Monday, January 24, 2005

Shi'ites Go Secular

According to this article from the New York Times, Shi'ite leaders are suggesting that they will attempt to put a "secular face" on the new Iraqi government. Since Shi'ites are expected to do quite well in the January 30 elections, this statement may well have predictive validity.

If true, this would be an extremely positive development. As I wrote a few days ago, it is important that democracies be exclusively governed by a constitution that cannot be overruled by interpretations of religious law.

The net and, for many, problematic effect [of a constitution so defined] is that it assumes the supremacy of human law. Secular cultures will readily accept this restriction. On the other hand, cultures with a higher component of religiosity will find this to be a much more difficult sell. The more fundamentalist the culture, the less likely citizens will be willing to submit religious teachings to earthly regulation. This is not to say that religion and democracy are incompatible. But it demonstrates that conflict will potentially arise and that the resolution of same may determine the efficacy of local democratic rule.
The article presents many caveats, including speculation that certain prominent Shi'ites would reject a subservient role for Islam. Still, the fact that now both Kurdish and Shi'ite leadership are publicly endorsing secular is extremely promising.
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