab states like Oman (Oman is a really “cool” country) and UAR, I would say that the idea that Muslims can’t be prosperous and also “traditional” (and that term means a lot of different things to a lot of different people) is strange indeed.

    I would also suspect that a large portion of Afghani women think its right and proper to wear Burkhas; its certainly still the mode of dress for most women in Afghanistan as far as what I see on news reports. In fact, that mode of dress wasn’t something that the Taleban imported; it was common before their rise to power as I recall. Anyway, my point is that one should be careful before one tries to determine what is “repression” and what is “freedom,” and that half a loaf can be better than none.

  2. Brad S,

    What Christian ideals would that be?

  3. punkass escape hatch into the constitution

    That’s my beef with it. Not that it embraces any particular philosophy, but that it’s vague and just about every statement has “punkass escape hatches” Everyone made a big showing about rights, and there certainly has been good progress in that area, but the final product disappointed. The Constitution was written and then compromised further and further by warlords who essentially said they weren’t going to “follow” it if it didn’t say what they wanted it to say. Using a veiled threat of violence to force a governing body to alter policy. What’s the word for that again?

    Islam lives in globalizing, secular world. It has to adapt or suffocate, and only Muslims can stop it, because folks like me couldn’t care less if it fell from the face of the earth.

  4. Rst,

    the sentiment about conservative, progress-fearing religions: “Islam lives in globalizing, secular world. It has to adapt or suffocate, and only Muslims can stop it, because folks like me couldn’t care less if it fell from the face of the earth”. I would dare say that those christian conservatives who are threatened by biotech, evolution, non-christian religions, etc. can join the islam you discuss.

    the uncertainty avoidance cultures, as described by Hofstede/Bond have trouble with the globalization, as you note. However, i feel that we have such problems with religious fanatics within our borders.

    The fundies on the judiaism, christian, and islamic side really get blurred to this citizen’s bloodshoot eyes.

    happy friday,

  5. JB,

    It’s pretty easy to be prosperous when you can essentially get other people to pump money directly out of the ground and give some of it to you. Would traditional Islam have succeeded in making Singapore prosperous?

    Singapore also makes Patriot’s point about whether Capitalism is more important than western style liberal Democracy to create prosperity.

  6. Patriot & JDM: Ancient Arabs made fortunes as traders, not pumping money from the ground. These are smart people. They’ve got a work-around for the interest issue: Islamic mortgages. http://www.iibu.com/

    As an outsider, it seems like a convenient justification to allow survival in that secular globalizing world. But, maybe Sharia can be internally consistent and support prosperity?

    A bigger failing, and a cultural limit, is to crush the economic potential of women. Mary Wollstonecraft pointed out a couple of hundred years ago that any society which subjugates half its population will be poorer than one which doesn’t, and eventually be competed to exctinction/irrelevance.

  7. Thank you Mark Fox, there’s a world of difference between not charging interest and finding ways to be compensated for investment risk.

  8. JDM,

    The UAR is not rich because of money from oil wells (only about 33% of its GDP is derived from oil and gas); it has a lot of money because its a center of international trade – its a transhipment point for most of the Indian ocean, and has been since before the Portugese showed up in the 15th century. In fact, Dubai’s economy is based largely on trade, not on oil (over 90% on trade to be specific). Quit with the fucking “lazy Arab” meme please. And do learn something about the nations and people you comment on.

    This is an especially cool development in the UAR: http://www.ameinfo.com/news/Company_News/T/The_Palm/

  9. JB,

    I can’t believe I really have to explain this, but …

    There is a difference between women CHOOSING to wear the burkha and women being killed for not wearing it. Being forced to wear a burkha a REPRESSION, no matter what country you live in. Being free to wear a burkha, or not, is FREEDOM.

    See, I’ve even put the key concepts in capital letters.

  10. “Quit with the fucking “lazy Arab” meme please.”

    “These are smart people.”

