August 8, 2006


From Lebanon to Central Asia, the rise of Shia Muslims: Iran becomes a regional power and exports its revolution. Two experts in the geopolitics of Islam, Vali Nasr and Khaled Fouad Allam, analyze the shift and its consequences for the Middle East, Washington, and the Vatican (Sandro Magister, August 8, 2006, Chiesa)

Coming on the heel of one another, a book and an essay in “Foreign Affairs” by Vali Nasr, a report by Peter Waldman in “The Wall Street Journal” and an editorial in Italian daily “la Repubblica” by Khaled Fouad Allam are drawing attention to an historical shift now underway in the Islamic world: the Shia revival.

“The Shia revival” is in point of fact the title of Vali Nasr’s book on the issue. Born in Iran, the 46-year-old scholar is the son of another well-known expert on Islam from an important family that can trade its ancestry back to the prophet Muhammad. Both father and son lived in Tehran till Khomeini’s 1979 revolution upon which they immigrated to the United States. Vali Nasr’s father, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, teaches at George Washington University, while he is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

In both his book – published in the United States by W.W. Norton & Co. – and his essay which appears in the July-August issue of “Foreign Affairs”, the prestigious US journal of geopolitics, Nasr substantiates his thesis with an impressive array of data.

The greatest novelty has occurred in Iraq, where majority Shiites were largely powerless till the fall of Saddam Hussein. No more! Now they occupy most command posts. The holy city of Najaf is now more than ever the religious capital of the world’s Shia community. From near and afar pilgrims come in increasing numbers to visit the shrines of Najaf and Karbala. And ties with Iran’s Shia regime are growing tighter as ever.

But similar changes are taking place in a wider area that runs from Lebanon to Central Asia. Power over Shia Islam is no longer a prerogative of Iran and Persians. From Iran and Iraq Shia power has spread to Lebanon thanks to the ‘Party of God’ – Hezbollah –, to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Pakistan, and is taking in increasingly transnational forms. As Nasr writes in “Foreign Affairs”:

“Ethnic antagonism between Arabs and Persians cannot possibly be all-important when Iraq’s supreme religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is Iranian and Iran’s chief justice Mahmoud Shahroudi, is Iraqi.”

Khaled Fouad Allam is an Algerian-born expert on Islam who now lives in Italy where he teaches at the universities of Trieste and Urbino. He is held in high esteem by the Church of Rome and what he has to say easily finds ears that listen. His analysis goes further than Nasr’s. Largely inspired by Khomeini’s revolution, the Shia revival is for the first time finding significant support amongst Sunni Arabs and threatens to spread across the entire Middle East. Politically, Iran might become what it never was in Khomeini’s lifetime, a great regional power.

So what is in store for international politics? In a report that appeared in the August 4 issue of the “The Wall Street Journal”, Peter Waldman writes that the Bush administration is increasingly paying attention to what Nasr is saying. Two White House foreign policy officials attended one of his conferences in Washington in early August and Condoleezza Rice had a meeting with him. “But his influence on U.S. policy is unclear,” for now.

August 22: Does Iran have something in store? (BERNARD LEWIS, August 8, 2006, Opinion Journal)
In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time--Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

A passage from the Ayatollah Khomeini, quoted in an 11th-grade Iranian schoolbook, is revealing. "I am decisively announcing to the whole world that if the world-devourers [i.e., the infidel powers] wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against their whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom which is martyrdom."

When the Shiites Rise (Vali Nasr, July/August 2006, Foreign Affairs)

The war in Iraq has profoundly changed the Middle East, although not in the ways that Washington had anticipated. When the U.S. government toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, it thought regime change would help bring democracy to Iraq and then to the rest of the region. The Bush administration thought of politics as the relationship between individuals and the state, and so it failed to recognize that people in the Middle East see politics also as the balance of power among communities. Rather than viewing the fall of Saddam as an occasion to create a liberal democracy, therefore, many Iraqis viewed it as an opportunity to redress injustices in the distribution of power among the country's major communities. By liberating and empowering Iraq's Shiite majority, the Bush administration helped launch a broad Shiite revival that will upset the sectarian balance in Iraq and the Middle East for years to come.

There is no such thing as pan-Shiism, or even a unified leadership for the community, but Shiites share a coherent religious view: since splitting off from the Sunnis in the seventh century over a disagreement about who the Prophet Muhammad's legitimate successors were, they have developed a distinct conception of Islamic laws and practices. And the sheer size of their population today makes them a potentially powerful constituency. Shiites account for about 90 percent of Iranians, some 70 percent of the people living in the Persian Gulf region, and approximately 50 percent of those in the arc from Lebanon to Pakistan -- some 140 million people in all. Many, long marginalized from power, are now clamoring for greater rights and more political influence. Recent events in Iraq have already mobilized the Shiites of Saudi Arabia (about 10 percent of the population); during the 2005 Saudi municipal elections, turnout in Shiite-dominated regions was twice as high as it was elsewhere. Hassan al-Saffar, the leader of the Saudi Shiites, encouraged them to vote by comparing Saudi Arabia to Iraq and implying that Saudi Shiites too stood to benefit from participating. The mantra "one man, one vote," which galvanized Shiites in Iraq, is resonating elsewhere. The Shiites of Lebanon (who amount to about 45 percent of the country's population) have touted the formula, as have the Shiites in Bahrain (who represent about 75 percent of the population there), who will cast their ballots in parliamentary elections in the fall.

Iraq's liberation has also generated new cultural, economic, and political ties among Shiite communities across the Middle East. Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, coming from countries ranging from Lebanon to Pakistan, have visited Najaf and other holy Shiite cities in Iraq, creating transnational networks of seminaries, mosques, and clerics that tie Iraq to every other Shiite community, including, most important, that of Iran. Pictures of Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Lebanese cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah (often referred to as Hezbollah's spiritual leader) are ubiquitous in Bahrain, for example, where open displays of Shiite piety have been on the rise and once-timid Shiite clerics now flaunt traditional robes and turbans. The Middle East that will emerge from the crucible of the Iraq war may not be more democratic, but it will definitely be more Shiite.

It may also be more fractious. Just as the Iraqi Shiites' rise to power has brought hope to Shiites throughout the Middle East, so has it bred anxiety among the region's Sunnis. De-Baathification, which removed significant obstacles to the Shiites' assumption of power in Iraq, is maligned as an important cause of the ongoing Sunni insurgency. The Sunni backlash has begun to spread far beyond Iraq's borders, from Syria to Pakistan, raising the specter of a broader struggle for power between the two groups that could threaten stability in the region. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned that a new "Shiite crescent" stretching from Beirut to Tehran might cut through the Sunni-dominated Middle East.

Stemming adversarial sectarian politics will require satisfying Shiite demands while placating Sunni anger and alleviating Sunni anxiety, in Iraq and throughout the region. This delicate balancing act will be central to Middle Eastern politics for the next decade. It will also redefine the region's relations with the United States. What the U.S. government sows in Iraq, it will reap in Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf.

Yet the emerging Shiite revival need not be a source of concern for the United States, even though it has rattled some U.S. allies in the Middle East. In fact, it presents Washington with new opportunities to pursue its interests in the region. Building bridges with the region's Shiites could become the one clear achievement of Washington's tortured involvement in Iraq. Succeeding at that task, however, would mean engaging Iran, the country with the world's largest Shiite population and a growing regional power, which has a vast and intricate network of influence among the Shiites across the Middle East, most notably in Iraq. U.S.-Iranian relations today tend to center on nuclear issues and the militant rhetoric of Iran's leadership. But set against the backdrop of the war in Iraq, they also have direct implications for the political future of the Shiites and that of the Middle East itself. [...]

Just five years ago, Iran was still surrounded by a wall of hostile Sunni regimes: Iraq and Saudi Arabia to the west, Pakistan and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to the east. Iranians have welcomed the collapse of the Sunni wall, and they see the rise of Shiites in the region as a safeguard against the return of aggressive Sunni-backed nationalism. They are particularly relieved by Saddam's demise, because Iraq had been a preoccupation of Iranian foreign policy for much of the five decades since the Iraqi monarchy fell to Arab nationalism in 1958. Baathist Iraq worried the shah and threatened the Islamic Republic. The Iran-Iraq War dominated the first decade of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's revolution, ravaged Iran's economy, and scarred Iranian society.

If there is an Iranian grand strategy in Iraq today, it is to ensure that Iraq does not reemerge as a threat and that the anti-Iranian Arab nationalism championed by Sunnis does not regain primacy. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and many leaders of the Revolutionary Guards, all veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, see the pacification of Iraq as the fulfillment of a strategic objective they missed during that conflict. Iranians also believe that a Shiite-run Iraq would be a source of security; they take it as an axiom that Shiite countries do not go to war with one another.

