The following are excepted with permission by Rostam Pourzal from Graham E. Fuller's "The Hizballah-Iran Connection: Model for Sunni Resistance," published in The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2006-07. TWQ is produced by the prestigious Center for Strategic And International Studies. The author is a former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA.
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Actually Sunni leaders do not fear
adherents of Shi'ism per se, but rather the growing power of popular radical or
revolutionary forces craving change, which is now emanating from within the
Shi'ite world. The real regional fault line is thus not along a Sunni-Shi'a
axis. Instead, we witness entrenched authoritarian rulers supported by the
Despite the bombastic statements of pro-US Arab leaders, it is difficult to make the case that Shi'ite forces in modern history have acted in pursuit of narrow sectarian interests, at least on the international level. On the contrary, Shi'ite political movements generally possess a pan-Muslim or pan-Arab political vision that avoids invocation of Shi'ism. Autocratic Arab rulers actually fear the empowering forces of organizations such as Hizballah and Hamas, which seek to enable communities or the masses to take control of their own destiny.
The struggle of the Arab autocrats against fundamentalism thus more accurately translates into a struggle against spontaneous, civic-based activism and resistance that the state cannot control. It is not a Sunni backlash against the Shi'a. This is not to say that Islamist actions are especially democratic, but they are closer
to democracy than most other
currently existing political forces. Sunni elites' references to "Islamic
fundamentalism," "Iranian ambitions," or "Shi'ite ambitions" are only code words
that they know will resonate in
Hizballah is cast from the same mold. Its character is mainstream Shi'te, but its rhetoric focuses on Arab unity, the illegitimacy of the Israeli state, and the need for change in Arab leadership. Hizballah champions the (predominantly Sunni) Palestinian cause and cooperates closely with Hamas, a preeminently Sunni Islamist organization. Lebanese Sunnis as well as Shi'a fully approve of this aspect of Hizballah's policies.
Arab publics in general have been
exhilarated by Hizballah's bravery, sacrifice, and military skill. It makes no
difference that members of Hizballah are Shi'ites; they are perceived to be on
the right side of vital Arab national interests. Last summer, even in
Hizballah is thus a manifestation of deeply entrenched geopolitics of resistance and revolution in the Muslim world. Its growing influence and popularity have long-term historical and ideological roots, and its ambitions and actions are neither exclusively Shi'te nor anti-Sunni in character. It represents a powerful regional current that is larger than itself and thus cannot be easily suppressed or disarmed.
A campaign designed to exacerbate
Sunni-Shi'a hostility as currently promoted by
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