Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Status of Iraqi Women

While I am optimistic over the future of Iraq in the long term, there is one trend that is a source of great concern: the status of women. As an article from the current issue of Newsweek explains, Iraqi women have been the targets of a systematic campaign of intimidation and murder at the hands of Sunni Islamist terrorists, and in some cases from Shia extremists.

Beyond the violence, there are other concerns. Foremost among them is whether or not the new Iraqi constitution will incorporate elements of Islamic Sharia law dealing with social and family issues. While I doubt that the more religious Shia parties in the transitional assembly will be able to push such provisions through, it it still a worry.

Overall, I firmly believe that the Iraqi people, including women, are much better off for having been liberated from the barbarous tyranny of Saddam. However, Steven Vincent at In the Red Zone makes a point well worth considering:

By destroying Baathist authority and letting the Shia genie out of the bottle, the U.S. has exacerbated social tendencies and conditions that impact women's lives for the worse. This is the cost--or perhaps the birth pangs--of democracy, one might say, and I believe the Iraqi people will bear them, as they have so many other disappointments, setbacks and torments. But for right-wing pundits to declare victory and ignore what this new Iraqi society means for females, seems shallow and morally questionable.

A century ago, the North abandoned the cause of black enfranchisement in the years after the Civil War and allowed apartheid to resettle in the southern United States. We have far less influence over Iraq, of course, but we must take steps to insure a similar catastrophe does not take place in that newly liberated land. If the plow of democracy only churns up the topsoil of Iraqi society, and does not dig deep into the substrata of tribalism and patriarchal domination, then our efforts in that land will be half-measures at best. We must continue, in modern form, Douglass' concept of abolitionist "agitation." Women must be free--religious and social customs be damned.


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