    I thought I deleted the parts where I said that Arabs were lazy and stupid. At any rate they don’t show up on my browser…

    As for JB’s legitimate response, 33% of the GDP based on free money goes a long way toward prosperity. Take it away, and how prosperous are they? The cash infused from oil has a multiplier effect well beyond the 33%.

    At any rate, I don’t see a lot of information about Oman’s economy that doesn’t say that it is fueled by oil.

    If they continue to try and diversify their economy, we’ll see how well it works, and to what extent they remain traditionally Islamic if it does not.

  11. sorry … “being forced to wear a burkha *is* repression”

  12. Steve in CA,

    Well, the tenor of the conversation is that no woman would possibly ever choose to wear a Burkha; which explains my comments.


    Its no more free than the oil that is extracted from fields in Texas.

    Oman’s economy depends a lot on textile production, as well as construction and cement industries.

    The implied message of your statements is that these people are lazy, and without oil and gas exports, they would produce nothing. But I guess as true conservatives they should have ignored their oil wealth, and been “rugged” individualists and ate each other like the Donner party.

  13. “Its no more free than the oil that is extracted from fields in Texas.”

    No, but it is a greater part of their economy.

    Would the US economy be better or worse off if there were more oil to be gotten more cheaply in Texas?

    The figures I find say that 75% of Oman’s exports are petroleum and natural gas.

    My implied message is that the I agree with Patriots sentiments about the compatiblity of devoutly Islamic society with a modern economy, (though more for Mark Fox’s reason and others) and don’t think that recent attempts by Oman to use oil money to diversify it’s economy are a good refutation of that.

    I don’t think they ought to be ignoring their oil reserves or eating each other. I thought I deleted those comments right after I deleted my racist diatribe about the lazy stupid Arabs…

  14. JDM,

    Deny it all you like, but the implications of the following language from you are clear:

    “It’s pretty easy to be prosperous when you can essentially get other people to pump money directly out of the ground and give some of it to you. Would traditional Islam have succeeded in making Singapore prosperous?”

    And to be frank, over the years, this same ethnocentric language about other Asian groups has argued; that they can’t be capitalists, work hard, etc. The same was said of East Asians, in other words. Arabs will prove your racist theories wrong JDM.

  15. “Arabs will prove your racist theories wrong JDM.”

    I’m not sure how to respond to that. On the one hand, since I don’t hold any racist theories, I hope you are wrong. Performing any action on something which does not exist is not possible in this universe, so if such a thing happened all bets would be off. Up is down, left is right, etc. Not a good situation to be in, if you ask me.

    On the other hand I don’t want to give the appearance of supporting racism, since there is some merit to the argument that tolerating racism adds to racism, by heartening its supporters, so I can’t say that I hope they don’t.

    I’ll tell you what – just to keep the universe from collapsing in on itself I’ll adopt the racist position that all Frenchmen make absurd accusations of racism based on no evidence, and then maybe some Arabs can disprove that. You certainly would be unable to.

  16. JDM,


    Sure you hold racist theories; you’ve claimed that Muslims cannot be prosperous, capitalists, etc. Your argument similar to 19th century racists claiming that Eastern Europeans or the Irish can’t be capitalists, prosperous, etc. That Catholicism or the Eastern Orthodox Church blocked such. You would have fit well into the “nativist” crowd in helped run the Republican party in 1850s.

  17. That’s the key difference between the West and the Muslim world. In the West, it’s possible to profess your faith as a Christian (usually twice a year, on Christmas and Easter – birth and resurrection), yet live comfortably the other 363 days of the year in a world that is decidedly non-Christian in its ideals. In the West, “faith” is more important than “action”. That is part of the reason why so many in the Muslim world see us in the West as being so hypocritical. And they’re right. In the Muslim world, “actions” are all that matters. You show your faith through your actions. It is a much more practical religion than Christianity. Given that, it is impossible for a person of the Muslim faith to be comfortable in a world that does not comply with the laws (restrictions on non-Muslim “actions”) of the Muslim faith.

