Under the Law


If you'd told me two years and three months ago that I would ever be devoting any time to thinking about the constitution of Afghanistan, I would definitely have killed myself. However, now that we're here: Julian notes that there is an immense problem in its failure to guarantee the rights of women and religious minorities, but the real issue may be one that's salted through almost every clause in the document. Give the constitution a read-through (PDF), and see how many times you run across phrases like "within the limits of the law," "before the law," "under the law," "regulated by law," etc. This, as Chibli Mallat, an expert on Islamic law, noted to me, is a common feature of the constitutions in most of the Arab countries as well, where every mention of individual rights has a qualifier about "within the law" or some such.

For example, take a look at Article 34 on freedom of expression, which provides for unencumbered rights to publish "by observing the provisions stated in this constitution," then says, "Directives related to printing house, radio, television, press, and other mass media, will be regulated by the law."

Article 36 allows "un-armed demonstrations," but only for "legitimate peaceful purposes." So you're allowed to demonstrate, except when you're not allowed. (No right to bear arms, natch.)

Other beauties:

You need state permission to establish a school—not just to get it accredited, but to establish it at all.

Military conscription is enshrined in Article 55.

The President declares war (arguably no different than the way it is in the U.S., but still)…

The state owns all mines and underground resources, foreigners are not allowed to own real estate, and so on.

And finally, it's 47 pages long. Any constitution longer than ten pages has got to be trouble.

This is a horrible constitution that no human being, Muslim or not, would want to live under.

[Responses of the "So I guess they were better off under the Taliban, huh, smart guy" school will be acceptable within the limits of Hit and Run law.]