All this is small consolation for the Sunnis in the region, who remember the consequences of Iran's ideological aspirations in the 1980s -- and now worry about its new regional ambitions. A quarter century ago, Tehran supported Shiite parties, militias, and insurgencies in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The Iranian Revolution combined Shiite identity with radical anti-Westernism, as reflected in the hostage crisis of 1979, the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, and Tehran's continued support for international terrorism. In the end, the Iranian Revolution fell short of its goals, and except for in Lebanon, the Shiite resurgence that it inspired came to naught.

Some say the Islamic Republic is now a tired dictatorship. Others, however, worry about the resurgence of Iran's regional ambitions, fueled this time not by ideology but by nationalism. Tehran sees itself as a regional power and the center of a Persian and Shiite zone of influence stretching from Mesopotamia to Central Asia. Freed from the menace of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Saddam in Iraq, Iran is riding the crest of the wave of Shiite revival, aggressively pursuing nuclear power and demanding international recognition of its interests.

Leaders in Tehran who want to create a greater zone of Iranian influence -- something akin to Russia's concept of "the near abroad" -- view Tehran's activities in southern Iraq as a manifestation of Iran's great-power status. Yet none of them holds on to Khomeini's dream of ruling over Iraq's Shiites. Rather, Tehran's goal in southern Iraq is to exert the type of economic, cultural, and political influence it has wielded in western Afghanistan since the 1990s. Although Tehran clearly expects to play a major role in Iraq, it may not aim -- or be able -- to turn the country into another Islamic republic. [...]

Iran's aspirations leave Washington and Tehran in a complicated, testy face-off. After all, Iran has benefited greatly from U.S.-led regime changes in Kabul and Baghdad. But Washington could hamper the consolidation of Tehran's influence in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S. military's presence in the region threatens the Islamic Republic. In Iraq especially, the two governments' short-term goals seem to be at odds: whereas Washington wants out of the mess, Tehran is not unhappy to see U.S. forces mired there.

So far, Tehran has favored a policy of controlled chaos in Iraq, as a way to keep the U.S. government bogged down and so dampen its enthusiasm for seeking regime change in Iran. This strategy makes the current situation in Iraq very different from that in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, when Iran worked with the United States to cobble together the government of Hamid Karzai. Tehran cooperated with Washington at the time largely because it needed to: its Persian-speaking and Shiite clients in Afghanistan made up only a minority of the population and were in no position to protect Iran's interests. Tehran's calculus in the aftermath of the Iraq war has been different. Not only do Iran's immediate interests not align with those of the United States, but Tehran's position in Iraq is stronger than it was in Afghanistan thanks to the majority status of Shiites in Iraq. Seeing the Bush doctrine proved wrong in Iraq would be an indirect way for Iran's leaders to discredit Washington's calls for regime change in Tehran. Their recent willingness to escalate tensions with Washington over Iran's nuclear activities suggests that they believe they have largely succeeded in this goal; Iran is now stronger relative to the United States than it was on the eve of the Iraq war.

And yet, in the longer term, U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq may well converge. Both Washington and Tehran want lasting stability there: Washington, because it wants a reason to bail out; Tehran, because stability in its backyard would secure its position at home and its influence throughout the region. Iran has much to fear from a civil war in Iraq. The fighting could polarize the region and suck in Tehran, as well as spill over into the Arab, Baluchi, and Kurdish regions of Iran, where ethnic tensions have been rising. As former Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Maleki has put it, chaos in Iraq "does not help Iranian national interest. If your neighbor's house is on fire, it means your home is also in danger." Clearly wary, Tehran has braced itself for greater troubles by appointing a majority of its provincial governors from the ranks of its security officials and Revolutionary Guard commanders.

Two groups within Iran could help convince the Iranian leadership that cooperation with Washington is in its interest. The first are Iraqi refugees, who act as a lobby for Iraqi Shiite interests in Tehran. They have encouraged Iran to pursue talks with the United States over Iraq, partly because they view Washington and Tehran as the twin pillars of their power in Iraq. The escalation of tensions between the two governments would not serve the interests of Iraqi Shiites, and that lobby does not want to see Iraq become hostage to the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program. The second important constituency is made up of the many Iranians who are greatly concerned about the sanctity of Iraq's shrine cities. Every major bombing in Najaf and Karbala so far has claimed Iranian lives. The Iranian public expects Tehran to ensure the security of those cities; its influence has already provided Khamenei with a pretext for publicly endorsing direct talks with Washington over Iraq.

Still, Iran will actively seek stability in Iraq only when it no longer benefits from controlled chaos there, that is, when it no longer feels threatened by the United States' presence. Iran's long-term interests in Iraq are not inherently at odds with those of the United States; it is current U.S. policy toward Iran that has set the countries' respective Iraq policies on a collision course. Thus a key challenge for Washington in Iraq is to recalibrate its overall stance toward Iran and engage Tehran in helping to address Iraq's most pressing problems.

In Iran, Apocalypse vs. Reform (Jackson Diehl, May 11, 2006, Washington Post)

Qom is a place where the possible ends of Iran's slowly crumbling Islamic regime can be glimpsed -- both the catastrophic and the potentially benign. There is the rising, officially nurtured last-days cult at Jamkaran, and the extremist rants of Ahmadinejad's own spiritual adviser, Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who recently suggested that future elections were superfluous because a true Islamic government had arisen.

But also in the winding alleys here, with their mosques and madrassas , are some of the world's most progressive and influential interpreters of Islam -- ayatollahs who insist that democracy, human rights, equality for women and even cloning are all compatible with the Koran. To hear them is to understand that the much-hoped-for Islamic reformation is, at least in the Shiite world, already underway.

The best known of the liberals is Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, once the designated successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's first supreme leader, and in recent years one of Iran's foremost advocates of democracy. Frail at 84, Montazeri was nonetheless firm enough when I asked him about Ahmadinejad's buildup at Jamkaran. While "the 12th Imam does exist and will someday emerge," he said, "using this belief as a political means for deceiving people or leading them to certain decisions is wrong." As a grand ayatollah, Montazeri is one of the few in the country who can make such a public statement without risking imprisonment or worse.

Even more intriguing is Montazeri's near neighbor, Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Saanei, 68, who, unlike his elder, is still instructing students at his madrassa and delivering regular sermons and fatwas . Like Montazeri, Saanei favors full democracy in Iran; he has also issued rulings banning workplace discrimination against women, sanctioning abortion in the first trimester and authorizing therapeutic cloning for the purpose of producing replacement organs.

Another early collaborator of Khomeini who long ago returned to Qom, Saanei acknowledges that anti-democratic forces among the Iranian clergy have the upper hand, for now. But he offers two reasons for optimism. One is the growing demand for change among Iranian youth; those under 30 make up more than two-thirds of the population. "We have been doing a lot of work in colleges and universities," says the ayatollah, whose diminutive stature, wispy white beard and leathery brown skin make him appear older than he is. "If you talk to students in these institutions you will see that we have achieved a great deal, and that our ideas have spread very far."

The other factor is Iraq -- where, Saanei says, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has successfully updated the role of Islam in government. "The Iraqis were well aware and informed of events in Iran," Saanei said. "Therefore they have adopted the model of Ayatollah Sistani. Ayatollah Sistani has made the correct decision by staying out of the political system."

Exclusive: Shah of Iran's Heir Plans Overthrow of Regime (Human Events, May 01, 2006)

Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah of Iran, told the editors of HUMAN EVENTS last week that in the next two to three months he hopes to finalize the organization of a movement aimed at overthrowing the Islamic regime in Tehran and replacing it with a democratic government.

He believes the cause is urgent because of the prospect that Iran may soon develop a nuclear weapon or the U.S. may use military force to preempt that. He hopes to offer a way out of this dilemma: a revolution sparked by massive civil disobedience in which the masses in the streets are backed by elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Pahlavi, who lives in exile in the United States, said he has been in contact with elements of the Revolutionary Guard that would be willing to play such a role, and activists who could help spark the civil disobedience.

He also said that the U.S. and other governments can help by imposing �smart sanctions� on the leaders of Iranian regime, but he categorically opposes U.S. military intervention.

After the revolution he envisions, Pahlavi said, he would be willing to become a constitutional monarch in Iran if an Iranian constitutional convention offered him that role. �I�m ready to serve in that capacity,� he said. �If the people so choose, it would be my greatest honor.� [...]

Assume you�re directly advising Condoleezza Rice and George Bush. Bush is going to be in office for two more years. How can they help you and your people get rid of this regime in the next two years?

We have to find a combination of internal elements working with exterior elements within the Iranian opposition and a coordination of such a movement with a number of key countries who in concert will act on this plan to make it happen.

You want to see a systematically organized general strike, people going into the streets against the government in Tehran?

Well look, civil disobedience, we can find examples of it from Argentina to India.

That�s what you want. That�s your tool.

That�s one of the tools. The other thing is the military and paramilitary power. Understand one thing: The basic powerbase of this regime is the Revolutionary Guards, at the end of the day.

