“I don’t know why this has created such a fuss,” female Afghan MP Shukria Barikzai said, of the new marriage law “…the new law, after amendments, has become much better, has been very much civilized.”

Quite so. As Shiite MP Sayed Hussain Alimi Balkhi said “…a wife can refuse sex on the basis of ‘lawful or logical excuses or with permission of her husband'”.

So, that’s alright then. The new Afghan Shiite marriage law, which you’ll know — unless you’ve been in a bunker for the past weekend (ie unless you’re a NATO soldier in Afghanistan) — mandates that a woman has to have s-x with her husband once every four days, isn’t that bad. The woman can refuse, as long as the husband gives permission for her to refuse. Marvellous. Said an Afghan lawmaker, “we have learnt much from the west about lawmaking, especially your earlier, funnier Australian Border Protection Act 2001”.

My God. Is this the reef on which the good ship Operation Afghanistan will finally rupture and sink? It certainly looks like it.

The law, passed by a majority of the Afghan parliament last month, and defended by President Karzai, effectively moves traditional Shiite sharia law into national Afghan law, but to apply to Shiites only.

Amazingly for a society consisting largely of quasi-nomadic pre-literate patriachal clans, the law is clannish and patriachal, allegedly — and a full translation does not appear to be easily available — mandating “a positive s-xual response from a wife to her husband, once every four days unless she has an illness that would be aggravated by s-xual activity”, makes it necessary for a wife to get permission to leave the house, and much more — although it also specifies that a man must satisfy his wife s-xually once every four months which FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN JOKES HERE REDACTED BY CRIKEY EDITORS saloon bar of the Standard Hotel Fitzroy, where was I?

Ah yes, the law. The amendments to it are nonsense of course, purely circular — what constitutes a “logical or lawful” refusal of s-x? Whatever the law says it is, which is of course, specific illnesses (or if the husband is travelling. What if the wife is travelling with him? Ha ha yeah, right). Once the content of the law became known, the leaders of the West issued statements saying that while it wasn’t their idea of a good law, they had fought for Afghani freedom and democracy, and the Afghani people simply had to work out their own preferred balance between majority will and individual rights.

Oh, sorry, that’s a misprint. Apparently they went apesh-t, told President Karzai the law was “abhorrent” and instructed him to take it round again. Karzai, who I am beginning to feel sorry for, since even a client leader deserves bosses who aren’t morons, made soothing noises and said that the Justice department would examine every aspect of the law and see that it conformed to the Aghan constitution, and then push it through again wrapped up in more obfuscatory language.

Of course, the passage of the law is meaningless in itself. Patriachal clans are going to do what they do, and unless the NATO proposal is to station a soldier in every tent to supervise s-xual behaviour, there ain’t a lot can be done about it. No-one cares about that. What is catastrophic for the West, is the exposure of the full absurdity of project Afghanistan.

Of all the ways to invade and occupy a country, the West has chosen the worst. The doctrine — often honoured in the breach — of intervention used to be for self-determination. You went in, got rid of people you didn’t like, established some sort of political system that was consonant with the society, and left them to it.

With liberal imperialism you go in, impose a political system similar to the one the west has had for about 20 years, with no regard to the social system, then leave them to determine their own future, except when they try to change the system you’ve established, at which point you stand over their shoulder and dictate the details of just exactly how they’re going to manage this self-determination thing.

But wait, it gets better. Afghanistan has added a new twist. Google the news stories on this and you get dozens of opeds saying the same thing — that the Afghan marriage law has to be changed because otherwise it renders the whole mission (and the deaths of soldiers) meaningless.

Thus a full circularity is established. The mission in Afghanistan is to bring democracy which is freedom to Afghanistan, but they have used that democracy to limit freedom so democracy will have to be suspended to restore freedom, but….

Can somebody help them here? Yes, any intelligent year ten politics student. Self-determination, liberal rights and democracy are three competing and often contradictory ideas of freedom.

The infantile neocon fantasy that has governed the last decade is that all of these will spontaneously erupt if any one of them is achieved — every society, autonomously will choose independent existence, a framework of articulated individual rights and a parliamentary majoritarian system whose laws are nevertheless constrained by those rights. Amazingly the Afghans haven’t, using majoritarian democracy to exercise their self-determination in saying that they ain’t got a lot of time for individual rights.

So what do we do now? Stand over them so they rewrite the law? Great look. Let allied troops die for an Afghan man’s right to r-pe his wife? Great look.

We have come to the end-point of the Afghan adventure. After eight years it is over. We either have to start acting like true imperialists and punish any Afghan man that won’t let his wife work or his daughter go to school — with a whip sir, with a whip — or admit that we have no will to reconstruct a society from the ground up and let it go.

There will be a ways to go on this futile war yet, but morally, purposefully, it’s over. Last week the G20 sat down to thrash out the future of the world, and included King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a country whose laws make the Afghan government look like the Macquarie University student union Queer Officer committee. At the dinner Kevin Rudd was seated next to the President of Ethiopia (power end of the table or what?) whose country’s gender practices don’t bear much scrutiny either, I’ll warrant.

This would all be standard-issue hypocrisy if Australian troops weren’t being sent to kill and die on the basis of it. At the moment, our chief mode of preventing Afghan brides from being oppressed by their husbands is to kill them with aerial bombing at their weddings.

Good old us.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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