February 19, 2004


Iran, Iraq, and two Shiite visions: As Shiite-run Iran begins its elections Friday, Shiites in Iraq follow a different vision toward their own democratic debut. (Nicholas Blanford, 2/20/04, The Christian Science Monitor)

Iran's Wilayet al-Faqih doctrine (governance of the religious jurist, preached in the Iranian city of Qom) was devised in the mid-1970s by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and served as the ideological underpinning of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran which he led. It grants absolute authority over all matters - religious, social, and political - to a marja who has earned the title of mujtahid, a blend of judge and theologian.

Although the Wilayat al-Faqih system was successfully introduced into Iran's homogenous Shiite society, exporting the doctrine elsewhere has proved difficult.

Its most successful adaptation outside Iran is by Lebanon's Hizbullah organization which considered Khomeini and then his successor Ayatollah Ali Khameini as the group's marja. Establishing an Islamic state in Lebanon on the Iranian model remains one of Hizbullah's ideological goals, on paper at least. But Hizbullah long ago accepted that the tiny country's multiconfessional character mitigates heavily against the creation of an Islamic state.

So, too, with Iraq. Iraqi Shiites represent around 60 percent of the population. The remaining 40 percent is comprised of Sunni Muslims, several Christian sects and a tiny Jewish community. Furthermore, many Shiites are avowedly secular and have little enthusiasm for an Islamic state, whether governed by Wilayet al-Faqih or a less comprehensive form of Islamic rule.

Even groups such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which was supported by Iran during Saddam Hussein's regime, has begun to distance itself from Tehran's clerical rulers to boost its appeal among Iraqi Shiites.

Khomeinism was a tragic error, one violative of the spirit of Shi'ism. Luckily it looks like the Shi'ites have learned that lesson in just one generation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2004 10:24 PM

That's not what it looks like to me.

However, to make a counterrevolution, you need two ingredients. You have posited one.

The other would be a functioning organization of some kind. The lack of that doomed the Revolutions of 1848, and the Iranians pretty clearly are similar impractical ranters.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 20, 2004 2:00 PM

You don't need an organization--no one was more surprised than the Bolsheviks by the Russian Revolution.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2004 3:03 PM

But they had an organization.

They were surprised all right, but they were also the only political body in the country with the organization ready to pick up the pieces.

The SRs were far more numerous, but their support was in peasant areas. The Bolsheviks had a small organization in the key spots.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 20, 2004 4:27 PM

That's how they imposed a dictatorship--it had nothing to do with the revolution. The mullahs will be overthrown, but we don't know yet what will follow. Eventually it's a liberal democracy.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2004 9:55 PM