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March 19, 2003

The Arabs are not monolithic

Sizing up the Shiites

Everyone , when considering the democratization of Iraq, always wonders about the relationship of the Shiites in southern Iraq to the Shiites in Iran. Here are a two articles to set the record straight.

Stephen Schwartz says Fear Not the Shias, their tradition recognizes the rights of minorities, because they have always been a minority.
The simple truth, recognized by every Shia community and religious leader in America, is that the Shia Muslims suffer from a terrible public image. Shias are labeled wholesale in the Western media, and in the high circles of the State Department, as suicide bombers. This problem dates, naturally, from Khomeini's revolution in Iran in 1979 and the seizing of U.S. hostages, an unhealed wound in the minds of most Americans. For the New York print media, as well as the functionaries at State, sorting out the differences among Iraqi Muslims, and moving past the shallow assumption that all Arab Muslims are anti-American, is too big a job. In recent weeks, anti-Shia propaganda has emerged as a staple of the liberal media, full of dire predictions that the fall of the Butcher of Baghdad will result in Iraq's being torn apart, as Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds fight each other for power.
Yitzhak Nakash writing for the Washington Institute in an article entitled The Shi'is and the Future of Iraq
The prospect of American military action in Iraq has raised concerns that dismantling the Ba'ath regime will weaken the state and spur the defection of its Shi'i majority under the influence of Iran. Yet, much of the pessimism surrounding this assessment obscures the historical role that the Shi'i community has played in supporting the Iraqi state, not to mention the vital interest it has in preserving the country's territorial integrity. If war in Iraq leads to a more representative government that is willing to address Shi'i political aspirations, the likely result would be stability and the establishment of a more moderate religious leadership quite different from that seen in Iran.