Saturday, May 03, 2003

Forwarded from Postcolonial List

3 / MAY / 2003

Dear Salwa,

Thank you for taking the time to comment on my posting. As for your wonderings I’m afraid I’ve got no women issue and no Iraqi women issue specialist answers whatsoever. Few (5) schematic answers are all I have:

§1 Iraqi secular political forces, including feminists, should be entitled to special--50% seats quota--representation in parliament.

I think Iraqi general and feminist secular forces should first of all drop their own sectarianism and any totalitarian claim to a 100% secular Iraq, if they are to win any confidence on the part of their adversaries. I saw the appeal signed by Nadia Mahmoud and her friends on the iac-discussion list: “We are proposing the complete separation of Government and religion in Iraq, to establish the only possible chance of secular rule, which is inclusive of all Iraqis, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, and political opinion. We are working together to make sure that the new constitution will exclude all the existent codes and laws which are based on Shariah law and which discriminate against women.” I must say that while I appreciate the signers’ anti-war engagement I rather agree with answers given to them in Hassan Zeini’s posting: “How can you demand democracy, yet want to dictate to the majority what kind of constitution they should have?? How can the majority of Iraqis, who are basically religious, be told to give up laws based on their religion, Islam, and change them into secular laws?” I respect Nadia Mahmoud’s belief in “Universal Women’s Rights”. I respect too Shii Iraqi women’s religious belief. In my view both sort of belief are equally metaphysical and controversial, whereas the only more or less universally accepted rights I know are the rights of peoples.

To counter religious zeal and restrain or contain sectarian passion, Iraqi general and feminist secular forces should oppose Shii and more general leanings towards majority/minority decision thinking and towards political centralization or purely territorial federation. (New adjustments in what is called the Iraq Shia Declaration indicate that Kenaan Makiya, the Iraqi who promised the “flowers and candies”, may have already and again succeeded in selling his federal project, to Shii Iraqis this time. His article, in “al-Hayat” January 14 2003, about the after-Saddam Iraqi federation parted the country on territorial regional basis, instead of communal ethnic basis as in non-Western models, or communal confessional and sectarian basis as in Middle East originating models. His idea of a territorial federalism is American and German inspired, and was consequently easily adopted by the American administration.)

To avert major civil war danger and to turn destructive enmity into constructive competition and cultural agonism in the service of the people of Iraq, these forces should fight for the right to special--50% seats quota--representation in parliament. My proposal is an Iraqi version of the Lebanese Christian/Muslim quota solution. The proposal is not about political tactics nor is it about some theory of pragmatic compromise. Rather, I consider the equal representation for secular and non-secular “confessions” to be a well poised and a strategic moral choice.

§2 As belief communities, Iraqi secular communities, including possible feminist communities, should be entitled to self-government and maximal protection from hostile environment.

To increase confessional peace, to contain sectarian instability, and to enjoy self-government rights for their respective communities, Iraqi general and feminist secular forces should be entitled to an equal senatorial representation for secular (50% seats) and non-secular (50% seats) communities in a confessional (milali) federal system.

Iraqis should be free to believe and practice secularism and feminism, they shouldn’t however seek to impose it on members of non-secular, non-feminist, and non-secular feminist communities. They should also respect internal arrangements of what political philosopher John Rawls called “decent hierarchical societies”. I consider Rawls’s controversial view of liberal tolerance and his tolerant view of non-liberal societies, as with his model of “Islamic decent consultation hierarchies”, particularly enlightening and radically renewing as to a more generous way of dealing with rights and duties in communities such as those of Iraq.

§3 Male and female members of any Iraqi community, including non-secular and non-feminist communities, should be entitled to federal interference on their behalf to secure for them a decent minimum of communitarian-democratic citizen rights.

Me too I “wish to make it clear” that those civil and political rights of Iraqi citizens (men and women) I have in mind are neither universal human nor the usual liberal citizen rights. These are definitely not what Nadia Mahmoud and Co. believe in: “the rights of each and every individual to practice their freedoms in all spheres as they choose.” As in Rawls’s “human rights” conception, these rights do not require acceptance of the liberal idea that persons are citizens first and have equal basic rights as equal citizens. They are the citizens rights agreed upon by the federation of Iraqi communities--Rawls includes here rights to life liberty and justice, while subordinating communal democracy to federal democracy and equality within communities to that between communities (I would like to see included also the right to cultural authenticity and rootedness, and the right to resisting individualistic essentialism, communal nihilism, homogenizing globalization and cultural hybridity). These are communitarian rights in an Iraqi consociational setting, where persons are seen first as members of groups or more precisely as responsible and cooperating members of their respective groups (“As such members, persons have rights and liberties enabling them to meet their duties and obligations and to engage in a decent system of social cooperation”, Rawls).

