Thursday, February 05, 2004

Hey George - remind me what the W stands for . . . .

This is from today's San Francisco Chronicle:

http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/worldviews/

With the increasing influence of Iraq's religious establishment weighing heavily on their concerns about work, family life, education and opportunities to take part in politics, many Iraqi women have been thinking -- and are now giving voice to -- the unthinkable: Could it be, some are asking, that they were better off under Saddam Hussein?

The main reason for their consternation lies in a decision made last December by Iraq's Interim Governing Council (IGC), which was then headed by the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, "to scrap secular family laws and place them under Muslim religious jurisdiction." Those 1959 laws were "once considered the most progressive in the Middle East, making polygamy difficult and guaranteeing women custody rights in the case of divorce." (Al Jazeera.net)

"The controversial decision would, if implemented, ... eliminate the idea of civil marriage and place ... marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance directly under the control of religious authorities." It could allow "conservative Shi'ite religious leaders on the [Interim Governing] Council to pave the way for [establishing] a [post-Saddam] theocracy based on Islamic Sharia law." (Al-Ahram) But since the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which is administering post-war Iraq, must ratify all IGC decisions in order for them to become law, and CPA chief Paul Bremer has "promised not to sign it," the attempt to repeal what is known as Iraq's "personal-status laws" is not expected to succeed anytime soon.

Looking ahead, though, as Iraq's "Shi'a Muslim majority flexes its political might, Iraqi women are beginning to fear that the brutal secular repression formerly exercised by Saddam could be replaced by religious law under blanket male control." As it is, despite the fact that, thanks to recent wars, women make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population of nearly 25 million people, "they occupy only three seats on the 25-member, U.S.-installed [IGC] and [only] one in the interim cabinet." (Independent Online, South Africa)

"It's a symbolic decision, but it's symbolic of some very dangerous trends," a leading member of the Iraqi Women's League said. "Women suffered as much [as], if not more than, the men under Saddam. Now democracy comes, and this happens?" (Al-Ahram)

"What place will religion have in the next Iraqi constitution?" Baghdad-born journalist Inaam Kachachi, who is now based in Paris, asked in a magazine interview. (Le Nouvel Observateur) "Today, what's important is not that the large majority of women are wearing the veil in Iraq. No, what concerns me is the risk of seeing a law [instated] that will oblige all women to wear the veil, as in Iran." Kachachi said that, decades ago, it was the "blood and tears" of Iraqi women that led to the establishment of Iraq's milestone personal-status laws.

To date, women protesters have taken to the streets in the Kurdish north of the country against the proposed change in the law and in the Shi'a-dominated south in support of the IGC's decision. "It is a heavy blow for women of Iraq and Kurdistan" that ignores "the long struggle of women in this country," a Kurdish women's rights activist said. By contrast, the head of the Islamic Union for the Women of Iraq, which favors basing family law on Islamic religious canon, said, "We are with any voice that calls for implementing Sharia in the family law. ... Sharia guarantees the goodwill of people ... . We cannot fight the orders of God." (Al Jazeera.net)

Meanwhile, an article in a recent edition of the Baghdad daily Al-Zaman "marveled that the IGC found time to worry about marriage laws in the face of Iraq's other problems" and asked, "Is the personal-status law an obstacle that stands in the way of rebuilding the telephone network, or the electrical and water systems, or repairing schools or establishing security or, most important, ending the occupation?" (Al-Ahram) Even the Saudi Arabia-based publication Dar Al-Hayat offered an op-ed commentary recommending that "[i]t is time for efforts to unite and extract [Iraq] from a religious crisis," to encourage "freedom of choice" and not to placate "those who demand that women be returned to the barns."

However Bremer ultimately weighs in on the IGC's proposed change in the law, Iraqi women seem to know what they're up against. "We'll take our rights with our own hands," a member of the Iraqi Women's League said. "We don't need the Americans to protect us from these people." (Al-Ahram)

*****

Nice, eh? Wasn't the W in George W supposed to stand for Women? Oh, just American Women? Just Republican American Women? Not even them so much? K, just checking.

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