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From Lebanon to Central Asia, the rise of Shia Muslims ^ | August 8, 2006 | Sandro Magister

Posted on 08/08/2006 10:11:32 AM PDT by NYer

ROMA, August 8, 2006 – 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.

Nasr argues that the United States must accept that Iran is going to play the role of regional power and ought to start talks with its leaders. Instead of trying to overthrow the regime in Tehran, it should work in ways to contain it.

In other words, Nasr is suggesting the US follow a realist policy of “containment.” This runs against the advice proffered by Bernard Lewis, an Islamic history specialist and hitherto the neo-Conservative voice with the greatest influence in the Bush administration, his idea being that the democratization of Iraq would lead to the collapse of neighboring dictatorships, first of all that of Iran.

In Nasr’s opinion, US policy has created in Iraq the first Shia-dominated Arab state, and this has unleashed the aspirations of 150 million Shiites around the world, and yet U.S. policy is still operating under the “old paradigm” based on Sunni predominance in the “Great Middle East”.

The Sunni-Shia split goes back to Muhammad’s death and the problem of his succession. Those who became “Shiites” were initially “Shi`at `Ali”, i.e. followers of Ali (in Arabic), the prophet’s son-in-law. Ali’s adversaries were able though to prevail and appoint the first three caliphs before he finally donned the prophet’s mantle. But in the end, he was still killed. His son Hussein was defeated and killed as well. But his martyrdom in what is now Iraq has left an indelible mark in Shiites’ memory – the commemoration of his death constitutes the most solemn religious observance in the Shia calendar. In addition to the issue of succession, Sunnis and Shiites come down on different sides on important matters of doctrine to the extent that some radical Sunni groups consider Shiites heretical.

In his “Foreign Affairs” essay, Nasr provides the following percentages indicating the size of the Shia population in various countries:

Iran 90 %
Azerbaijan 75%
Bahrain 75%
Iraq 65%
Lebanon 45%
Kuwait 30%
Pakistan 20%
Afghanistan 19%
Qatar 16%
Saudi Arabia 10%
United Arab Emirates 6%
Syria 1%

These percentages include only the main Twelver branch of Shia Islam. Other Shia groups include Alevis, well-represented in Turkey; Alawis, who run Syria thanks to the Assad clan, and the Ismailis, who recognize the Aga Khan as their leader and have a large community in Afghanistan and even a larger one in Pakistan.

The Holy See and Iran have regular diplomatic relations. Traditionally, Vatican diplomacy has been closer to the realist approach advocated by Vali Nasr rather than the “regime change” policy associated with US neo-conservatives.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; Philosophy; Politics/Elections; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: asia; bush; centralasia; eurasia; globaljihad; gwot; iran; islam; islamicterrorism; lebanon; muslim; religionofpeace; rop; shia; trop; us; waronterror; wot
Net surfers can read Nasr’s entire essay in the July-August issue of “Foreign Affairs” by visiting its website:

> “When the Shiites Rise”, by Vali Nasr
1 posted on 08/08/2006 10:11:34 AM PDT by NYer
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To: SJackson
Here is Khaled Fouad Allam’s editorial which appeared in “la Repubblica” on July 24, 2006:

Iran’s Hegemony

by Khaled Fouad Allam

One of the consequences of the ongoing conflict in Lebanon is a power shift between Shiites and Sunnis.

What is happening in Lebanon and the role Hezbollah is playing in it suggest that the unthinkable might be happening. Hezbollah seems in fact poised to succeed in what Khomeini himself failed to do whether in relation to the Palestinian question, which it is successfully turning into a Shia issue, or in terms of its role as the ideological vanguard of Khomeini’s revolution around the world.

In fact, while nationalism played a restraining role in Ayatollah Khomeini’s Shia revolution, Hezbollah threatens to carry the latter to most of the Middle East. The pan-Shia dream that was mothballed in the early nineties for pragmatic reasons is now being realized.

As a result of Hezbollah’s actions and the Iraq crisis, Iran’s Shiites have seen their position grow stronger. In an unprecedented turn of events in the history of the Islamic world, Iraq has suddenly become the second largest Shia country in the world. Ethnic differences between Iranian and Arab Shiites aside, Hezbollah is bringing the two sides together. Khomeini’s revolution is the basis of this convergence, a revolution which, lest we forget, was not born in the Iranian city of Qom but rather in the universities of the Iraqi city of Najaf.

Arab and Iranian Shia revolutionaries in fact share the same leader – Mohammed Bakr Sadr. He is the true father of the doctrine of the ‘government by the Jurisconsults’, in Arabic Wilayat al-Faqih, which was first elaborated in Najaf and is now embodied in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although Saddam Hussein had him killed in 1982, Sadr’s books are still bestsellers in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah’s activism has been fueled by this type of political writings. While it is true that in the last few years the self-styled Party of God has turned itself into a political party, albeit one with guns, and had members elected to parliament, it has never lost its transnational character.

