Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Shia Myth

I was watching SecState Rice's speech in Paris on c-span.org (is it too obvious that I really like Condi Rice? Oh, btw, check out Dick Morris) and the first question she got after her prepared remarks was from a student who asked: "Iraq Shiites want Islam to be the only source of legislation. Do you think it's a positive thing?" Rice gave a very good, diplomatic answer, touching on all points of the unfolding political scene in Iraq.

But I wish she would have instead come out and said, "There is this myth that Iraq Shia want what Iran has. They want, the myth goes, a rule of law based upon a strict interpretation of the sharia, the Islamic law. Let me repeat, this is a myth." It seems as if it's become common knowledge that Iraqi Shia want to import an Iranian-style of governance now that they will eventually hold a majority in the transitional government. But anyone that has followed the Iraqi political process unfold since April 2003 certainly knows that the Iraqi Shia have looked to Ayatollah Ali Sistani, their leading cleric and probably the most influential religious/political figure in Iraq, for guidance and leadership in their new, post-Saddam Iraq. And any observer also knows that Sistani has declared time and again that he does not wish to see religion and politics mix in a new Iraqi government. Sistani wants the antithesis of what's in Iran.

Yet, in the wake of the Jan. 30 elections and subsequent assertion of Shia political power in the new government, uninformed voices and naysayers have reignited the Shia-impose-the-sharia myth. They've worried out loud so much so that Sistani's representatives have had to put the rumors to rest (hat tip - Barcepundit):

"Hamed Khafaf said Ayatollah Ali Sistani believes Iraq's new constitution should respect what he described as the Islamic cultural identity of Iraqis. Shia success in the election led to speculation that the ayatollah wanted a constitution based on Sharia law. Mr Khafaf said the speculation was baseless.

"He insisted that Ayatollah Sistani's position had not changed. In Ayatollah Sistani's view, his spokesman went on to say, it was up to the elected representatives of the people in the new National Assembly to decide the details."

But I think as this process moves ahead, we're going to have to get used to all the worrying, second guessing, and doubting. Should be fun to watch, though!

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