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Speaker Introduction. Good evening. Its an honor to be here tonight at the World Affairs Councils. Many thanks for your warm words Lou, its very kind of you. A month before the January 2005 elections in Iraq, in a few days after gunmen brazenly shot to death election officials , in broad day light in the heart of Baghdad, the --- militant group issued a statement denouncing democracy as un-Islamic because it idealized human beings. Democracy, the statement said, is a Greek word indicating the rule of the people, which means that the people do as they see fit. This process of government is apostasy because it defies the Muslim doctrinal belief that sovereignty rests with God. This statement was endorsed by two other Sunni insurgent groups. It warned that anyone who participates in the elections will not be safe and was clearly aimed at countering the rulings of Shiite clerics that voting in the elections was duty of every Iraqi. Both this statement, and the mounting violence in Iraq in the period before and after the elections, underscored the fierce struggle that is raging today among Muslims for the soul of Islam, a struggle that is taking shape at a time when America is playing an increasingly assertive role in the Middle East. The outcome of this war of ideas within Islam will have a profound impact not only on the people of the Middle East, but also relations between the Muslim and Western societies. My book illuminates some of the historical and modern dimensions of this struggle by focusing on Shiis in the Arab world. Although Shiis constitute the minority sect of Islam, they form some 80% of the population of the oil rich and strategically important Persian Gulf. The book demonstrates the socio-political transformation experience of Arab Shies from the18th century up until the 2005 elections in Iraq. It captures the surge of Shiiism as a political force since the Iranian-Islamic revolution of 1978-79 and points to the desire of Shiis today to fuse Islamic and Western concepts of government. The desire of Shiis to reach accommodation with the west came together from the nature of the insurgency in Iraq, which is predominantly Sunni. We can also see this desire in the development of the Lebanese organization Hezbollah, from the movement entertaining revolutionary ideas into a political party that accepted the power sharing arrangement governing Lebanon. As a part of that change, which began to take shape in the decade between 1982 and 1992 Hezbollah has mended fences with the west. The decreasing acts of violence by Hezbollah, against western targets since the mid 1990's has stood in contrast to the growth of Sunni sponsored terrorism by Al-Qaeda and other militant groups, including the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the bombing in Bali, Madrid, Riyadh, London and Amman as well as the gruesome beheadings of hostages in Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, a strategy that all shared groups have condemned. Hezbollah's transformation is a part of a chief focus of Shiis in the Middle East since the 1990's from violence to accommodation, coupled with a desire to carve out a political space for themselves. That shift is evident, not only in the Arab world, but also in Iran, which has acted as America's silent partner during the Gulf War of 1991 and in the recent wars in Afghanistan and Ira q. Iran today is very different from the embattled, Islamic republic of the early 1980's with the majority of Iranians now clamoring for reforms and socioeconomic justice and a widespread womens movement overshadowing its Sunni counterpart in the Arab world. Whats more, the hard-line, clerical stubbornness in Iran, shares the U.S. goal of a stable and unified Iraq with a Shii lead government. Effect that should not be obscured by the debates over Irans nuclear intentions, its aide to share groups in Iraq, and the election of Mamhoud Ahmadinejad, as Irans president in June 2005. The shift of focus among Shiis since the 1990s from violence to accommodation raises a critically important question: can Shiis, who have been a minority within Islam take the le ad in inspiring reform in the Arab world? The distinct history and organizational features of Shiism that I discuss in the book suggest that Shiis certainly have the potential and motivation to do so. Shiism grew out of a quarrel among Arab Muslims overt he question of succession to the Prophet Mohammed. When Mohammed died, in 1632 A.D., one group asserted that legitimate succession belonged to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the prophets cousin and son-in-law. And after him, two of the prophets descendants, but Ali was passed over for succession three times in a row before he became king. In 661, Ali was to Syria once the Omayyad, the Omayyad dynasty, ruled for the best part of the century. Some twenty years after Alis death, his partisans in Iraq, known as the Shia, encouraged his son Hussein to challenge the Syrian claim to the Caliphate. Hussein raised the banner of revolt in 680, but the people of Iraq failed to rally to his cause as they promised leaving him to meet the bell of his death in Karalla at the hand of forces loyal to the --. Shiism was born of Hussein s defeat in Kahballa. It developed as the minority sect while Sunnism grew to be the majority sect in Islam. At the core of Shia history then, lies the tale of betrayal and political dispossession and of people seeking justice. The drama of martyrdom has become the focus of religious devotion for the faithful comparable to the patience of Jesus in Christianity, reenacted yearly in rituals of lament and remembrance among the worlds 170 million Shiis. The impulse to redress historic wrong is important in distinguishing Shiism from Sunnism. But more crucial in explaining why Shiis could lead a reform today, is the special relationship between clerics and followers in Shii Islam. The main branch of Shiism came