They report to [Ayatollah] Khamenei, not to Ahmadinejad?

It�s a mixed bag. Ultimately, Khamenei is the supreme leader. But let�s face it, Khamenei doesn�t have single-handed control. In fact, Khamenei went all the way to take the risk of alienating some of the Revolutionary Guards by publicly referring to the talks between [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] Zalmay Khalilzad and Iranians over the Iraqi issue. What was he trying to do there? He was much more concerned about the rising disenchantment inside Iran. He wanted to just pour ice water on their head, by saying, �Oh, we�re talking to the Americans��at the risk of alienating his own militia.

That explains the psychology of the regime. It also explains that the whole militia is not under one core unit. It�s a whole mafia. There are various families of Revolutionary Guards. Each has its own portfolio and agenda. Some are behind Al Qaeda. Some are involved in Syria. Some are involved in Bekaa Valley. Some are involved in Iraq, etc. And they have their own independent means of finances. They don�t have to report back to the government. They have their own bases of income, free ports, what have you.

You think you can exploit this to turn some elements of the Revolutionary Guards against the regime?

Yes, for a number of reasons. Because like in any totalitarian system, they know that at the end they�ll fall. The question is, how do they negotiate their exit strategy? No. 2 is because a lot of their families are not as wealthy as we think. There are some preferred ones, but many are still having to make ends meet. We have ranked officers who have to drive taxicabs at three o�clock in the morning, as a major or colonel returning from base, because they don�t have enough money to pay the rent. The disenchantment is there.

So what you see happening is a general strike, people going into the streets, refusing to work, calling for the overthrow of the regime, and then their being backed�

Sustained. Sustained.

And then being sustained by significant elements of the Revolutionary Guards who say, �You�re gone�?

And I�m talking about a blitzkrieg of media supporting, like the BBC did before the revolution, which was practically announcing the night before where there would be a demonstration the next day. This is not myth, it is fact.

Are you in contact with some of the commanders of these [elements]?

Absolutely. Absolutely. And in fact, they keep on saying that we are being under-utilized, we have a role to play, we know the time for it, but we cannot just take the initiative. They are in No Man�s Land. You have to understand.

Are you the person who puts together the master plan? Are you the commander-in-chief of this counteraction?

Look, I think I can be effective, and the reason I have stayed behind until now was because I wanted to exhaust every avenue of possibility so that the opposition can gather itself and collectively work on a common agenda. Within the next two or three months, we�ll know if the result of two or three years of intense effort is going to pay off.

Two or three months?

Two or three months. This summer.

Sistani's Squeeze (Austin Bay, 13 Apr 2006, Tech Central Station)

Late one afternoon in mid-August, I delivered a brief report to British Maj. Gen. Andrew Graham in his Al Faw Palace office (west of Baghdad). Graham, as deputy commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, had been deeply involved in directing the coalition's military response to Sadr's audacious move.

After discussing my report, Graham asked, "Remember what I said about Ayatollah Sistani?"

Graham was referring Iraq's leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Al-Sayid Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani. A week earlier, Graham had told me: "Sistani is a living example of an apolitical Islamic clergyman. He specifically says his role is that of spiritual guide."

I told Graham I recalled our conversation.

"He's central to resolving the situation Najaf," Graham said. He added that winning the global war against Islamist extremism meant that moderate Muslim clerics had to speak out, but -- and here's the quote I remember -- "The pro-democracy moderate Muslim cleric doesn't have to be found. That's Sistani. Fortunately, he is the most influential religious leader in Iraq."

Within two weeks, Sistani helped engineer a withdrawal of Sadr's militia from the mosque. Tactically (and with little media fanfare), coalition military units had mauled Sadr's militia. Superficially, Sadr had "lived to fight another day." But the mosque wasn't rubble. Damage to the mosque was blamed on Sadr's militiamen. (Iraqi police also found pornographic magazines left by Sadr's men inside the mosque.) The people of Najaf greeted coalition troops as liberators.

Sistani's aides told Iraqi and coalition officers: "Let us deal with Sadr. We know how to handle him and will do so. However, the coalition must not make him a martyr."

Can the Shiite Center Hold?: The unanticipated consequences of "Iraqification." (REUEL MARC GERECHT, April 3, 2006, Opinion Journal)

The Shiites of Iraq who want representative government, and who look to the resolutely moderate Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for religious and political guidance, have endured Baathists, Sunni supremacists and holy warriors. They have seen the shrine of Samarra--the most purely Shiite shrine in the country, which has been for ages the responsibility of Sunnis to protect--horribly scarred. If the Shiite center collapses--if radicals like Muqtada al Sadr and some within the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and the Dawa Party can depict themselves as more effective guardians of the faithful--then massive internecine violence, Kurdish secession and a Shiite dictatorship seem likely.

Contrary to what so many in the Bush administration hoped, Iraq's salvation still rides with the two forces that few had foreseen: the religious Shiites, who recognize Ayatollah Sistani as moral guide, not the secularists in whom U.S. officials placed such store; and the U.S. military, which remains the only effective counterinsurgency force capable of diminishing sectarian strife and staunching Sunni-led violence. Together, they can corner the militants in their midst; if either falters, Iraq will probably descend into hell. [...]

On the Shiite side--and the Shiites will either make or break the Iraqi democratic experiment--no party, not even the firebrand Muqtada al Sadr, has advanced a nondemocratic political ideal. Though one can certainly find Iraqi Shiites who admire an Iranian-style theocracy, they have been philosophically crippled in their own country since no prominent Iraqi cleric has come forward to challenge Ayatollah Sistani and the other senior ulema, who have rejected clerical rule in favor of democracy. Though Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad are awash with those who fear the nefarious hand of Tehran in Iraq--and Iran's clerical elite and their fervid praetorians, like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, certainly intend us great harm--Tehran has relatively few loud political defenders among the Arabs of Mesopotamia. Prominent Shiite Iraqi exiles who've become political players in Baghdad do owe Iran their lives--Tehran saved thousands from certain death under Saddam--and many more are now surely benefiting from the Iran's clandestine largesse. Regions of southern Iraq appear to be increasingly under the sway of Tehran. Iran will try to prevent the birth of functioning democracy backed by senior Iraqi clerics who don't recognize the legitimacy of theocracy.

Yet no Iraqi Shiite can expect to have a political future--indeed, expect to stay alive--with the rallying cry of "Shiites Unite! Join the Persians!" Saddam Hussein was not the only thing driving Iraqi Shiites to kill Iranian Shiites in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Iraqi nationalism and an organic, nonideological Arabism is alive among them and will provide stiff resistance to any Iranian effort to direct its Shiite "allies" in Iraq. Hence, in part, Muqtada al Sadr's criticism of Sciri's recent efforts to facilitate U.S.-Iranian talks about Iraq. Sadr and his men, who often deride Ayatollah Sistani's Iranian birth, can be ferocious Arab Iraqi nationalists and diehard Islamic militants. That the Bush administration would welcome Sciri-backed Iranian-U.S. talks in Baghdad is bizarre: We should want to underscore and oppose all of Sciri's Iranian flirtations.

We can certainly expect to see Iraqi Shiites cut short-term deals with Iran--the crushing poverty in many Shiite regions of Iraq will guarantee the cash-laden Iranians influence. But it is fear of the Sunni insurgency and holy warriors that gives Iran real traction in Iraqi society. If the insurgency abates, the Iraqi army becomes more powerful, or Iraqi Shiite militias become bolder (and they certainly appear to be more effective in striking Sunnis even in well-armed, solidly Sunni neighborhoods), Iran's influence will wane. Though definitely weakened by the constant savage Sunni attacks against the Shiites, which make Shiite clerics counseling forbearance look somewhat unworldly, Ayatollah Sistani still holds sufficient sway to guarantee that negotiations among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds continue. Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Sciri, the dominant Shiite political party, is well aware that if Ayatollah Sistani were publicly to signal dismay with his actions, his political power would shrink considerably, probably even jeopardizing Sciri's existence. It is Sciri's clerical connections--the Hakim family is among the most prominent, and in the holy city of Najaf, among the most moderate, of Iraq's influential clerical families--that give it real strength.

Washington currently has no Shiite "partner" in Iraq.

Don't Fear the Shiites (Reuel Marc Gerecht, The American Enterprise)

In the fall of 2003, when American diplomats in Baghdad first realized that Shiite clerics would be the most important political players in American-occupied Iraq, it was not a happy discovery. Most Western diplomats (and journalists) in the Middle East were used to dealing with either Westernized Sunni elites or thoroughly secularized Shiites from exile organizations. The deeply religious Shiite clerics--who exhibit little personal warmth, are inclined to talk elliptically or dismissively to foreigners, and are endowed with the hubris of accomplished lawyers--were not exactly backslapping partners.

Indeed, many U.S. officials charged with rebuilding Iraq found the ulama--the Shiite religious authorities--to be frustrating allies. They insisted on more democracy sooner than the Provisional Authority believed safe. They resisted approving an interim constitution which checks the majority power of the Shiite community.