    I say if the Afghani people want a Constitution with the Muslim religion as the basis, so be it. Who are we to tell them what’s best for them? This is another reason why the Muslim world hates us. We are so arrogant about our social and cultural ideals, we believe that the rest of the world should conform to them.

    The last thing I would add is that our own Consitution was largely drafted around various Christian ideals. In many ways, our nation has created more problems for itself than it has solved by gradually moving away from those ideals over the past couple of centuries.

  18. The last thing I would add is that our own Consitution was largely drafted around various Christian ideals.

    Yeah, but in the preamble we didn’t say anything like, “The religion of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam. Followers of other religions are free to perform their religious ceremonies within the limits of the provisions of law.” or “In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of
    this Constitution.”

    LMAO…the presidential oath of office: “?In the name Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate
    In the name Allah Almighty, in the presence of you representatives of the nation of
    Afghanistan, I swear to obey and safeguard the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam…”

    The whole thing reads like something out of an alternate ending to the Lord of the Flies. Or perhaps an overlong high school government project. Every other statement is qualified by “except where regulated by law” or something similar. What a joke this turned out to be. Sorry girls, back to the burquas.

  19. rst – but here’s the thing. The United States has already decided that it is our duty to bring Western-style Democracy to every corner of the globe. Does the United States want to take that a step further and govern the whole world? If Afghanis want to have a law that says women wear burqas, who are we to tell them that they shouldn’t? This is the fundamental problem with Bush’s uber-interventionalist foreign policies. Intervention only works when the other nation really wanted intervention. And frankly, the Muslim world doesn’t really want intervention.

  20. If Afghanis want to have a law that says women wear burqas, who are we to tell them that they shouldn’t?

    We’re the winners Brad. We’re the most successful geopolitical constrict that has ever existed. Therefore, even if we’re not perfect, we kinda have some insight into how this whole “democracy” thing works.

    One way it works is by establishing laws that guarantee the rights of individuals, and putting those rights beyond easy reach of government to take away. The Afghani Constitution (V1.0) is a bad idea not because someone might pass a law that requires women to wear burqas, but because they built themselves a punkass escape hatch into the constitution that can effectively prohibit the burqawearers from seeking redress.

  21. “If Afghanis want to have a law that says women wear burqas, who are we to tell them that they shouldn’t?”

    If by “tell” you mean “force,” we probably shouldn’t. But if you really just mean “tell”… well, fellow human beings with an obligation to point out repression when we see it. The “Afghani people” we keep hearing about appear not to include women and religious minorities, many of whom I imagine wouldn’t mind having, err… rights.

  22. If Afghanis want to have a law that says women wear burqas, who are we to tell them that they shouldn’t?

    Well, it would be pretty odd for a currency (the afghani) to tell anyone what to wear, but the mysterious orient and all that, I suppose.

    Really, though, which Afghans want a law that says women should wear burkhas, and how do you know that is what they want? The way the statement is constructed, it sounds like every single Afghan wants to get all burkhaed up, pronto, but I doubt that is the case.

    Even then, the answer to “who are we” is, in part, “who are they, to go around denying fundamental human rights.” I don’t care how popular it is, repressive legislation is wrong.

    We threw out the Taliban. We are responsible for what happens next. If it turns into a bloody theocracy, we will get the blame. Because we are responsible, we also have the authority, not to mention the power, to dictate the terms of the successor government.

  23. The main issue that we will never see eye to eye with Islam is the fact that it’s against their religion to charge Interest.

    Believe it or not, we are the most wealthy, powerful society that has ever existed because of capitalism, not democracy (hell, our winner take all system is even more inherently oppressive than pure democracy).

    The idea that you must be compensated for investment risk is the core of capitalism. Until Islam comes around on this, they will never make it out of the 6th century and we will never have a stable relationship with them.

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