to believe in a line of twelve Imams stretching from Ali to Muhammed who was hidden from view and expected to turn that day as a messianic figure. The imam is the religious and political leader of the community and he is believed to be immune from sin. Unlike Sunnis, who in theory are expected to obey the rulers and even tolerate tyrant in order to avoid civil strife and retain the cohesion of the Muslim community, observant Shiites recognize no authority on earth except that of the Imam. In his absence, there can be no human sovereign who is fully legitimate. Yet in reality, the Shiite clerics have long acted as representatives of the Imam and fulfilled some of his functions. Those clerics who are well advanced in the religious studies can become --- meaning doctors of Islamic law and jurisprudence. Yet only a few have succeeded at a given time in gaining the acceptance of a large number of followers. --- is known as a model who can give authoritative opinions on disputed questions of his followers and bears the title of Ayatollah. Although in theory, only the attributes of knowledge and piety should pay a role in advancing one --- over another, in practice, charisma and the ability to lead have played a part in the competition and effected the number of followers which a --- can get there around himself. This special relationship between clerics and followers in Shiism has helped Shia --- maintain independence from the government were Sunni clerics are usually appointed and paid by the government which thereby confers legitimacy on them. In Shiism, the followers select the --- of their choice, pay their religious dues to him and abide by his ruling. While this process has empowered Shiite followers to bring clerics in line with their interests, it has also enabled the religious leaders to build up their intellectual and financial strength in relation to the state. In this duality, lies the essence of democracy. The freedom of ordinary people to play a prominent role in deciding who is to have religious authority, an authority that in turn can be used to check the executive and hold rulers accountable. For well over a century, Shia clerics have led movements advocating constitutionalism, parliamentary rule and just governance in the Middle East. In post-Barquote ath Iraq, clerics have again taken the lead in large part because they scarcely exist as secular civil society in the country today that can act as the nucleus of an Iraqi democratic system. In his thirty-five years of rule, the Barquote ath wiped out all forms of civil organization not directly controlled by the party. To make matters worse, the twelve years of sanctions that preceded the U.S. invasion of 2003, reinforced by insecurity and unemployment rate of some 50% in its wake, have reduced the Iraqi middleclass to bear subsistence. It will be years before a viable, secular middleclass can reemerge and check the power of the religious groups who are now the most vocal, organized and politi cally mobilized force in Iraq. The participation of clerics in Iranian politics in 1978- 79 resulted in a theocracy. But as I argue in the book, clerical participation in Iraqi politics today may give birth to a strong parliamentary system and to an elected government accountable to the electorate, a development that could transform relations between people and government in Iraq and in the larger Arab world. Amid the turmoil that followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and in the absence of a national leader with the stature to unite Iraqis, Grand Ayatollah Al Sustani, asserted himself as the most revered leader of Iraqi Shiis, kind of a Shia pope who has provided council to his followers and responded to the political aspirations of his constituency. For many of us, who still remember the rights to power, the vehemently anti- American Ayatollah Humani of Iran. Sustanis power may seem worsen. Yet unlike Humani, who articulated the idea that clerics should rule and allowed it to be implemented in the Islamic republic of Iran, Su stani represents the quietest school of though within Shiism and he has been reluctant to get directly involved in worldly affairs. Still, despite his basic belief that clerics should stay out of politics, Sustani was drawn into the power vacuum in Iraq and he has made clear his opinion on government and constitution making. On several occasions, during 2003 and 2004, Sustani bumped up against the plans of Paul Bremer,the top American administrator in Iraq. In June 2003, Sustani issued a ruling forbidding the appointment of drafters to write the constitution, sanctioning their elections by Iraqis instead. This move dealt a blow to the American plan to quickly introduce a new constitution. When in November Bremer unveiled a plan to a transitional national assembly through caucuses, Sustani insisted on direct elections and forced the American to scratch their proposed system. Sustani also objected to the interim constitution signed by the Iraqi governing council in March 2004, stating that the elected assembly would not be damn by a document written by an institution that pointed on their occupation. His objection, in affect, annulled the interim constitution. In his actions, Sustani has engaged the reluctant U.S. policy makers in a debate over the meaning of d emocracy and constitutional politics. And as it turned out, his club has fundamentally altered Washingtons plans for Iraq, resulting in the transferal sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government in June 2004, to which Sustani gave his conditional approval t o the elections to a national assembly in January and again in December 2005 and the rise of Shiis as the politically dominant community in post-Baath Iraq. Sustani as you may have remembered, experienced a challenge to his authority from the cleric --- who lead two rebellions against the U.S. military between April and August 2004. But Sustanis handling of this challenge was a testimony to his