10 May 2003

Faith and freedom
Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiyya, the other main Iraqi Shia movement, has always operated independently of Iran, has a modern organisation and a strong lay membership. In the past, Da'wa has asserted that if it is elected, it will not impose Islamic law against the will of the people, and that it wants a liberal democracy, a multiparty system, modern education, free elections and a free press. Like any religious tradition, Shi'ism has had its share of belligerent, narrow-minded hardliners, but from the very beginning, leading Shia thinkers promoted ideals that are familiar to us in the west, not least that criticism of their own society is the basis of the democratic ethos. After decades of Saddam, western-style secularism may not appeal to many Iraqis, and Shia leaders, who have so bravely opposed the Ba'ath regime, are likely to be more respected than an Iraqi exile parachuted in by the Americans. If Iraqis choose a Shia government in free and fair elections, we should at least give it the benefit of the doubt.

Karen Armstrong has written a number of books on Islam. The whole article is worth reading. Sadly it still does not mean the political geniuses in the Bush administration will not find a way to drive the Iraqi Shi'a into Iran's arms.

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