Saturday, April 26, 2003

Fadlallah on primetime
On Thursday evening, the senior Lebanese Shiite cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, was interviewed on the local Lebanese LBCI channel by Marcel Ghanem. Fadlallah, who was born and educated in Najaf in Iraq, is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a "Hizbullah leader", or some such description. As noted in an earlier posting a few days ago, the description is wrong.

Fadlallah was asked whether he would return to Najaf, and he responded he would not while the American occupation continued. That was predictable enough, particularly as we can recall that the U.S. tried to have him killed in the mid-1980s when it parked a car-bomb (according to Bob Woodward, with Saudi assistance) near his home in Beirut's southern suburbs.

However, Fadlallah said several other things that were interesting inasmuch as they reflected an implicit desire on his part to play a role in Shiite clerical politics in postwar Iraq. When he was asked by Ghanem whether Najaf would again be a point of reference for Shiites, he responded that while, indeed, Najaf and its religious schools and Imams had a venerable history as a point of religious reference, these could also exist elsewhere, including Lebanon (and he gave the example of the Lebanese cleric Muhsin al-Amin). He did add, however, that Najaf had returned to "its natural position" as a source of reference. In this way Fadlallah seemed to grant himself a double legitimacy, both as a Lebanese and a Najafi religious scholar of reference (marja' in Arabic)

Fadlallah also played down the differences among Najafi Shiite clerics, and made the rather odd claim that the death of Abdel Majid al-Kho'i might have been an accident. He also played down threats against certain Najafi clerics, including Ali Sistani, reportedly from the followers of Muqtadah al-Sadr. And to sound even more reassuring, he underlined there would probably be no discord between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, arguing that Shiites only wanted to be equal citizens in a unified Iraqi state, not dominators.

I report this only to underline that all that sounded like part of a campaign platform by someone who realizes he might have an electorate and a balancing role in the religious politics of postwar Iraq.

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