The Shi'ites, the West and the Future of Democracy: Reframing Political Change in a Religio-secular World

John A Rees


The present article critically reviews Paul McGeough’s important analysis of the most recent Iraq war within a broader consideration of secular-religious relations in international affairs. The thesis of Mission Impossible: The Sheikhs, the US and the Future of Iraq (2004) can be summarised around two ideas: that the US strategy in Iraq was flawed because it wilfully bypassed the traditional power structures of Iraqi society; and that these structures, formed around the tribe and the mosque, are anti-democratic thus rendering attempts at democratisation impossible. The article affirms McGeough’s argument concerning the inadequacy of the US strategy, but critically examines the author’s fatalism toward the democratic capacity of Iraqi structures, notably the structure of the mosque. By broadening the notion of democracy to include religious actors and agendas, and by an introductory interpretation of the Shi’ite community as vital players in an emerging Iraqi democracy, the article attempts to deconstruct the author’s secularist view that the world of the mosque exists in a ‘parallel universe’ to the liberal democratic West. Reframing the Shi’ites as essential actors in the democratic project thus situates political discourse in a ‘religio-secular world’ and brings the ‘other worlds’ of religion and secularism together in a sphere of interdependence. Such an approach emphasises the importance of post-secular structures in the discourses on democratic change.

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