Yet Iraq's Shiites and their religious leaders have become the most important players in the Middle East. The senior clerics in the shrine city of Najaf will be the driving force behind any American success in Iraq. And it is precisely because they seek to blend politics and faith into a system where government is the servant of the commonweal that Iraq may be able to serve as the catalyst for serious democratic change all across this troubled region.

The Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini shook the world with his violent Islamic revolution of 1979. Iraq's Ayatollah Sistani is superficially similar--he is also a Persian-born Shiite divine who stands at the center of a climactic political transition. Yet Sistani is in many ways the antithesis of Khomeini, and it is quite possible he will have a far more profound influence on Muslim religious politics and the fate of the Middle East.

Shiite Offers Secular Vision of Iraq Future (DEXTER FILKINS, 2/10/05, NY Times)

Adel Abdul Mahdi, one of the leading candidates to become the new Iraqi prime minister, recalled the day last year when he and other Iraqi leaders were summoned to the holy city of Najaf by the country's senior Shiite clerics.

The topic was the role of Islam in the new Iraqi state. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite leader, questioned whether Mr. Mahdi and the others, members of the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, had the legitimacy to draft an interim constitution.

"You were not elected," Ayatollah Sistani told the group.

Mr. Mahdi says he did not hesitate to answer.

"You were not elected," he told the ayatollah.

With that, Mr. Mahdi and the others returned to the capital and drafted an interim constitution intended to govern Iraqi for the next year, naming Islam as a source, but not the only source, of legislation. The language bridged one of the most divisive issues in forming the new government, whether it should be secular or religious.

Mr. Mahdi, one of the leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition on the verge of capturing a majority of seats in the national assembly, recalled the moment to illustrate the limitations of the Shiite clerics in political affairs here.

"Victory is the most dangerous moment," Mr. Mahdi, 63, said in an interview at his home in Baghdad this week. "There will be some people trying to push for extreme measures. If we start with such behavior, we will lose the country."

Coming to terms with Sistani: Being always in need of legitimate leaders to work with, the US cannot afford alienating Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, given his overriding influence in the Shi'ite community. But first, Washington has to understand that Sistani sees himself as Iraq's guardian, and not as its political puppet master, as some accuse him of wanting to become. (Sami Moubayed, 2/10/05, Asia Times)

In theory, he supported the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, but he grew disenchanted by Khomeini's theocracy. Sistani believed that government should be run by politicians, not clergymen, whose duty would be to maintain law and order and to run economic affairs, day-to-day politics and foreign relations. The clergy should not become politicians, he stressed, because this would corrupt them and distort their religious message. Instead, they should limit themselves to spiritual and religious matters in which the politicians cannot pass sound judgment.

Khomeinism, on the other hand, gave complete political control and responsibility to the clergymen. Khomeini advocated a system called vilayet-e-faqih (guardianship of the jurisprudent); clerical rule in political affairs, while Sistani called for it only in social issues. Khomeini established a cult personality for himself in Iran, much to the horror of the US, which he famously labeled "The Great Satan".

Sistani opposed that an ayatollah like Khomeini would involve himself in such a war of words - something that should be handled by the politicians, not the clergy. Even today, with US forces in Iraq, Sistani has refrained from ever criticizing the US, urging his men not to take up arms against the Americans, yet refusing to meet with any US official on Iraqi soil. He acknowledges that they are invaders, but it is not his duty to fight them out of Baghdad. He welcomed the war on Saddam, with no mandate from the United Nations, yet insisted on having UN inspectors at the elections of January 30.

While Khomeini's team, and not necessarily Khomeini himself, was influenced by the methods of Arab dictators, such as immortalizing the leader and one-party rule, Sistani was a democrat at heart who believed in the people's right to choose. This explains why he embraced the January elections in Iraq, calling on Shi'ites, who make up 60% of Iraq's 27 million people, to vote, claiming that this was a religious duty. [...]

Sistani has a clear agenda: to achieve democracy, safeguard the rights of the Shi'ites and set up an Islam-friendly regime in Baghdad, ruled by politicians yet supervised in religious affairs by the clergy. He sees himself as Iraq's guardian and not as the political puppet master, as some accuse him of wanting to become. He has read his history correctly and remembers only too well how the Shi'ites had suffered from one Sunni-dominated regime to the next, starting off with the Ottoman sultans in the 1500s to Saddam.

He also wants them to remain devoted to Shi'ite Islam, inasmuch as they are devoted to Iraq, to remain united against everyone, the Sunnis, the Americans, the Kurds, etc. Sistani has the power today to make Iraq a democracy.

Birth of a Democracy: Soon the whole Middle East will see Iraq's national assembly at work. (Reuel Marc Gerecht, 02/14/2005, weekly standard)

A decent bet today would be that most of the Sunni Arabs who watched the Iraqi elections on satellite television probably both admire and feel ashamed of what happened. However much they may admire the Iraqis for defying the violence to vote in massive numbers, they are also probably ashamed that the Shia displayed such courage, while they in their own countries do not. (It's not at all contradictory for an Egyptian to hope that January 30 will help end President Hosni Mubarak's despised dictatorship and yet feel a bit sickened that it is Shiite Arabs--the black sheep of the Arab Muslim family--who are leading the faithful to a democratic rebirth.) And it is certainly true that the enabling hand of the United States provokes great waves of contradictory passion. It is worthwhile to note that these same emotions are common among the Iraqi Shia: The more religious and nationalistic they are (and the two impulses are quite harmonious among the Shia), the more difficult they find it psychologically to accept their freedom from the Americans. But the Shia have--with the possible exception of the followers of Moktada al-Sadr--gotten over it. So likely will the average non-Iraqi Sunni Arab who wants to see elected leadership in his native land.

But our Muslim "allies" in the Middle East are much less likely to get over it. They saw on television what their subjects saw: The American toppling of Saddam Hussein has allowed the common man to become the agent of change. [...]

[W]e would be wise to remember a few simple truths about Iraq, and particularly about the Iraqi Shia.

* First, contrary to the rising chorus of Democratic commentary on the Iraqi elections, Iran was the biggest loser last Sunday. The United Iraqi Alliance, which seems certain to capture the lion's share of the vote, is not at all "pro-Iranian." Neither is it any less "pro-American" than Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's al-Iraqiyya list, unless you mean that the various members of the Alliance have been and will continue to be less inclined to chat amicably with the Central Intelligence Agency, which has been a longtime backer of Allawi and his Iraqi National Accord. (This is not to suggest at all that Allawi is a CIA poodle.) A better way to describe the United Iraqi Alliance, if it lasts, is as Iran's worst nightmare. It surely will cause the clerical regime enormous pain as the Iraqis within it, especially those who were once dependent on Iranian aid, continue to distance themselves ever further from Tehran. Primary point to remember: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is now certainly the most senior Shiite cleric in both Iraq and Iran, who is of Iranian birth and early education, has embraced a democratic political creed that is anathema to the ruling mullahs of Tehran. Ali Khamenei, Iran's senior political cleric, is in a real pickle since he cannot openly challenge Sistani and his embrace of democracy. Iran's relations with the new Iraq would cease to exist. Also, the repercussions inside the Iranian clerical system would not be healthy. Sistani is the last of the truly great transnational Shiite clerics, and his following inside Iran, particularly since he has so publicly backed a democratic franchise, which if it were applied in Iran would shatter clerical power, should not be underestimated. Sistani and his men know very well that the political game they play in Iraq will have repercussions throughout the Arab world and Iran. He and his men are not rash, but there will be no tears shed on their side if Iraq's political advancement convulses those clerics in Iran who believe in theocracy.

* Second. We are lucky that Iyad Allawi's moment has passed. Spiritually and physically, Allawi would have kept the new government in the Green Zone, the surreal, guarded compound in central Baghdad where the American embassy is located. The United Iraqi Alliance will ensure that it is in all aspects pulled out. No real political progress among Iraqis can be made unless the Green Zone becomes a memory of occupation.

* Third. The United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish slate will probably start to review closely America's and Allawi's army, police, and intelligence training programs. This is all to the good. We have had enormous problems with these programs, in part because we have tried to incorporate Sunni Arabs who were not loyal to the new Iraq. The Alliance and the Kurds will be much more demanding than was Allawi, who built his outreach program to Sunnis in large part on bribery. By offering them jobs in the new army, police force, and intelligence service, Allawi led Sunnis to believe their positions in these organizations would not be subject to democratic politics. Allawi actually created the opposite dynamic among the Sunnis from what he intended. The Sunni insurgency was emboldened. Those elite Sunnis who should have felt the need to compromise and come on board did not do so. With the January 30 elections, the Sunni Arabs now know the old order is dead. The Shia and the Kurds will certainly reach out to them--Sistani has been doing so since Saddam fell--but they are unlikely to continue any form of bribery that touches upon Iraq's military services. Washington should welcome any change of tactics in this direction. Allawi's way was not working.

