Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"the greater freedom which is martyrdom"

Those are words from Ayatollah Khomeni. He combined Marxist revolution theory with Shiite fundamentalist religion and took over the government of Iran. Most traditional Shiites don't believe that clerics should be in government. It was these revolutionary mullahs who invented suicide bombers, now being used by Muslim terrorists to send weak-minded ideologues to their death regardless of Shia or Sunni.

The stuff we see being reported from Iraq and Palestine pays little attention to the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites. Vali Nasr's thesis is that the division is much deeper and mover divisive that the West realizes and that the U.S., by deposing Saddam and imposing one-person-one-vote elections, has let the Shias feel the powere of their numbers and that there is no going back. He predicts that if they can't work out a stable system in Iraq which governs according to democratic principles, read "Shiite majority", it will be likely to produce a struggle between Iran and Shiite communities elsewhere against the Sunnis who are mostly Arabs. It could engulf the entire Muslim world.

The question is whether we can direct matters, or will get dragged along by them. We won't want to choose between Shia and Sunni, but we may not have a choice. Our principles most closely align with those of Ayatollah Sistani, but Saudi Arabis is the home of Sunni fundamentalism which considers Shiism as apostasy and worse than being Christian or Jewish. Iraqis are Arabs but the Shiites have many ties to Iran and other Shia communities. They live on top of great oil reserves, and therefore threaten the Sunnis who have governed in the past, and assume that being "true" Muslims entitles them to do so forever.

Nasr says this is why the Iranians really want nuclear weapons, to balance out the "Sunni bomb," developed by Pakistan. I've seen a documentary about A. Q. Khan and his network of Muslim states with whom he shared the secrets of building a bomb. If he discriminated between Sunnis and Shiites, it wasn't mentioned.

Nasr's version of things is logically consistent with facts, but also with the view that terrorist fundamentalists don't care about sectarian jealousies when it comes to attacking Western societies. The trick, it seems to be will be keeping an eye on both as we apply pressure to adopt democratic politics on Islam. In most ways, we have already accomplished ninety percent of what we can realistically hope to. The sight of Iraqis voting has inspired Muslim populations around the world to wonder why they can't do the same. If we left Iraq tomorrow, that would still be a problem for the authoritarian Muslim regimes everywhere. But if we did, the Iraqi government is still too weak to stand against outside powers who will want to define its direction.

We must help the regime gain strength but not allow ourselves to get sucked into the sectarian battles between Sunni extremists and Shiite groups like Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Militia. By backing the government, we will be both supporting and opposing both sects. Will we be able to hold that line? What will happen if we follow the demands of Democrats like John Murtha and Nancy Pelosi? I guess that depends on whether we can live with scenes, not just of random violence, but of full scale civil war involving all the neighboring states.


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