Taliban Lite: The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

by | Jan 15, 2004

The New York Times reported this week: Afghan Council Gives Approval to Constitution: In a carefully balanced wording, the country will be renamed the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, combining democracy and religion. There is to be a system of civil law, but no law will be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of Islam. This […]

The New York Times reported this week: Afghan Council Gives Approval to Constitution:

In a carefully balanced wording, the country will be renamed the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, combining democracy and religion. There is to be a system of civil law, but no law will be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of Islam.

This is a “balance” that can only exist on paper. There are plenty of Western ideas in the new Constitution — e.g., recognition of some property rights, prohibitions on torture, equal rights for men and women, etc. — but most of them are qualified in some way, often with the phrase “in accordance to provisions of law.” Sounds like the “rule of law,” but what does the document hold as the foundation of this law? A Final Draft of the Constitution (pdf) can be found here, and it contains the following explanation :

Article Two: The religion of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam. Followers of other religions are free to perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article Three: In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of this Constitution.

It’s not difficult to guess which of the two — Islam or the Constitution — will eventually be favored in legal conflicts, for Islam is given the most moral significance by its very inclusion within the Constitution.

“Freedom of expression is inviolable,” reads the Constitution, so long as citizens do so “in accordance with the law,” which by implication means in accordance with “the sacred religion of Islam.” Unlike the U.S. Constitution, there’s no absolute protection of free speech based on individual liberty.

“Liberty is the natural right of human beings,” reads the Afghanistan Constitution — but this is immediately followed by a qualification: “This right has no limits unless affecting the right of others or public interests, which are regulated by law.” If the individual is held subordinate to the “public interests” of the Islamic state, then there is no reason to expect that criticisms of the Islamic state will be tolerated. If the application of the law ultimately becomes Islamist clerics decreeing what is in the state’s “public interests” or in the interests of “sacred Islam,” then Afghanistan will again be under the “rule of men” not the “rule of law.”

There are many socialist aspects — from “free” medical care to “free” schooling with a state-dictated religious curriculum to appeals to the U.N. — which are bad enough for a nation starting from scratch. But perhaps the worst aspect is the failure to create a politically secular nation. They didn’t even shy away from using a name identical to the world’s worst Islamic theocracy: Iran.

Quoting an Iranian dissident who expressed a sentiment that should serve as a warning to Afghans: “I’m looking for [a] free Iran, without religion. People, they can have religion as a private thing. But in a political way, we are looking for a free country.”

The new Afghanistan Constitution represents at least a temporary improvement over the tyrannical rule of the Taliban, but it will not established a truly free country, only the veneer of a free country. By enshrining Islam as a political force, the new Constitution has laid the groundwork for another Taliban.

Whose fault is this? Certainly Afghans should have learned from the negative examples of the Taliban and Iran. But just as certainly, President Bush and his administration — as the leaders of the occupying military force — had great influence on the issue but apparently chose not to exert it. We can only hope that we aren’t forced to return one day to depose yet another Islamist regime.

Allen Forkum is half of the political cartooning team of Cox and Forkum.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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