* Fourth. If Ahmad Chalabi gains a position of influence inside the new national assembly, it would be wise for State and the CIA to ensure that any and all officials who were involved in his regular trashings--particularly the trashing of his home--do not serve in Iraq. The Bush administration is going to have a hard time working with and figuring out the Iraqi Shia (it is striking how thin U.S. embassy coverage of the Shia still seems), and it does not need to further antagonize one of the few Iraqis capable of appreciating both the religious and secular sides of the Iraqi Shiite family and who can present his understanding to the Americans in a way they can understand. Ahmad Chalabi may be wrong in his assessments--he has certainly made mistakes in the past--but the Bush administration is doing itself an enormous disservice if it allows the old State-CIA animus against Chalabi to continue any further. Irony is always both bitter and sweet. Tell Langley to live with it before Chalabi has the will and allies to get even.

* And fifth. Continue to pray every night for the health, well-being, and influence of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Not surprisingly, there seems to be an increasing body of American liberals out there who foretell the end of a "liberal Iraq" because religious Shia now have a political voice. It is a blessed thing that Sistani and his followers have a far better understanding of modern Middle Eastern history than the American and European liberals who travel to Iraq and find only fear. There are vastly worse things in this world than seeing grown Iraqi men and women arguing about the propriety and place of Islamic family law and traditional female attire in Iraqi society. Understood correctly, it will be an ennobling sight--and a cornerstone of a more liberal Iraq and the Muslim world beyond.

Iraqi Cleric Takes Center Stage: Having guided a Shiite alliance to likely victory, Grand Ayatollah Sistani is in a position to mold the new government and the constitution. (Alissa J. Rubin, February 6, 2005, LA Times)

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the black-turbaned cleric who was the architect of what appears to be a landslide victory by Shiite Muslims in last week's landmark Iraqi elections, is now poised to shape the new government, including its choice of prime minister and the drafting of the country's constitution.

Iraq's senior most Shiite cleric, Sistani has made it his chief cause to propel his community, long oppressed under Saddam Hussein, to the leadership of one of the Middle East's most prominent countries. And he is on his way to succeeding: The slate he helped pick, the United Iraqi Alliance, appears to have won more than triple the votes of the next-highest slate, that of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite.

"What he wants is influence over the constitution-writing process," said Mowaffak Rubaie, a prominent Shiite politician. "He wants to be sure it's done right."

"I Call the President Imam Bush": A Turning Point in Islamic and World History (Stephen Schwartz, 12/22/2004, Tech Central Station)

Perhaps the biggest story left unreported in the West is the extraordinary exuberance about the Iraqi election, set for January 30, among Iraqi Shias.

I know about this because I spend a great deal of time talking to Iraqi Shia religious leaders, some of whom commute back and forth between Iraq and the U.S. The effervescence among them must be experienced to be believed. One prominent Shia in the U.S. told me, "I call the president Imam Bush." (In Shia Islam, the imams are the chief religious guides throughout the history of the sect.) "He is a believer in God, he is just, and I believe he will keep his promise to hold a fair election on January 30," my interlocutor said. "He liberated Kerbala and Najaf [the Shia holy cities]. He has done more for Shias than anybody else in history."

Shias comprise at least 65 percent of the Iraqi population. It is clear that the January 30 election will produce a Shia-majority government. The Iraqi Shias have produced a unity ticket for the elections under the direction of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Iraqi Shia cleric. Sistani has severely condemned any Shia who might obstruct the election. Sistani and his colleagues have managed to silence the disruptive Moqtada ul-Sadr in the interest of orderly elections.

Still, even if they can anticipate a Shia sweep in Iraq, Westerners generally seem unable to grasp the full meaning, for the Islamic world, of such a fact. Unequivocal Arab Shia control over their holy sites will represent a major, new historical chapter. Notwithstanding superficial Western reportage and alarmist propaganda by Arab Sunnis, Arab Shias do not obey the commands of Iranian Shias. Iraqi Shias never accepted Khomeini's conception of clerical governance, which had no basis in Islamic doctrine, and was actually a heresy. There is no serious evidence that, if a Shia majority is brought to power in Iraq, a Khomeinist regime would be established.

In addition, the Khomeinist scheme has been discredited in Iran itself, and that country's majority is trying to find a way out of it. Yet it is amazing to see Western media and politicians, as well as some Arab politicians and rulers, proclaiming the "menace" of Shia rule in Iraq. Naturally, the former Sunni elite who misruled Iraq with the support of Saddam, and Saudi-backed Wahhabi jihadists who hate Shias even more than they do Jews and Christians, seek to disrupt the electoral process in Iraq. But Westerners have no justification to back away from the commitment to elections in Iraq, merely on the basis of Sunni complaints or threats. Some Western experts warn that the triumph of the Shias would bring about a civil war in Iraq; but what other than a civil war is presently going on? Sunni terrorists wreak havoc and devastating bloodshed wherever they can. If anything, a definitive Shia victory would be a powerful incentive for Sunnis to cease their terrorism.

The wider regional and global ripples of a Shia government in Iraq are likely to be as significant as the transfer of power itself. A nonclerical Shia regime in Baghdad, governing Kerbala and Najaf, would powerfully encourage completion of democratization in Iran. Its success would also draw Lebanese Shias away from the extremist clerical leadership of Hezbollah. A stable post-Ba'athist regime in Iraq could provide a significant model for Syrians as they work their way out of the Bashir Assad dictatorship. Above all, however, a Shia regime in Iraq will provide a stunning exemplar of Arab-Islamic pluralism, that is, an alternative to the model of Sunni monolithism found in Saudi Arabia, and which the Saudis have sought to export throughout the global community of Sunni Islam.

The Future Iraq Deserves: A pluralist state built on a democratic social contract. (AHMAD CHALABI, December 22, 2004, Wall Street Journal)
Iraq's people are already realizing their objective of free elections by mobilizing themselves electorally for the first time in 45 years. There are 80 blocs of lists or individuals that have already registered to take part. The number of registered voters is increasing by the day. This is a clear expression by the Iraqi people of their wish to participate in a legitimate political process, and to ensure that their voices will not be silenced as they were under Saddam.

The United Iraqi Alliance list, consisting of most of the Shiite groups, is an important achievement for this new Iraq. It is a long way from the Shiite rejectionist position back in the early days of the Iraqi state, a position that Shiites have paid for ever since. Today, they are learning that their participation can only be ensured through a legitimate political process. This list is about active participation in a democratic process, not a subversion of elections for the sake of a theocratic Islamic state. It is wrong to assume that this process will be subverted by a pro-Iranian Islamic government. Iraq's Shiites are well aware that it was the U.S. and its allies that rid them of Saddam. This will remain the basis for a pragmatic relationship that dictates their interaction with Washington. They risk losing, rather than gaining, by doing otherwise.

Iraqi Shiites are proud Arabs. They have deep roots in, and are committed to, Iraq. They are also members of a diverse community with differing political, social and cultural orientations. Their Shiism has been the first call for persecution. That is the very identity that has cost them so much. To rally along that identity as a first expression of their political voice is but natural. It is the first building block for a reasonably balanced state, as well as the first impediment to be overcome toward a non-sectarian future.

Shiites [shE�Itz] Pronunciation Key [Arab., shiat Ali,=the party of Ali] (1upInfo)

the second largest branch of Islam, Shiites currently account for 10�15% of all Muslims. Shiite Islam originated as a political movement supporting Ali (cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam) as the rightful leader of the Islamic state. The legitimacy of this claim, as initially envisioned by Ali's supporters, was based on Muhammad's alleged designation of Ali as his successor, Ali's righteousness, and tribal customs, given his close relation to the Prophet. Ali's right passed with his death in 661 to his son Hasan, who chose not to claim it, and after Hasan's death, to Husayn, Ali's younger son. The evolution into a religious formulation is believed to have been initiated with the martyrdom of Husayn in 680 at Karbala (today in Iraq), a traumatic event still observed with fervor in today's Shiite world on the 10th of the month of Muharram of the Muslim lunar year.

The Shiite focus on the person of the Imam made the community susceptible to division on the issue of succession. The early Shiites, a recognized, if often persecuted, opposition to the central government, soon divided into several factions. The majority of the Shiites today are Twelve-Imam Shiites (notably in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, India, and Pakistan). Others are Zaydis (in Yemen), and the Ismailis (in India, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen). The central belief of Twelve-Imam Shiites is the occultation (or disappearance from view) of the 12th Imam. The 12th Imam is considered to be the only legitimate and just ruler, and therefore no political action taken in his absence can be fruitful. While this position has provided Shiite clerics with the means to survive an often hostile environment, the need for an alternative formulation capable of framing political militancy has fostered activist movements within the Shiite tradition, occasionally leading to dissidence: see Babism.

