Tomorrow in Amsterdam
ISIM Annual Lecture 2005 by Professor Juan R.I. Cole

Venue:16.00 hrs, Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam

The title of this lecture is: The Ayatollahs and Democracy in Contemporary Iraq

Iraqi Shiism is undergoing profound changes, leading to new elaborations of the relationship between clerics and democratic principles in an Islamic state. The Najaf tradition of thinking about Shiite Islam and the modern state in Iraq, which first developed during the Iranian constitutional revolution of 1905–1911, rejects the principle that supreme power in an Islamic state must be in clerical hands. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Iraq stands in this tradition, and he has striven to uphold and develop it since the fall of Saddam Hussein. At key points he came into conflict with the Bush administration, which was not eager for direct democracy. Parliamentary politics have also drawn in clerics of the Dawa Party, the Sadr movement, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, all of which had earlier been authoritarian in outlook. Is Iraqi Shiism experiencing its enlightenment moment?

Juan R. I. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia. His current research focuses on Shiite Islam in Iraq and Iran and on the “jihadi” or “sacred-war” strain of Muslim radicalism, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban. His publications include Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt’s Urabi Movement (Princeton, 1993), and Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Baha’i Faith in the Nineteenth-Century Middle East (Columbia, 1998). His most recent book is Sacred Space and Holy War (I. B. Tauris, 2002), a collection of some of his papers on the history of the Shiite branch of Islam in modern Iraq, Iran, and the Gulf. He has given numerous media and press interviews on the “War on Terrorism” since 11 September 2001, as well as on the 2003 Iraq War.

Juan Cole has his own website (one of the first I linked to): Informed Comment

Note: Admittance is free but registration is required.