Indeed, in modern Islam all religious political movements consider the nation-state a phase to be overcome and replaced by one, great transnational Ummah. For Sunnis this means restoring the caliphate; for Shiites it means setting up a state whose boundaries would go from Iran to Lebanon and include Iraq and Bahrain.

On the one hand, the ongoing conflict in Lebanon runs the risk of encouraging Sunni terrorism like that of al-Qaeda, which, in its public statements, still describes Shiites as heretics and considers their rising political power in Iraq as something illegitimate that must be smashed.

On the other hand, like in the early eighties right after the Iranian revolution, Shiites’ revolutionary activism still has a certain appeal even among Sunnis. For some Sunni ideologues, revolutionary Shiism can provide the model for an Islamic state, a dream that the Muslim Brotherhood has never been able to elaborate theoretically or turn into reality, but which now seems closer than ever.

A Shia-Sunni clash seems therefore a real possibility. All the regimes in place in the Middle East are alarmed by a pan-Shia breakthrough as well as Hezbollah monopolizing the Palestinian question, something which would draw Hamas into its sphere of influence. If twenty years ago Arab nationalism fueled the Palestinian resistance, now radical Shiism is taking the lead and turning it into a regional conflict. Organizationally, Hamas is already a carbon-copy of Hezbollah—its propaganda relaying the same revolutionary mystique. And for both, Israel should not exist.

But what appears most surprising is al-Qaeda’s silence, which speaks volumes about the situation in which it actually finds itself: between a rock and hard place. It failed to anticipate Hezbollah taking on Israel militarily and is now forced to compete against it on the same issue, namely the Palestinian question. With a different military-political strategy and propaganda, Hezbollah has been successful in bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to center stage and draw together various Mideast groups. Over the next few months, it is very likely that opposition between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah will intensify because of the total rejection of Shiism by al-Qaeda’s Salafi Sunnis.

This kind of confrontation could also spill over into Iraq where Muqtada al-Sadr’s militias are not that different from Hezbollah’s.

But the most important fact is that through Iraq, Iran’s position as ‘the’ Mideast regional power has been reinforced despite its tactical decision to play a low profile in the Iraqi conflict.

One reason for that is that in Iraq like in Lebanon radical Arab and Iranian Shiites are reinforcing each other and this has set off alarm bells in all of the region’s capitals.

Another one is that as a centuries-old power relationship collapsed in Baghdad in the spring of 2003, the danger that followed was no longer just one of rattling sabers but rather of something nuclear nightmares are made of.


Link to the newspaper where Khaled Fouad Allam is an editorial contributor:

> “la Repubblica”

2 posted on 08/08/2006 10:12:59 AM PDT by NYer
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To: NYer

Holy shiite!

3 posted on 08/08/2006 10:14:07 AM PDT by b4its2late (Liberals are as confused as a hungry baby in a topless bar.)
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To: american colleen; Lady In Blue; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; ...
Catholic Ping - Please freepmail me if you want on/off this list

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4 posted on 08/08/2006 10:14:17 AM PDT by NYer
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To: sergey1973


5 posted on 08/08/2006 10:38:20 AM PDT by Convert from ECUSA (The Arab League jihad continues on like a fart in an elevator - FR American in Israel)
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To: Jedi Master Pikachu; billl; garbageseeker; traviskicks; Mr.Smorch; DesScorp; DollyCali; ...

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6 posted on 08/08/2006 12:29:28 PM PDT by sergey1973
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To: Convert from ECUSA

Very interesting and analytical article--thanks for Pinging me on it !

I agree that more realistic approach needed in fighting the Global Jihad. The idea that democratic institutions, like free elections, will make the Islamic World civilized clearly unworkable. The elections of Hamas in "Palestinian Autonomy" and the electoral victory of Islamists in Algeria in 1992 (that was cancelled by Algerian military and followed by bloody civil war) are the perfect examples. Islamists are simply exploiting democratic institutions to gain power, so definitely the other approach is needed in dealing with Islamic world.

7 posted on 08/08/2006 12:36:09 PM PDT by sergey1973
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To: NYer

Its scary. A lot of these nations in Central Asia still house Russia's nuclear weapons and other WMD sites left over from the Cold war.

8 posted on 08/08/2006 1:20:21 PM PDT by garbageseeker (It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.ā€¯Samuel Clemmens)
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To: sergey1973

Traditionally, Vatican diplomacy has been closer to the realist approach advocated by Vali Nasr rather than the “regime change” policy associated with US neo-conservatives.

No offense but the Vatican coudn't orchestrate regime change in berkely let alone Iran.

9 posted on 08/08/2006 4:05:36 PM PDT by newfarm4000n (God Bless Taxpayers)
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