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Fonda's anti-war energy should be redirected

Like millions of Americans, I heaved a sigh of relief upon reading that Jane Fonda finally is going to speak out against the war in Iraq. Where has she been?

On book tour promoting her autobiography-in-progress, "My Life So Far." We might have guessed a real-time sequel was in the offing.

Fonda says that, having met some veterans and their families while on tour, she's decided to break her silence. "I've decided I'm coming out," she told an audience in Santa Fe, N.M. "I have not taken a stand on any war since Vietnam. I carry a lot of baggage from that."

That baggage includes the now infamous photo of Fonda in 1972 sitting atop a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun while on a tour of that country. Many Vietnam vets do not forgive Fonda for what they view as treason and for making their lives harder, especially prisoners of war who were tortured in her name. To her limited credit, Fonda has apologized.

Still, her newest foray into anti-war territory feels like a cartoonish parody of her former self. Jane Fonda playing Jane Fonda. In her newest version of Me, Myself and I, Fonda will segue from book tour to anti-war tour via a cross-country trip on a bus that runs on vegetable oil. Slick. But is it canola?

Fonda is mum on details but promises "it's going to be pretty exciting." One can hardly wait. Suddenly, I find myself dreaming of a time when the Rolling Stones do not do one more tour, and Jane Fonda does not find her groove again.

Ending the war is surely the goal of any sane person, but what precisely would Jane Fonda and others against the war have us do? Withdrawing now isn't an option. Losing the war isn't an option. Handing Iraq to terrorists isn't an option. Even those opposed to invading Iraq concede that much.

So what is the point of an anti-war, vegetable oil bus tour? After this trip, Fonda may need a small island to accommodate the baggage she'll accrue.

Meanwhile, there is serious work to do in Iraq, especially as a new constitution is being crafted, the success of which will hasten our ability to withdraw successfully. If Fonda and other celebrities want to attach their names to something constructive, they might join the Independent Women's Forum (iwf.org) in trying to advance the status of women in Iraq and, ultimately, throughout the Middle East.

IWF members meet regularly with Iraqi women, both in the U.S. and abroad, to teach them the principles of democracy and equal rights. Their critically important work is based on the understanding that democracy and freedom are the antidote to terrorism, and that women's (and other minority) rights are fundamental to the ultimate cure.

At this precarious moment, as terrorists gain momentum from successful hits in Britain, Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere, Iraq's working-draft constitution leaves much to be desired. Of greatest concern is a section that leaves personal matters - marriage, divorce and inheritance - to whatever religious law is practiced by the family's sect.

Women are equal, in other words, as long as their rights don't violate Shariah, or Koranic law. What this could mean for Iraqi women is on vivid display in places where Islamic law rules.

A few days ago, for example, a woman in an Indian village who was raped by her father-in-law was forced to nullify her marriage, marry the rapist and act as mother to her former husband. This mind-numbing fatwa was issued by South Asia's most powerful theological school, according to The Washington Times.

Before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi men and women were almost equal. Except for those chosen especially for rape by Saddam's sons and their henchmen, women faced only the same tortures as men. Now, they may face diminished status under a constitution that, as proposed, contradicts democratic principles of equality and freedom.

The Iraqi parliament has until Aug. 15 to adopt a draft constitution, which then faces a nationwide referendum by mid-October. If the women lose, we all lose.

Now there's a cause for feminists and Fondas alike. If we want to end the war in Iraq, a sound, woman-friendly constitution is at least part of the answer. To that end, Michelle Bernard, the IWF senior vice president who runs the democratic outreach program to Iraqi women, says she'd be happy to accept Fonda's check.

Kathleen Parker, an Orlando Sentinel columnist, welcomes comments via e-mail at kparker@kparker.com . Her column appears on Friday.