While much about the future of post-Qaddafi Libya remains murky, some things are already quite clear. For starters, Republican leaders and GOP White House hopefuls simply cannot bring themselves to credit President Obama in any way for the apparent success of the rebellion. Unsurprisingly, the same conservative echo chamber which cheered as the United States spent over $1 trillion, losing 4,500 American soldiers and wounding 30,000 in Iraq is furious over the $900 million price tag for the operation in Libya. And now, the right-wing's supposed democracy promoters are denouncing the role of sharia law in the draft Libya constitution. As for the virtually identical place of Islam in the Iraqi constitution the U.S. helped craft under George W. Bush? Not so much.
On Monday, the Heritage Foundation was quick to sound the alarm about sharia in the early draft of a new Libyan Constitution.
Much of the document describes political institutions that will sound familiar to citizens of Western liberal democracies, including rule of law, freedom of speech and religious practice, and a multi-party electoral system.
But despite the Lockean tenor of much of the constitution, the inescapable clause lies right in Part 1, Article 1: "Islam is the Religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)." Under this constitution, in other words, Islam is law. That makes other phrases such as "there shall be no crime or penalty except by virtue of the law" and "Judges shall be independent, subject to no other authority but law and conscience" a bit more ominous.
If this verbiage all sounds familiar, it should. After all, the language is strikingly similar to the Iraqi Constitution the U.S. helped birth in October 2005. As it turns out, Tripoli's new Article 1 bears an uncanny resemblance to Baghdad's Article 2:
First: Islam is the official religion of the State [of Iraq] and it is a fundamental source of legislation:
A. No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.
B. No law that contradicts the principles of democracy may be established.
C. No law that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this constitution may be established.
Second: This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice such as Christians, Yazedis, and Mandi Sabeans.
NYU professor Noah Feldman, who advised the drafters of the Iraqi document, acknowledged the tensions inherent in Article 2 but concluded that "many increasingly believe that Islam and democracy are wholly compatible with one another." As he explained in an August 2005 interview with Madeleine Brand of NPR:
BRAND: A lot of people were worried that this constitution would make Shariah or Islamic law dominant. Is that what, indeed, happened?
Prof. FELDMAN: Islamic law is central to the document. The constitution says that Islam is the official religion. It says that Shariah is a main source of legislation or, you might translate as, a principal source of legislation. It also says that no law passed by the new government shall contradict the principles of Islam. And yet, at the same time, it's also a democratic constitution, guaranteeing equality and stating that no law shall contradict the principles of democracy or the basic freedoms that are guaranteed in the constitution. So what we're seeing is an experiment in a new kind of democratic government, what you might call Islamic democratic government. It wants to be truly Islamic in a very thoroughgoing way, but simultaneously true to the principles of democracy. And that's a very great challenge for Iraq to take on. On the other hand, it's a very significant historical fact that they're trying that.
For his part, President Bush crowed, "We're watching an amazing event unfold, and that is the writing of a constitution which guarantees minority rights, women's rights, freedom to worship in a part of the world that had only--in a country that only new dictatorship." As it turns out, he had a lot of company among the ideologues of the right. Among them was torture enthusiast David Rivkin, who used the Heritage Foundation's web site on September 15, 2005 to praise Iraq's new constitution:
Although the Iraqi constitution references Islam and establishes it as the state religion, the document's guarantees of democracy and religious freedoms are treated with equal dignity. On that basis, both Iraqis and the larger global community can expect-at least until there is good and sufficient proof to the contrary-that religious pluralism will be taken seriously and respected under the new constitution...
It is doubtful whether or not an aggressively secular democracy can succeed in Iraq, given the religious convictions of most Iraqis. Moreover, a secular democracy will certainly not serve as an appealing example of reform to the greater Islamic world or help to undermine the ideological appeal of Islamist teachings. Rather, it would be dismissed by many Muslims-both in Iraq and abroad-as a foreign, imperialist interposition. Only a regime that combines Islam with the fundamentals of representative democracy and the rule of law can serve this critical purpose. The proposed Iraqi constitution, at least on paper, creates the first genuine Muslim democracy.
But with Barack Hussein Obama sitting in the Oval Office, promoting democracy in the Middle East has been replaced for right-wingers by fear of Sharia Law at home and abroad. (John McCain's attempts to reassure the gang at Fox News may have limited impact, given his assurances to the Qaddafi regime two years ago that he would help it secure U.S. weapons.) Six years after waving their purple fingers and cheering the new constitution in Iraq, the conservative noise machine is warning about Islamist forces intent on "hijacking Libya's future" and who will "bring Muslim law." Back in 2005, that role was played by George W. Bush and the United States of America.