March 20, 2005

Mr. Sistani Goes To Lebanon

I was trying to read up a bit on Iraq earlier today, since it's sort of dropped off my radar of late, and there are a lot of fascinating things going on there that don't all have to do with the current parliamentary gridlock going on. More on that tomorrow, but first, a bit of an arcane musing below the fold.

One of the big expectations for the rise of the Shiites in Iraq is that their grand seminary in Najaf, led by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, will offer a kinder, gentler alternative to the influence of the seminary in Qom, Iran. The Qom school, of course, is the big clearing-house for Khomeini's old brand of Shiism, which advocates messianic revolution and clerical involvement in politics, somewhat nasty stuff. So a democratic Shiite Iraq would possibly be a force for good and moderation in Iran. That theory's always sounded plausible to me, even though I think some of the not-overly-clerical leaders in Iran—like Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i, whose scholarly credentials are kind of thin—would actually love to see Qom take a beating. But whatever.

Anyway, couldn't something similar happen with Lebanon? I don't know a lot about the Lebanese Shiites, but Sheikh Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah is the top dog over there, and the spiritual leader of Hizbullah, and quite the little radical, advocating jihad against Americans in Iraq among other fun activities. Now at one time Fadlallah took marching orders from Khomeini in Iran, but after the death of the latter, Fadlallah sort of thumbed his nose at the upstart Khamene'i and decided to get more involved in his own country's politics. Still, from what I've read, his big dream has always been to make Lebanon the center of his own radical brand of Arab Shi'ism.

But Fadlallah's big dream might not be so feasible anymore. Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq has a fair bit of sway among Lebanon's Shi'ites, who make up maybe 35-45 percent of the country, and rumor had it that pro-Sistani Lebanese were taking part in the anti-Syrian protests, rather than siding with the Hizbullah rallies. Sistani, I think, isn't too fond of Hizbullah and has warned them to keep their filthy hands out of Iraq, so there might be some tension there, I don't know.

Anyway, this is all minutiae, sorry. But the rise of "quietest" Shiism in Iraq will be something to watch if—and let's italicize that if—if Iraq comes out of this "drafting a constitution" thing in one piece. And, judging from recent bombings and the like, if Lebanon survives its own elections. I hope so.

Continue reading "Sistani Goes To Lebanon"
-- Brad Plumer 2:55 AM || ||