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Moving into the Shi'a Power Grid


Monday, June 16, 2008


My mentorship 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 underway.

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 see it.

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 military assets.

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. smile

Tammy Swofford


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 blogs.

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