towering power in moderating influence in Iraq. In the month leading to the first rebellion in April, Sutter had established himself as the leader of the grassroots movement with its own militia the endash declaring it to be the military wing of the religious leadership. Like his father, who had been gunned down by the Barquote athist in 1999, claimed to start the outspoken trend within the seminaries of Najaf and protested the silence of the senior clerics. followers embarked on a drive to control Shiite mosques and the income that comes with them, bullying their rivals and setting up religious and morality courts to prosecute their opponents. In an insult against Sustani, they highlighted as opposed Sustanis origin, arguing that only an Iraqi could lead Iraq s Shia. Sutters rebellions constituted a direct challenge to the non-confrontational approach favored by Sustani and represented a fierce struggle within the Shia community for mapping the political direction of the new Iraq. The second rebellion in Najaf, in August 2004, developed into a game of sportsmanship between the Iraqi interim and Sutter. The backed by the Americans, needed a victory to build his authority in Iraq. He wanted to humiliate --, crush his militia, and then go after the resistance in the Sunni areas. But rejected both the notion that his movement could be pushed aside in favor of former exiles like --- who liked to social pace in Iraq. And he dismissed the very idea that Iraq s political future could be determined under an American military umbrella. --- therefore raised the stakes, letting his followers blow up pipelines near Ba sra and even threatened succession of the Shiites south from Iraq. In the event, the August showdown nearly tore the Shiite community apart. It took the wisdom and political acumen of Sustani to overt a complete breakdown of relations between Shias and the U.S. and focused Shiis on the political process as well as on their revival of Shiism in Iraq after the decline it experienced during the 20th century. Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Shias around the globe have been eagerly anticipating the revival of the shrine city Najaf in southern Iraq as the leading Shiite academic center. Their hope is that a renaissance in Najaf will embolden their reform movement in Iran and encourage Sustani and the cleric around him to adopt Shiism to modern times. Shiis have argued that change must begin in the religious leadership itself advocating that the religious leadership in Najaf should involve into its institutions similar to the papacy of the Vatican. The reforms that Sustani and his successors choose to introduce would therefore have a profound impact on Shiis, particularly those in the Arab world were the focus of my book. Lets look at the examples of Saudi Arabia in a hurry, and I'm gonna be short. In Saudi Arabia, the challenge that the Muslims state pose to the small Shiite minority which has occasionally manifested itself in open religious hostility directed by the rulers of Saudi Shiis who live mainly in the eastern province of Hasa, where the countrys oil is found. The Saudi rulers adoption of --- as the religious ideology of Saudi Arabia, has had direct bearing on the Shiis of the kingdom. From the point of view, Shiis are considered either extremist or infidels. The sever restrictions imposed on Shias socio-political mobility in the state as well as Shia practices have lead Shiis to consider themselves a second and even third-class citizens. In a religiously oriented and politically conservative monarchy where the strategies of the ruling family of intended to isolate rather than to include the Shiis, the dilemma of the Shii minority has been how to survive as a viable group while maintaining a clear distinction between the dislike of the dominant Sunni religious ideology and their loyalty to the state. The major survivor strategy pursued by Saudi Shiis has been manifested in their attempts to attach themselves to ideological movements that promised sweeping socio-political change. The upheaval created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, has energized Saudi issues. They have joined other Saudis in calling for reforms. Although the government had cracked down on the reformers, in the long run it will not be able to ignore the political change in Iraq. And is likely to introduce the reforms that would improve the socio-political rights of all Saudis, including the status of the Shiite minority. The case of Bahrain where Shiis form as much as 70% of the native population illustrates the challenge of attempting to introduce constitutional reforms and a strong parliamentary system in the Arab world. Bahrain is a small --- off the eastern shore of Saudi Arabia. And the home port of the U.S. lead fleet in the Persian Gulf. The Shia majority of the islands, on the islands has been dominated by the Sunni --- family ever since their conquest of Bahrain in 1783. Attention between the Shiis and the rulers came to a head after the Amir suspended the constitution and resolved parliament in 1975 and during the uprising in 1994- 99 which led the government to introduce reforms. Yet their reform process has stopped largely because of the refusal of the government to allow a strong parliament system in the country. Like their Saudi counterparts, Bahraini Shiis have been eagerly anticipating the political outcome in Iraq hoping for the development of a strong parliament in the country. In the wake of the recent bombing of the Shii shrine in Samara, the stakes are high. Iraq could descend in an all out civil war that may lead to stabilize the Persian Gulf and reshape the Middle East. Or it could end up with just government based on a compromise among Iraqis. The task of finding a compromise is largely in the hand of Sustani and his followers in Iraq. T heir actions in the next comings of the month will become crucial in determining Iraqs future as well as the future of the entire Middle East. Q&A