Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Afghanistan officially got a constitution yesterday. I note it because one of a seemingly endless number of hawkish friends scoffed at me for my Jan. 6 posting, in which I hinted that the document’s deference to Islam would bring trouble.

The rebuke was because I couldn’t seem to give the Afghans just one day of joy and satisfaction for their tremendous achievement. In fact I was pleased, but also concerned. And for good reason. I read without great attention recently that religious-minded judges in some country had come down hard on a television broadcast that violated the laws of Islam by daring to show a woman singing and dancing -- the usual hard-line Islamic fun.

But the story was about Afghanistan.

As a New York Times op-ed piece puts it:

Without any case before the court, and based on no existing law, the court declared on Jan. 14 that a performance by the Afghan pop singer Salma on Kabul television was un-Islamic and therefore illegal. “We are opposed to women singing and dancing as a whole and it has to be stopped,” said the deputy chief justice.

The piece, by J. Alexander Thier, who advised the Afghan judicial and constitutional reform commissions, calls the constitution’s bow to Islam “a dangerous loophole.” (Article three reads, in part, “In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam.” That pretty much puts the rest of the constitution at the mercy of the religious majority, as it is in Iran.)

One day into the life of a constitution is early to call for reform, even if there was a dream of it happening. But the United States had better keep a keen eye on Afghanistan (Slogan: “Taliban-free for zero days!”) if its democracy is to last in a recognizable form.

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