Fadlallah: Americans must be Forced to Withdraw
Just saw an interview on al-Jazeerah with the Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Husain Fadlallah, who has been in Beirut since 1965 but is from Najaf. (Fadlallah, an independent, has strained relations both with the ayatollahs in Iran and with the Hizbullah in Lebanon, though he may have been closer to the latter in the early 1980s).
The subtext of the interview was “why isn’t anyone doing anything about what those awful Americans are doing to the holy city of Najaf, which is an Arab as well as a Shiite issue?”
Fadlallah began by being defensive concerning Sistani’s absence in London and failure to condemn the American actions in Najaf in a straightforward way. The interviewer pulled him off that. Later on the issue came up of calls for Sistani to resign, and Fadlallah correctly pointed out that high Shiite authorities don’t resign, it isn’t that kind of position. He said he thought that the Marja`iyyah or highest Shiite leadership needed to become an institution, rather than remaining informal and personalistic. He said that the Muslim (read: Shiite) world faces many complex challenges and needs a means (presumably a bureaucracy and information-gathering) to confront them.
Fadlallah confirmed that he had called for the Iraqis to rise up and use all available means to force the Americans back out of Iraq. (I.e. he had done what a lot of Shiites think Sistani should have done. But note that the Mahdi Army hasn’t besieged Fadlallah’s house or tried to kill him, since he is safe in Beirut). Fadlallah declined to characterize his fatwa as a call to “jihad,” insisting that it was simply “confronting Occupation.” (In Shiite Islam, there are fairly strict legal conditions for jihad, and some scholars believe that no offensive holy war may be fought in the absence of an Imam– the last Imam is held by Twelver Shiites to have gone into a supernatural realm in the ninth century). He said that the United States forms the biggest threat to the Muslim world because it wants to dominate it for its own purposes. He subsumed the Palestinian issue under this general rubric.
He blamed Saddam on the Americans, characterizing him as a CIA employee, and then blamed the current situation on the Americans. (There is something wrong with this way of thinking, which refuses to acknowledge that US relations with the Baath Party had their ups and downs, to say the least).
A caller angrily denounced the high Shiite leadership for allowing Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement to be cast in a negative light, helping justify the American action against them. He cleverly compared this situation to what happened to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of the Prophet who is considered his first vicar by Shiites and his fourth by Sunnis. Ali was in conflict with Mu`awiyah of the Umayyad clan, and submitted to arbitration to avoid further bloodshed. The arbitration went badly for Ali, and a group of Ali’s followers (later termed Kharijites) turned against him, assassinating him in 661 A.D. So this caller cast Muqtada as an Ali figure, betrayed not only by outside forces (the Americans play the Umayyads) but also internal ones (thus Sistani and his people are the Kharijites).
Fadlallah rejected the caller’s assertions and reaffirmed his own opposition to Iraq’s occupation and alliance with all who work for an end to it. (This answer does not deal with the relative silence of Sistani and his colleagues).
Fadlallah has particular sway with the Shiite al-Da`wa Party in Iraq, or at least he was traditionally their favored grand ayatollah. So far, elements of the al-Da`wah are, however, cooperating with the US presence (Ibrahim Jaafari branch of the party, which had long been based in London).
There have been demonstrations in the past few days in Lebanon against US actions in Najaf. Last may 150,000 Shiites rallied in Beirut.
As prominent Lebanese religious personalities and local associations condemned the US occupation of the Iraqi city of Najaf on Friday, protestors against the actions of the US Army staged a sit-in near Al-Mansouri al-Kabir Mosque in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, calling for a boycott of the US.
The representative in Lebanon of Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr, Sheikh Hassan Zarqawi, described reports by the international media on Iraq as lies, fraud and deceit by a “media machine that is being controlled by Zionists.”
Zarqawi stressed that the attacks on Najaf were aimed at subjecting not only Sadr and his movement but the Iraqis as a whole.
Hundreds of both Sunni and Shiites protesters also demonstrated near the Qods Mosque in Sidon in southern Lebanon.
Religious preachers strongly denounced the Arab world’s neglect of the ongoing fighting in Iraq, praising the decision of Committee of Muslim Ulemas in Iraq to forbid any Iraqi from helping occupying forces in actions that led to the deaths of Muslims.
The president of the Islamic Tawhid Movement Council, Sheikh Hashem Menqara, urged leading personalities in the Arab and Islamic world to find a unified solution that would end “US-Israeli attacks on holy shrines.”
Shiite cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah called for a joining of forces in support of the Iraqis, stressing that maintaining silence meant “giving the green light to the US.”
I wish Sheikh Hassan Zarqawi would change his name quick. Some clueless Americans are inevitably going to confuse him with the violently anti-Shiite Sunni radical, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and then we will hear conspiracy theories in the Weekly Standard about Muqtada and al-Qaeda being in cahoots.
Fadlallah and al-Haeri (see below) may well see a rise in their prestige among Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere if Sistani is politically damaged by his failure to denounce the siege of Najaf.