Obviously the great unanswerable in the Middle East right now is whether Islam offers any coherent basis for liberal secular democratic government. It would seem that Shi'ism, at least based on the above, does provide such a basis, though we and they would need to cultivate some of these ideas.

Two elements here are key:

(1) That Shi'ites have not historically run states: when Christ said to render unto Caesar, it made clear that there is no theological imperative that the State in which a Christian resides be Christian itself. In fact, Christianity was a religion of slaves, not of masters. Judaism likewise was a slave religion and, for thousands of years, until the founding of Israel, had control of no State. No religion which has so little experience of governance is likely to craft a doctrine that requires theocracy or religious totalitarianism.

This contrasts sharply with Islam, which in the Prophet's own life time became not merely a faith but a politics, as it took control of government. This allowed Islam to stray into a very destructive error, the adoption of the view that religion, politics, economics, etc., are all part of one seamless whole. It is by nature totalitarian, a statist religion.

However, the Shi'ites background, not entirely dissimilar to that of Christians and Jews, suggests that they could be susceptible to the same ideology of separation. Indeed, many analysts argue that the Khomeinism of Iran was an aberration--the seizure of state power by the clerisy--and, with the Republic tottering after just 25 years, they'd appear to be right. That so many in Iran--the great white hope of Islamicism--are now demanding liberalization and closer ties to the West, holds out the possibility that this experiment in Islamic rule could evolve into a state that, though it would certainly retain a distinctly Islamic identity, more closely resembles what we think of as a liberal constitutional democracy, with consensual government tempered by restrictions on government power and protections for the rights of citizens, including non-Muslims.

(2) The imperfection of the State, until the Hidden Imam returns: this closely parallels the Christian belief in the Second Coming and the Jewish faith in a Messiah. Added together with the defining sinfulness of human nature, you get a politics that assumes that Man is incapable of perfecting his own society. By way of contrast, the secular/humanist/rationalist creeds--Nazism, Communism, socialism, etc.--tend towards Utopianism (but achieve dystopias) precisely because they believe in the perfectibility of human affairs.

Eric Hoffer explained well the importance of believing that politics won't render perfection, in his True Believer

Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.

It is the very disdain for Man that makes Judeo-Christianity the perfect growth medium for decent societies of free men. expecting less of us, they are happy with as much as we manage to achieve. Rationalists, believing that problems have solutions and that their own minds can render them, tend to an absolutism that justifies making men mere parts of social experiments.

We see this same tendency in classical Islam, as Karen Armstrong explains it:

In Islam, Muslims have looked for God in history. Their sacred scripture, the Koran, gave them a historical mission. Their chief duty was to create a just community in which all members, even the most weak and vulnerable, were treated with absolute respect. The experience of building such a society and living in it would give them intimations of the divine, because they would be living in accordance with God's will. A Muslim had to redeem history, and that meant that state affairs were not a distraction from spirituality but the stuff of religion itself. The political wellbeing of the Muslim community was a matter of supreme importance. Like any religious ideal, it was almost impossibly difficult to implement in the flawed and tragic conditions of history, but after each failure Muslims had to get up and begin again.

Muslims developed their own rituals, mysticism, philosophy, doctrines, sacred texts, laws and shrines like everybody else. But all these religious pursuits sprang directly from the Muslims' frequently anguished contemplation of the political current affairs of Islamic society. If state institutions did not measure up to the Quranic ideal, if their political leaders were cruel or exploitative, or if their community was humiliated by apparently irreligious enemies, a Muslim could feel that his or her faith in life's ultimate purpose and value was in jeopardy. Every effort had to be expended to put Islamic history back on track, or the whole religious enterprise would fall, and life would be drained of meaning. Politics was, therefore, what Christians would call a sacrament: it was the arena in which Muslims experienced God and which enabled the divine to function effectively in the world. Consequently, the historical trials and tribulations of the Muslim community--political assassinations, civil wars, invasions, and the rise and fall of the ruling dynasties-were not divorced from the interior religious quest, but were of the essence of the Islamic vision. A Muslim would meditate upon the current events of their time and upon past history as a Christian would contemplate an icon, using the creative imagination to discover the hidden divine kernel. An account of the external history of the Muslim people cannot, therefore be of mere secondary interest, since one of the chief characteristics of Islam has been its sacralization of history.

-ESSAY: The Shiite Factor: How Will Iraq�s Persecuted Majority Behave When the Saddam Era Is Over? (Mark LeVine, ABC News)
-ESSAY: The Shiite Choice: Will they learn the lessons of their history? (Amir Taheri, July 11, 2003, National Review)

Are the Shiites about to commit the mistake they made in 1920, when they excluded themselves from the government of the newly created state of Iraq? The question is not fanciful. At that time, Shiite religious and social leaders divided the community in two camps: one favoring negotiations with Britain, then the mandate power in Mesopotamia, and the other preaching a boycott of the "crusading power."

The latter won the day after being endorsed by senior Shiite clerics in both Najaf and Qom.

The British, determined to transform the mandate territory into a new state, ignored the Shiites and shaped the Iraqi state as they pleased. They imported a king from the Peninsula and set up a bureaucracy based on a few wealthy Sunni families and clans, many with Ottoman antecedents.

The Iraqi Shiites found themselves in a strange situation. Their leaders told them that they owed no loyalty to the new state because the Hidden Imam did not create it. When the British set up the new Iraqi army, the Shiites again decided to stay away.

Those early errors meant that the Shiites, though they accounted for more than 60 percent of the population, never received the share of political power they deserved. Of the 24 men who served as prime minister in successive Iraqi governments between 1921 and 2003, only seven were Shiites (and their total period of service did not exceed six years).

The few Shiites who attained major positions in government often got hostile receptions from their own community. More importantly, none of the six men who became heads of state in Iraq was Shiite. The Shiites were also excluded from many key positions in the state apparatus and its decision-making organs.

The decision to stay out of the army was equally disastrous. While the bulk of the army consisted of Shiite recruits, Sunni Muslim Arabs and other minorities dominated the officers' corps.

Under the monarchy, Shiites were able to pretty much live their own lives, at least as far as religious rites were concerned. After the 1958 coup d'�tat, however, successive military regimes tried to control all aspects of Shiite life. In the final years of Saddam Hussein, the Shiite community experienced its darkest days.

Millions of its members had been expelled from Iraq by Saddam or had fled into exile. Inside Iraq, most senior Shiite clerics were either in prison or under house arrest, many of their seminaries disrupted or permanently shut by the Baathist party. It is important for Iraqi Shiites to remember their tragic experience before they are plunged into another historic mistake by shortsighted and selfish leaders.

-ARCHIVES: Middle East Article and Report Archive (Center for Security Policy)
-DISCUSSION: Islam and Democracy: Possibilities, Challenges, and Risks of Bringing Democracy to Islamic Nations, Government, and People (Presentation at the Secretary's Open Forum, Washington, DC, June 16, 2003)
-REVIEW: of The Arab Shia: The Forgotten Muslims, by Graham E. Fuller and Rend Rahim Francke (Robert Brenton Betts, Middle East Policy Council)


Although his pictures show him as a stern, frowning and terribly serious authority figure, Sistani is actually a really nice guy. Image in public life is everything, and the marji�ya, or Shia religious establishment, goes for the austere, long-suffering look. A narrow and wellguarded alley through Najaf�s rundown Old City takes you to a nondescript home with an outer courtyard and an outer waiting room called the barrani, which also serves as classroom and town hall. Tea is served as elderly graduate students bearing the distinctive Mongol features of Afghani Shias sit around leafing through voluminous texts preparing for that day�s lecture. You are then led to an inner room with faded blue-green walls that are lit up with white fluorescent tubes. Sistani struggles up to meet you and it is customary to make a show of kissing his hands,which in a sign of humility he denies by quickly jerking them back. With his eyes twinkling mischievously, Sistani articulates witty and light-hearted nuggets of wisdom and political savvy in a heavy Iranian accent while stroking his long, bushy beard.

Anyone hoping for success in Iraq should thank their lucky stars for the existence of a man like Sistani at this historical juncture.

Sistani and the marji�ya in Najaf are a pillar of Iraqi civil society. They do not wield political authority or seek it, but they have immense influence on those who do, perfectly in line with the very essence of the Iraqi perception of civil society institutions. The pope sitting in the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church do not run Italy�s customs offices, but they certainly carry clout and can make themselves heard in the same manner as the socialist-controlled trade unions. Understanding the intricacies of marji�ya and how it works may be too much to ask of Western journalists and stringers sniffing around for stories in liberated Iraq, but they can see the marji�ya in action when even a hint of Sistani�s opinion on a certain matter can send hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demonstrating peacefully on Baghdad�s streets.