Iraqi citizen rights as understood here are a class of rights that play a special role in a law of Iraqi communities. Adapting Rawls’s Law of Peoples to present purpose we may say that: (a) the fulfilment of Iraqi citizen rights is a necessary condition of the decency of the Iraqi communities internal political and social institutions and the specifying limit to their internal autonomy; (b) their fulfilment is sufficient to exclude justified and forceful interference by other communities; (c) they set a limit to the pluralism among Iraqi communities. As Iraqi citizens, general and feminist secular forces may thus influence outcomes in general issues and women related issues in particular, as when it comes to protecting feminist communities from hostile environment or intervening on the behalf of female members in the other communities.

§4 As belief communities, Iraqi secular communities, including possible feminist communities, should be entitled to self-overcoming, to fair cultural and political competition, and if justified to public reward and authority position.

In my view, Iraqi communities should be free not only to believe in and practice secularism and feminism, they should be even rewarded for arguing in public federal tournaments and for “proselytizing” in nationally sanctioned forms. Averting civil war, responding to religious and secular fundamentalist beliefs, and domesticating sectarian messianic energies, require channelling destructive power politics towards constructive cultural agonism; towards group individuation and competition in the service of Iraqi people. It requires promotion of the Arab-Islamic culture of al-ta’âkuz and revival of ‘Ukâz ancient tradition. Indeed, we shouldn’t fear sectarian diversity and sectarian agonism, we should be afraid only from sectarian egoism segregation and oppression. Political scientist Chantal Mouffe puts it this way:

    Politics aims at the creation of unity in a context of conflict and diversity; it is always concerned with the creation of an “us” by the determination of a “them”. The novelty of democratic politics is not the overcoming of this us/them opposition—which is impossibility—but the different way in which it is established. The crucial issue is to establish this us/them discrimination in a way that is compatible with pluralist democracy.
    Envisaged from the point of view of “agonistic pluralism”, the aim of democratic politics is to construct the “them” in such a way that it is no longer perceived as an enemy to be destroyed, but an “adversary”, i.e. somebody whose ideas we combat but whose right to defend those ideas we do not put into question.

So, by equal representation self-government and self-overcoming for the main confessions (possibly ethnic groups) I mean actually the institutionalization of the agonal struggle between the leading communities of Iraq. By positioning the most redoubtable adversaries in the country, this sort of arrangements could lift up the bravest and noblest characters in Iraqi intellectual and cultural arena.

§5 Male and female members of any Iraqi community, including non-secular and non-feminist communities, should be entitled to federal interference on their behalf to secure for them maximal agonistic-democratic citizen rights.

Promoting healthy democratic agonism between the Iraqi communities while fostering patriotic loyalty of all to the national arena requires allowing for agonism also within communities. It requires amending the minimal communitarian-democratic list of citizen rights by agonistic-democratic ones (it requires us to both retrieve Rawls’s proposed law of peoples and revise his rationality and consensus discourse). Indeed, in a way comparable to the part individual rights play in liberal consociations such as Switzerland, common citizenship opens up here, in what we may call post-liberal consociations, the possibility of state interfering in group practices for the sake of citizens’ individuation rights and for the sake of their agonistic duties (political philosopher Michael Walzer has a lot to say about consociations).

Thus, I think male and female members of any Iraqi community, including non-secular and non-feminist communities, should be entitled to federal interference on their behalf to secure for them rights to and duties of (a) active citizenship, in the sense of both national patriotic responsibility and communal specific self-overcoming; (b) contestation of monopoly and dissent from ‘herd’ restrictions in cultural interpretation and communal meaning; (c) passionate public discourse, religious and irreligious; (d) moral integrity and fair competition on cultural interpretation and communal meaning.


Dear Salwa, communitarian-agonistic rights and duties apply equally to male and female members. Nietzsche would say “Yes, I wish that the earth shook with convulsions when a saint and a goose mate together.” So, may the relationship of men and women be, as he wished, one of “reverence before one another”!

Best regards,


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