Democracy’s best weapon

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The Article

It’s a safe prediction that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis will approve their newly minted constitution in the Oct. 15 referendum.

The reasoning is simple. Iraqis want freedom, having suffered greatly for what we in the West thoughtlessly take for granted.

The lesson of last January’s election is indisputable: Iraqis are determined to put closure to their tormented history under Saddam Hussein and, despite recent bloodletting, move ahead in re-building their ruined country into a fledgling democracy.

Sunni Arabs, constituting less than one-fifth of Iraq’s population, sought to delegitimize that election through a boycott. They failed, and since then a segment of Sunnis has supported the ongoing insurgency as the instrument by which to derail Iraq’s progress toward democratic constitutional order.

The insurgency is a war declared by “jihadi” Islamists and Saddam loyalists on an emergent democratic system that will be unique within the Arab Middle East.

This “war,” directed by al-Qaida leadership (who recruit and import thugs from outside of Iraq), receives logistical support from ruling Arab regimes in Syria and Saudi Arabia in addition to assistance provided by Iran’s clerical regime.

The despicable logic operating here is the deeply embedded culture of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” A democratic Iraq is the nightmare of the Middle East’s theocrats, feudal dynasties, military oligarchies and al-Qaida terrorists.

Ironically, many in the West embrace these enemies of democracy and freedom out of their own mindless loathing for George Bush and Tony Blair. This is not new, but rather a morbid repetition of what has been witnessed in the past.

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial summarized well the constitution and what it represents for Iraqis: “By any existing Middle East standard, the new constitution is a great achievement. It promises to protect human rights, including free speech and the right to worship. It applies the very American principle of federalism, or decentralized power… The majority Shiites, far from seeking to dominate other ethnic groups from Baghdad, are asking largely for the power to govern themselves.”

The constitution more specifically protects gender equality, reserving a quarter of National Assembly seats for women and, while acknowledging the place of Islam as “a” and not “the” source of laws, situates religion within the larger context of democratic politics.

For Sunni Arab opponents to successfully reject the constitution, their constituents must vote with a two-thirds majority in at least three of the 18 provinces against the pact. That wuld mean suspending their opposition to democracy and, paradoxically, embracing its means to serve their end. But even should they do this, they have no assurance in garnering the votes required to repudiate the constitution.

The reason is the decisive weight of women voters. Irrespective of faith and ethnicity, when given the opportunity as in Afghanistan and in Iraq’s January election, women have voted to extend the limits of freedom. Women across the Arab-Muslim world know best how cruelly unenlightened and repressive is the patriarchal system imprisoning them.

Women also seem to understand instinctively that a constitutional order, however perfect in conception, must be nurtured through its infancy into maturity with patience, as any living arrangement within family or society requires.

One-half of Sunni Arab voters are women, and in the privacy of the voting booth will more than likely vote for freedom and democracy.

This is why women are the secret weapon in freedom’s struggle across the Arab-Muslim world. And in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, women have found their best ally to be George Bush.

Salim Mansur
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