Mr. Russert: Mr. Ambassador, let me read for you and our viewers this morning something that exists in this draft Constitution. Islam is the official religion of the state, and it is a main source for legislation. No law can be passed that contradicts the fixed principles of Islam's rulings.The requirement of being consistent with three such different sources of law is quite amazing. What happens when there is a conflict? There is no principle of hierarchy as far as I can tell, so is there a requirement that the three things be harmonized? If there is, won't it be necessary to distort and reshape to make the three things fit together?
Do you believe that the 1800 American men and women who have died in Iraq died for the creation of another Islamic republic in the Middle East?
Amb. Khalizad: No. Those were exactly the same words that were in the constitution of Afghanistan which we celebrated. And also do not forget that immediately after what you just read, there are two other requirements that the draft mentions, one, that no law can be against the practices of democracy and also that no law can be in violation of the human rights enshrined in that constitution.
Amb. Khalizad: What you have, Tim, is a new consensus between the universal principles of democracy and human rights and Iraqi traditions in Islam. And in that, it is an agreement, a compact between the various communities and it sets a new paradigm for this part of the world, a reconciliation, a consensus between the various forces and tendencies that are at work here in Iraq.That doesn't answer the question of which party gets its way! What if one wants secular court and the other wants religious court? That concept of "choice" is opaque. Again, there seems to be an interest in including the things people care about without committing to which principle supersedes another. The answer seems to be that the legislature will determine these important details. The ambassador continues, suggesting as much:
Mr. Russert: As you well know, some secular Iraqi leaders disagree with you in terms of the effect of the so-called Islamic influences. This is how The New York Times reported it on Wednesday. "Secular Iraqi leaders complained that the country's nearly finished constitution lays the groundwork for the possible domination of the country by Shiite Islamic clerics, and that it contains specific provisions that could sharply curtail the rights of women. The secular leaders said the draft contains language that not only establishes the primacy of Islam as the country's official religion, but appears to grant judges wide latitude to strike down legislation that may contravene the faith. To interpret such legislation, the constitution calls for the appointment of experts in Shariah, or Islamic law, to preside on the Supreme Federal Court. The draft constitution, these secular Iraqis say, clears the way for religious authorities to adjudicate personal disputes like divorce and inheritance matters by allowing the establishment of religious courts, raising fears that a popularly elected Islamist-minded government could enact legislation and appoint judges who could turn the country into a theocracy. The courts would rely on Shariah, which under most interpretations grants women substantially fewer rights than men."
Amb. Khalizad: Well, let me say several things on each of the points that you've raised. One with regard to women first. This constitution, this draft, recognizes equality between men and women before the law and disallows any discrimination. It also disallows violence in the family. It encourages women's political participation. And it grants a 25 percent minimum women's representation in the National Assembly.
With regard to family law, which is a controversial article, it recognizes the freedom of choice, that people can choose which law, whether secular or religious, can--will govern their personal matters having to do with marriage, divorce, inheritance. This is no different than what is the case in Israel.
With regard to the role of the Supreme Court, I think your comments reflected an earlier draft. The current draft does not establish a separate constitution review court but gives the responsibility to the Supreme Court here and it doesn't call for Shariah judges. It calls for experts in law, which includes expertise in Islamic law, but also expertise with regard to democracy and human rights, to be represented in the Supreme Court and it allows the next parliament to legislate on that.
Mr. Russert: So if a Shiite man decides to bring his wife to a Shiite religious court, you believe that woman will have equal protection?
Amb. Khalizad: Well, first, exactly how this will be done will be regulated by law. What the constitution says is that it's freedom of choice. And it directs the next legislator to regulate. What I've heard from the conversations that we've had with various members of the commission is the concern that if someone was of strong faith and wanted to go to a religious court or to get an affair settled, he should not or she should not be disallowed from doing that by the state. But how they will do it exactly, that will depend on the legislature.
Amb. Khalizad: I have encouraged many groups who have concern about this that they ought to make this a campaign issue and run against ideas that they find unacceptable with regard to what their legislation might be. This is a living document, as all constitutions are, Tim, and as Iraq evolves and changes, this constitution will also change and adapt to the circumstances. Our own Constitution, as you know, had to change in order to remain relevant. And this will be the case with Iraq as well, as it will be the case with other countries. Constitutions are not just one-time documents. To be relevant, they will have to adapt.Surely, anyone interpreting a constitution will recognize that it is a living document and must be interpreted to adapted to "remain relevant."
Well, three members of our Supreme Court don't, but other than that....
Surely, the Iraqi judges will get the point. And when the Koran is interpreted to fit with the times? No one's going to have a problem with that, will they?