And Sistani wants them to demonstrate and support the vision he shares with the Bush administration: a peaceful, democratic, and just Iraq. This vision is anathema to the fellows running the insurgency, or in other words, the Sunnis. Their power structure and monopoly of all facets of the state, inherited from their role as flunkies for the Ottoman Empire and then on from their role as willing �collaborators� with the British occupation post�World War I, has totally collapsed. They found themselves in a world that they cannot understand. Their surnames,Tikriti, Rawi, Aani, Duleimi and their earlier versions, Pachachi, Kaylani, and Al-Sadoun, no longer ring of authority.

But the concept of power is undergoing a paradigm shift in the Middle East, and Iraq is the first Arab incubator for this newborn revolution. Power now is all about votes and voter turnout.

The Arab Shias of Iraq are the majority sect in their country, whatever the Sunnis claim to the contrary.And not for lack of trying; the Sunni sectarian apartheid regime deported hundreds of thousands and experimented with outright genocide to bring down Shia numbers. This particular fear of the �Shia majority� is precisely why the Arab Sunnis are terrified of elections � la the new American promises of democracy. The Sunni agenda is thus muddled and riddled with confusion and a sense of shock at losing power. It is an agenda rooted in fear of the future and that fear turns them into hesitant and resentful partners in a new and democratic Iraq, an Iraq they do not recognize and, as yet, understand.

The Shias have sighted the Promised Land of democracy over the horizon and, shepherded by Sistani, are ready to subscribe to P. Diddy�s dictum of Vote or Die. Of course, they can also get to power through the short-cut of civil war and its evil logic of killing more of the other side and winning. The Sunnis, in desperation, have tried to lure the Shias into that time-buying gambit. What happened during the religious commemoration of Ashura within the holy shrines of Kazimayn and Kerbala last year was an event as traumatic and dangerous as September 11, 2001, from the perspective of Shias worldwide. It is as if a terrorist blew up the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Were it not for a fatwa from Sistani calming people down and instructing them not to take out their justified anger on their Sunni brethren, then that event would have been the spark of a civil war that would have seen the Sunnis evicted from Baghdad and witnessed the consequential dismemberment of Iraq. Recent fatwas against vigilante action in the newly-labeled Triangle of Death north of Babil province, where Sunnis and Shias live side by side, have also averted a disaster.

An Islamic Democracy for Iraq? (IAN BURUMA , 12/05/04, NY Times Magazine)

Is ''Islamic democracy'' really possible? Or is it something meaningless, like ''Jewish science,'' say, or contradictory, like ''people's democracy'' under Communism? This is the question that will determine the future of Iraq, since the man with the greatest credibility in that broken country is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite cleric, who refuses to run for office himself but says that he supports the idea of Islamic democracy.

The ayatollah insists that an Iraqi constituent assembly must be chosen through direct elections and that ''any basic law written by this assembly must be approved by a national referendum.'' He makes only cursory reference to Koranic law as the basis for that legal code. Any attempts to postpone general elections because of security concerns, especially in the Sunni areas, have also been fiercely resisted. In mid-October, he issued a fatwa requiring all men and women to vote, equating voting with such basic religious duties as fasting during Ramadan. It is the duty of the Shiites, according to the ayatollah, to protect Sunni and Christian interests as well. And although he opposed a plan to allow Kurds, who make up 15 to 20 percent of the Iraqi population, veto power over the constitution, he has not squelched Kurdish hopes of preserving some degree of autonomy under a new government. All these are fine words, of course, yet to be tested in reality. But they are remarkable words for a Shiite cleric born in Iran and should be taken seriously.

Despite the recent surge of conservative Christian activism in the United States, the received opinion in the Western world is that in democracies, church and state do not mix. Islam, we are often told, is particularly unsuited to democracy because in Muslim countries the state was never untangled from the clergy. But Iraq was supposed to be a special case, because it was largely secular. In fact, both these assertions were too sweeping. Muslims have rarely been ruled by clerics. Worldly and spiritual authority have usually been kept separate in the Middle East. And until not so long ago, religious minorities, like Jews, were treated with more tolerance in the Muslim world than in Christendom. When worldly authority becomes intolerably oppressive, however, religion is often the only base of resistance. Such was the case in Poland under Communist rule, when the Catholic Church provided a source of dissent. Under Saddam Hussein, the mosque had begun to play a similar role. Political Islam was a way to fight back against secular Baathism, and Ali al-Sistani was its main Shiite spokesman. The pope played a somewhat comparable role under Communism. [...]

Ayatollah Khomeini was not acting as a traditional Shiite cleric but as a modern revolutionary who took power as a political strongman. And in the eyes of many believers, his worldly dictatorship in Iran undermined his stature as a religious figure, since mullahs are not supposed to act like politicians. Osama bin Laden is an amateur priest with more knowledge of Swiss bank transfers and media manipulation than of the intricacies of Islam. It would be hard to find a serious Muslim cleric or scholar who respects him.

It may be useful to reflect for a moment on how the West itself has coped with religion. The separation of church and state was indeed a necessary condition for democratic development in Europe and the United States, but the separation has never been absolute. Britain's constitutional arrangements include organized religion: the monarch is the protector of the Anglican faith. This may now be nothing more than a formality, but in continental European politics Christian democratic parties are still the mainstream. The first such party, the Anti-Revolutionary Party, was founded in 1879 by a Calvinist ex-pastor in the Netherlands named Abraham Kuyper. His aim was to restore God (not the church) as the absolute sovereign over human affairs. Only if secular government was firmly embedded in the Christian faith could its democratic institutions survive. That is what he believed and what Christian Democrats still believe.

The coming of Shia Iraq: After 500 years of Sunni rule, Iraq's election will finally hand power to the Shia majority. (Bartle Bull, November 2004, Prospect)

Iraq's Shias have lived under mostly Sunni rule since their first imam, Ali, was deposed from the caliphate in 657, 25 years after the death of Muhammad. The Ottoman conquest in 1534 brought rule by local Sunnis in the service of the global caliphate based in Istanbul. When the British were given the mandate to rule in 1920, they relied on Sunnis. In 1932, when Iraq was granted independence, the British brought in a Sunni monarchy. Sunni officers overthrew the monarchy in 1958 and Saddam's Ba'ath party took over in 1968. (Saddam, already effective leader, became president 11 years later.) He ruled for 30 years with his Sunni clique of national socialists and tribal cronies. After these five centuries of subordination, there is today a wrenching urgency in Shia politics. The long wait may finally be over.

The Sunni position is equally inflamed by the past. After five centuries of rule, the Sunnis hate the sudden prospect of relegation to a parliamentary presence not much larger than that of Britain's Liberal Democrats. Iraq's Sunnis have already lost the material privileges - better jobs, places at universities, more services in their towns - that Saddam gave them for 30-odd years. Predictably, it is those who have lost most who are reacting most violently to the notion of ratifying these changes in January: senior party officials, clansmen from Saddam's home town of Tikrit, members high and low of Saddam's enormous apparatus of violence, residents of isolated Sunni pockets such as the Bermuda triangle towns.

A relatively orderly autumn means elections in January. For the Ba'athists and Salafis - the revanchist outlaws and the Islamist fundamentalists - who perpetrate Iraq's Sunni violence, such an outcome is unacceptable. Chaos is what they need.

Thus Sunni violence is more a matter of terrorism than of insurgency. It is Sunnis who carry out the spectacular, media-driven acts of violence: the car bombs, the suicide attacks on queues of police recruits or children celebrating a new sewage facility, the abduction of aid workers, the assassination of foreign workers like Ken Bigley who are helping to rebuild the country. For the Ba'athists and Salafis, tiny and electorally hopeless minorities within a larger Sunni minority, driving out the occupation is not the priority. It gives them their raison d'�tre, and in Falluja it has even given them salaries and uniforms. Their real target is the reconstruction of Iraq.

This should not be a surprise. For the Sunni extremists, and for the moderates who collude with their silent support, Iraq is a Shia country waiting to happen. Nobody - not the Baghdad government, the occupation, the UN, the Shias themselves - is explaining to them that "democracy" does not have to mean the "tyranny of the majority." Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the 74-year-old grand spiritual leader of the Shias, contributed to the Sunni fears this summer by insisting that the UN resolution laying out a framework for the occupation and the electoral and constitutional processes ignore Iraq's federalist interim constitution. He has since made noises about minority rights under a Shia-dominated democracy, but Sunnis remain profoundly worried.

The Shia violence in Iraq is very different from the Sunni version. It is truly an insurgency. Instead of targeting Iraqis, aid workers, lorry drivers and infrastructure, it targets occupation forces. The weapons of the Shia insurrection are Kalashnikovs and modified Katyusha launch tubes - rather than the car bomb and the camcorder. During the last Najaf siege, a British journalist and French documentary-maker were kidnapped by Shias in separate incidents in southern Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr quickly secured their release. When Shias near Basra started attacking the oil pipelines, Muqtada's office in Najaf made them stop. The Shia rebels want the occupation out but they share the occupation's main objective: a stable, democratic Iraq.

