Today I read through a translation of the Afghanistan constitution recently adopted (note: the link goes to a PDF); each page tells us that it's an unofficial translation, and readers should refer to the Pashtu and Dari versions for accuracy. For some reason, I have a great deal of trouble deciphering written Pashtu and Dari -- perhaps because I don't speak either language. For my purposes here, however, I think the approximate translation is good enough.
I won't go into too many specifics, but I note that the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, a popular, directly elected president who must win more than 50 percent of the votes (with a runoff between the top two finishers if no candidate garners more than 50 percent in the first round), a bicameral legislature, with the president appointing a third of the upper house (of whom a certain percentage must be women), and a dalliance at a kind of federalism in recognizing local councils. It calls for the equality of all Afghanistan's ethnic groups, freedom of expression, trial by jury, the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and a host of other things we'd put firmly in the liberal tradition.
That said, it's not exactly a perfect document. Articles one through three establish Afghanistan as an Islamic Republic; no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam, and while followers of other religions "are free to perform their religious rites" this must be done "within the limits of the provisions of law." This is one of two elements of the constitution which can't be amended, the other being the Republican character of the government.
There are plenty of other things to criticize -- article nine states that, "Minerals and other underground resources are properties of the state," so don't go looking for an Afghan gold rush anytime soon. But the provisions relating to religion are of far more concern -- article seventeen, for example, states that,
The state shall adopt necessary measures for the promotion of education at all levels for the development of religious education, and for organizing and improving the conditions of mosques, madrasas and religious centers.
According to the CIA fact book, Afghanistan is 99 percent Muslim (I seem to recall reading at some point in the 1990s that the Taliban intended to make a small Hindu minority wear identifying patches on their clothes), but there is a sizeable (15 percent) Shi'a minority. How will the state improve the conditions of Shi'a mosques relative to Sunni mosques?
Reading it, I was reminded of the second chapter of Sayyid Qutb's work, Milestones, about which I started to blog here and continued here. Qutb attacked the predominantly Muslim countries -- their governments and, I would argue, their people -- for failing to have thoroughly submitted themselves to Islam. In the cited chapter in Milestones, he wrote,
This aspect of the nature of Islam defines the way it is to be founded and organized: by implanting belief and strengthening it so that it seeps into the depths of the human soul. This is essential for its correct development, for only through this method can a relationship be secured between that part of the tree of religion which reaches upward and the roots which are in the depths of the earth.
When belief in "La ilaha illa Allah" penetrates into the deep recesses of the heart, it also penetrates through the whole system of life, which is a practical interpretation of this faith. By this means, those who believe are already pleased with the system which this faith uniquely determines and submit in principle to all the laws and injunctions and details even before they are declared. Indeed, the spirit of submission is the first requirement of the faith. Through this spirit of submission the believers learn the Islamic regulations and laws with eagerness and pleasure. As soon as a command is given, the heads are bowed, and nothing more is required for its implementation except to hear it. In this manner, drinking was forbidden, usury was prohibited, and gambling was proscribed, and all the habits of the Days of Ignorance were abolished-abolished by a few verses of the Qur'an or by a few words from the lips of the Prophet- peace be on him. Compare this with the efforts of secular governments. At every stage they have to rely on legislation, administrative institutions, police and military power, propaganda and the press, and yet they can at most control what is done publicly, and society remains full of illegal and forbidden things.
Yet purely religious communities have their share of sin too -- anyone with a passing familiarity with the Hadith will note that quite a few deal with members of the faithful who have lapsed in their behavior -- imbibed alcohol, mistreated their slaves, fornicated, and so on. As I noted previously, there was even dancing in Calvin's Geneva.
It is too early to tell whether the Afghan constitution will allow dancing in Kabul (this piece isn't encouraging), but I wish them the best.Posted by Ideofact at January 6, 2004 11:50 PM