Moving into the Shi'a Power Grid
Monday, June 16, 2008
in Islam was heavily intellectually steeped with both a complete reading of the
Qur'an and overview of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. Book-ended to this
study is my own continued research into usool al-fiqh, other sources of Islamic
law such as ijmaa' and qiyaas. Many of the books by Islamic authors who grace
my shelves are strict constructionists of Sunni thought. These are scholars who
invoke the name of Allah over the arrow for the hunt, the dog of the chase, and
finally, the slaughter. They maintain abiding habits for prayer, family life
and business practice. They do not celebrate their children's birthdays and
disdain their passports, albeit sporting one. They worry about how to pray five
times a day when incapacitated by illness and brood over thoughts of Hell. They
live in a world you do not understand. Their world is very real to them.
But the Shi'a power grid which was not adequately considered prior to entering
Iraq. The deficits within the writings of some of the Western analyst community
shows up subtly, as noncapture of the essence of Eastern political thought.
This is especially true when considering chain of command structures, their
evolution and practical application in the daily lives of the Ummah.
The Baath party government structure in Iraq sprang from the guardianship of
the thoughts of two men, Michel Aflaq and Salah-al-Bitar. This political model
formed the basis for the government of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni from Tikrit. The
Sunni maintained a minority demographic subjugation of a majority Shi'a
population with an iron fist. History cannot change the facts. Shi'ites were slapped
around by the Baath party members. Our successful military push to Baghdad and
toppling of the government of Saddam Hussein took two weeks. The Shi'a
celebrated in the streets and the Sunni quietly watched. But the law of
unintended consequences plagues us today. The change in political landscape
brought Shi'a political gain which Iran quickly turned to their own advantage
as a bordering nation with a Shi'a majority. A Shi'a Renaissance is now
Missed within this pivotal timeline of entry into Iraq was lack of recognition
of the Shi'a command structure in place moving through Grand Ayatollah
al-Sistani of Najaf and the other Ayatollahs of the region both within and
outside Iraq's sovereign borders. There was an elephant in the room. We did not
As in all things, once policy is engaged and a course of action chosen it
remains for our administration to examine the fruits of their labor, debrief
and adjust or realign future decisions. We are at a critical moment in time.
Our next president will inherit a heavy burden of responsibility to determine
"what next" for Iraq, Afghanistan, and the management of our global
In moving to the Shi'a side of the house only recently, I will do my best to
educate you. My gratitude continues to be extended to each Islamic scholar who
has provided cultural learning. "Baby steps" yet my perspective has
greater intellectual capture today than a year ago. I will attempt to deal with
our own Western myopia on the level of my own knowlege. The Islamic world
beyond our borders has been in existence for centuries. In the next few decades
the potential for a dramatic and possibly unpleasant interface between East and
West is a distinct reality. Military strength must combine with turbo diplomacy.
But turbo diplomacy is exhibited by a bridled strength and passion carried on
the shoulders of men and women who have grasped the basic elements of thought
in the countries with which America wishes to interface. Bluntly stated, we owe
it to both friend and foe to give them the respect of a fair intellectual fight
at the negotiation table. While finding that "the other guy" has read
Shakespeare, Rousseau, and Churchill, some of "our guys" haven't made
it past Islam 101. Intellectual laziness all around.
The Shi'a have a firm tradition that the jurist rules over the king. We worked
very hard to see a new Constitution set in place in Iraq. But within the Shi'a
community the influence of an Ayatollah is something that moves forward not by
mere pen, but oral tradition and precedence. The constitution, penal code and
daily workings of the letter of the law within the parliamentary body pale by
comparison to the spirit of the law felt in the bone marrow of a Shi'a when
considering the guidance and allegiance to the Ayatollah they follow. The
validity of belief is found in Al-Ahzab 6 with these words, "The Prophet
has greater claim on the faithful than they have on themselves...." So
Divine authority flows from Allah, through Prophet Muhammad, and on to the
Imam, who is considered divinely appointed. Allah, Prophet Muhammad and the
Imam are the Wali (or guardian) of the Shi'a.
The very word "Ayatollah" creates a visceral response in Americans.
Remembering the heady days of the Iranian revolution with our hostages paraded
about the streets of Tehran still makes me want to spit on the floor. But then
I remember that if I spit, I have to clean it up. So as we move forward this
week in discussing the Ayatollah structure remember that as we engage Islamic
Distance Learning that I move freely giving rank and title without a hang-up.
So if you want to "spit" a bit, the spitting post will be Haloscan.
Tammy Swofford: BSN University Texas at
Arlington, Lieutenant Commander, USNR. Journalism: Ed-op commentary: Irving
Morning News.(2003-2004) Articles and book reviews: The Marine Corps Gazette.
Moderate independent concerned with cultural and societal aspects of American
life. Believes in free speech! Tom Gordon: What can be said? Just read his