Saturday, October 27, 2007

Power to the (Shia) People

"A grassroots outpouring of sympathy for the victims of September 11 occurred on the streets in only two places in the Muslim world, both within days of the collapse of the twin towers and both among the Shia. The first was in Iran, where tens of thousands snubbed their government to go into the streets of Tehran and hold a candlelight vigil in solidarity with victims of the attacks. The second was in Karachi, where a local party that is closely associated with the city's Shia broke with the public mood in Pakistan to gather thousands to denounce terrorism. What followed September 11 in Afghanistan and Iraq has only strengthened these feelings. The Shia in Afghanistan, between 20 and 25 percent of the population, were brutalized by the Taliban. The constitution adopted in that country in 2003 has broken with tradition to allow a Shia to become president and to recognize Shia law. The Shia have come out from the margins to join the government and take their place in public life. The violent face of Sunni militancy in Iraq underscores the divergent paths that Sunni and Shia politics are taking.

The Shia revival constitutes the most powerful resistance and challenge to Sunni extremism and jihadi activism within the region. Shia revival is an anti-Wahhabi and anti-extremist force. Its objectives re served by change in the regional balance of power and democracy. In turn, democracy will unleash the full extent of the Shia challenge to Sunni extremism. Democracy will bring to power Shia majorities and give greater voice to Shia minorities, whose ideology and politics diverge from the extremist bent of Sunni radicalism."

--Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival

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