Muqtada's forces are called the Mahdi army and the black they wear is the colour of the Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi. The last of the Shias' 12 imams, the Mahdi disappeared in an act of divine concealment in Samarra in the 9th century. His return, when it comes, will bring an age of justice.

Until then, Shiism must define itself by grievance. The faith began with the rejection, betrayal, and murder of Imam Ali by Muslim political rivals in the 7th century. Ali's followers claimed that Ali, as Muhammad's closest male relative, should have been ruler of the Islamic community. Thus for the next thousand years the world of Islam was ruled by a series of caliphs whose power the Shias considered illegitimate. According to the Shias, all but one of their 12 imams - Ali and his heirs - were murdered by the Sunni caliphs. The final imam was the only one to escape: the Mahdi, hidden by God, until whose return there can be no justice.

What the Mullahs Learned From the Neighbors (KENNETH M. POLLACK, November 9, 2004, NY Times)

Beware the siren song of easy regime change. Throughout the 1990's, many Americans claimed that Saddam Hussein's regime was so hated by the Iraqi people that merely committing our foreign policy to regime change, arming a small band of insurgents and perhaps providing them with air support would be enough to topple the government. In the end, of course, it required a full-scale ground invasion to do so, and even the size of that effort has proved inadequate.

Similarly, there is good evidence that most Iranians want a different form of government, but there is little evidence that they are ready to take up arms against their rulers. Most Iranians simply don't want to go through another revolution. While Iranians on the whole are probably the most pro-American Muslims in the region, they are also fiercely nationalistic. Given our experience in Iraq, we should assume they would resist any effort by America to interfere in their domestic affairs.

Iraq's New Power Couple: The Americans, and the interim Iraqi government, would do well to stop seeing Moktada al-Sadr and Ahmad Chalabi as enemies and work with them to build a free Iraq. (BARTLE BREESE BULL, 10/15/04, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 8, 2006 12:43 PM

A huge amount of writing and speculation. If amadinejad sets off one nuke, it will all be moot, because it will all be ended by a couple Ohio class boats.

Posted by: M. Murcek at August 8, 2006 2:40 PM

M.: One. Each carries about 100-120 warheads.

Posted by: Bob at August 8, 2006 2:43 PM

Ditto if Grand Fenwick does and equally possible.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 2:44 PM

The Shia, which as many an American Christian I respect as much as any other Islamic sect, should be free to practice their religion without sectarian strife. It threatens Sunni thought in the same way as Protestantism threatened Catholicism back in the day, yet both still exist.

And then there is the other brother, Judaism. It's a contentious mix, but you're all Semitic. So get used to it.

The idea that a fight still exists over religion sickens me. What makes me even sicker is the thought that simple diplomacy will solve this. An Ecumenical Council would be more in order.

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 8, 2006 3:18 PM

Why "solve" it? When the Messiah comes He'll tell us which of the three had it right.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 3:22 PM

Because he ain't coming.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 8, 2006 3:41 PM

If He actually did intervene, it would be decided. But the Almightly still appears to rely on Man to do the dirty stuff.

I don't think God plays favorites. He doesn't even play. He just watches. What a voyeur.

Insofar as God has opted out, we must solve this is in human terms, which are never entirely charitable.

The Messiah is chilling in the Caribbean.

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 8, 2006 3:44 PM

This wonderful Shiism in which you have such high hopes sound great. Of course, what we're dealing with is Khomeini-ism (granting the claim that it is a heresy--a claim that I'm not qualified to judge), which ain't so great.

Ed: To paraphrase Steinbeck, what you should fear is when there is no more fighting over religion, because that will mean no one believes in anything anymore.

Posted by: b at August 8, 2006 3:44 PM


Yes, Iran needs a few reforms. They aren't hard.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 3:47 PM


That's not what America is premised on nor what we believe. Indeed, societies that aren't messianistic don't seem to be worth a bowl of warm spit.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 3:49 PM

@oj: Abu likes what you say. When Abu first read it he understood that you said, that the Messiah will declare all 3 to be right.

Abu liked that thought and wrote the following text:

"When the Messiah comes - suppose for the sake of argument that the Infidels and the Zionists had a the same concept of Messiah as Abu has - we will have, according to you the following situation.

  • Group A says: B and C are wrong, A is right.
  • Group B says: A and C are wrong, B is right.
  • Group C says: A and B are wrong, C is right.

The Messiah comes and declares them all 3 to be right. And so, to quote the Infidel author Douglas Adams, they alle vanish 'in a puff of logic'."

But then Abu read your post again, and Abu has to write this: If the Messiah comes, the style of his coming will already have shown who is right!

Posted by: Abu at August 8, 2006 4:00 PM

Exactly. And the style could well demonstrate all three to be right. Christ and Allah, after all, just brought Judaism to gentiles.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 4:04 PM

Allah brought Judaism to the gentiles? That's not what Allah says.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct at August 8, 2006 4:52 PM

Yes, He does.

[29:46] Do not argue with the people of the scripture (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) except in the nicest possible manner - unless they transgress - and say, "We believe in what was revealed to us and in what was revealed to you, and our god and your god is one and the same; to Him we are submitters."

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 4:55 PM

A Judaism unfamiliar to the jews. Christianity was a Jewish sect, Islam was set against the jews from it's beginning.Mohammad, unfamiliar with Judaism, presented himself a culmination of prophecy. The Jews laughed at him. Mahammad killed them.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct at August 8, 2006 5:04 PM

Christ was the fulfillment--which is why Jews killed Him and we kill Jews and Muslims. It'll all come out in the wash.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 5:09 PM

So, Jesus was a Jew killer?

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct at August 8, 2006 5:46 PM

And vice versa.

49 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be
already kindled?

50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened
till it be accomplished!

51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay;
but rather division:

52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three
against two, and two against three.

53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the
father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the
mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter
in law against her mother in law.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 6:07 PM

Re: August 22-Bernard Lewis article

...prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending...

I don't know how the Arabs can claim this. There is no mention of Jerusalem anywhere in the Koran, whereas it is mentioned 667 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. There is no historical evidence Mohammed ever came close to Jerusalem or ever intended to.

Posted by: Tom Wall at August 8, 2006 6:11 PM

Muslims prayers were initially directed towards it in accord with Jewish tradition.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 6:23 PM

August 22:

But they've had five opportunities to commemorate the anniversary of the 22 Jumada ath Thani victory over the Great Satan, and passed all those up, too.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 8, 2006 7:36 PM

oj-Muslim prayers were originally directed toward Jerusalem before Mohammad was laughed out of Mecca (he thouhgt he could convince the Jews to abandon their religion). Once he returned as a conquering warlord and killed the Jews who rejected him, the direction of prayers changed. He wanted tribute from the Jews and Christians as a worldly ruler/prophet. His misunderstanding of Jewish and Christian theology was profound. He understood war, banditry and power as reflected in his bizzar and contradictory 'revelation'. Quoting the Q'ran is fun. It can be used to support almost anything.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at August 8, 2006 8:20 PM

Precisely--Islam is Judaism.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2006 8:42 PM

I am most appreciative of the opportunity to explore the pureported "religious" or "sectarian" distinctions between Shiite and Sunni Islam. Surely the books and articles assembled in the foregoing will shed some light on the subject, if there is any light to be shed.

We should approach the question of the existence of such distinctions with an open mind, one last time, for all that the search for such theological differences has been heretofore fruitless.

One of the above pieces notes that Islam, generally, is ". . .by nature, totalitarian, a statist religion," holding out only the wishful hope that only because it has not heretofore enjoued the power to dominate, it would not do so if given the chance. Thus we are treated to the naked wishful thought that Shia ". . .could be susceptible to the ideology of separation" [of church and state].

If there is no more to it that that, we must rely on credible deterrence to get us past the rocks and shoals, which means being ready to see the RoP, religion of peace, changed into the SoG, sea of glass. Pray for peace and keep those nuke boats handy.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 9, 2006 4:54 AM

Yes, oj. I always look to the Torah or the NT when guidance is required regarding hostage taking, ransom the division of booty.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at August 9, 2006 11:38 AM


We all do--it's a Christian culture.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2006 12:05 PM


Exactly. When Jews and Christians took temporal power the Church was part of an authoritarian sytem. Fortunately we were able to Reform both religions. The Shi'a have the good fortune to be coming to power after the efficacy of that Reformation has been demonstrated. The Sunni will need to be Reformed.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2006 12:10 PM

oj-Speak for yourself.When 'Jews and Christians took temporal power'..., authority was a strictly local affair with general guidance coming from the top-down.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at August 9, 2006 12:40 PM

As opposed to?

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2006 12:51 PM

A centralized,totalitarian, theocratic state.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct at August 9, 2006 3:09 PM

Oh, sorry, I thought we were discussing reality, not Tom's Islamophobic dreams.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2006 3:43 PM


Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct at August 9, 2006 3:47 PM