Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sistani Redux

Read this: August 2007

Then read this (from Pajamas Media, quote below from Threatswatch):

This is a huge development. One of the biggest questions I and others have had since the Iranian protests/revolt/revolution began was whether Mousavi would be any different in tangible effect (Hizballah & Hamas support, etc.) than Ahmadinejad and whether Rafsanjani was seeking to sack ‘Supreme’ Leader Khamenei simply to acquire the powerful position for himself. That question perhaps may have been answered today. My ears first perked up when word made it through the grapevines over the weekend that Rafsanjani had been meeting with other Ayatollahs and clerics in Qom, and had among them a representative of Iraq’s Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Why? Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in 2007 made two very critical statements: that “I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shiite or a Kurd or a Christian,” and that Islam can exist within a democracy without theological conflict. You will never hear such words slip past the lips of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei. Ever. Sistani’s presence at the Rafsanjani talks in Qom, Iran, through a representative brings therefore added significance. And the al-Arabiya report above seems to suggest that Rafsanjani is not seeking Sistani’s support for superficial reasons. In November 2007 at National Review Online, I wrote about this aspect of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, including a reference to another analysis I had written earlier in the spring.

Sistani’s appeal does not end at the Iraqi border, as Iranians increasingly observe his leadership with interest and fondness. Some are “intrigued by the more freewheeling experiment in Shi’ite empowerment taking place across the border in Iraq,” which is fundamentally different in approach than the Iranian theocratic brand of dictated observance and obedience. The Boston Globe’s Anne Barnard reports that within Tehran’s own central bazaar, “an increasing number of merchants are sending their religious donations, a 20 percent tithe expected from all who can spare it, to Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric.”

If that didn’t quite sink in, go read that paragraph again. many Iranian merchants have been sending their 20% tithes to Sistani, not Khamenei. Since at least 2007. I spoke to the significance of Rafsanjani seeking Sistani’s support earlier on ‘The Steve Schippert Show’ on RFC Radio just before the al-Arabiya story broke. His name is an attention-getter for those aware of players and forces in both Iran and Iraq. And for good reason. Perhaps in Iran, just as in Iraq today, true democracy can exist “without theological conflict” with the Shi’a faith. And perhaps the most unlikely cast of available men in Iran are set to bring that to be. Perhaps only something close, or closer. But whatever the change, and the extent of the change - and it appears the intent is significant change and not simply a game of Shuffling Ayatollahs - it will be positive for Iranians, for the region, for Americans and for the entire world. I think it is nearly inevitable at his point, and time is not on the regime’s side.

This is huge if Sistani is truly playing a part in whatever is going on in clerical circles in Qom. Sistani is the most senior cleric in Shi'ite Islam and any move by the Iranian clerics toward him and the tradition he represents would be as the quote says truly beneficial for Iran and the Middle East.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Theological Underpinnings

According to reports, things in Iran are mostly quiet. The threat of using the Revolutionary Guard to put down further revolt has been made, but plans are allegedly being made for a general strike.

Reza Aslan at The Daily Beast has a new post up on the origins and theological underpinnings of the religious portions of the Iranian government.

Called Valayat-e Faqih, or “Guardianship of the Jurist,” this unique religio-political system was the brainchild of the founder of the Islamic republic, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who died in 1988. In theory, the faqih—what the West calls the supreme leader—was supposed to be the most learned religious authority in the country. He was originally supposed to be a sort of pope-like figure that would ensure the Islamic nature of what would otherwise be a democratic state. He would have moral and spiritual authority, and he would certainly wield enormous political influence, but he would by no means maintain direct political control over the state.

However, in the years following the revolution of 1979, through a series of constitutional amendments pushed through parliament, the position of faqih [supreme leader] was gradually transformed from a symbolic moral authority into the supreme authority of the state.

Aslan then goes on to explain how this new system when originally conceived ran counter to a thousand years of Shi'ite clerical non-meddling in politics as all government was illegitimate until the coming of the Madhi, the messiah figure of the Islamic end times. Khomeini though adopted for himself the trappings (if not the actual title) of the Madhi for himself as supreme leader; his thought was that as agents of the messiah, the clerics must work to build his kingdom of earth before his coming.

But by far the most overt connection Khomeini established between himself and the messiah was his doctrine of the Valayat-e Faqih. In Khomeini’s view, the faqih would have more than just supreme authority, he would have infallible and divine authority—authority that, in fact, would be equal to the authority of the Prophet Muhammad.

Khamenei was chosen to succeed Khomeini because he was considered a safe bet, someone who would not rock the boat, someone who could be easily controlled by more powerful, more charismatic figures who chaired the various clerical subcommittees, like his fellow revolutionary Hashemi Rafsanjani (now an ayatollah himself), who was instrumental in Khamenei’s selection to the post of supreme leader.

This leads us to the present situation. Khomenei's power was slowly diffused among the committees of the clerics, but Aslan points out that this crisis is his attempt to reassert absolute control.


Simply put, Khamenei’s reckless and rambling Friday sermon has changed the tenor of Iran’s uprising, making it as much about his own leadership and the nature of clerical rule, as it is about Ahmadinejad’s presidency. He has, in other words, helped create a revolution.

Thanks to Hot Air. I also suggest reading this primer on the geopolitical situation for Shi'ites across the Middle East and into South Asia as detailed by Spengler.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 20, 2009

I'll make no claims as to accuracy, but this is the young woman's Wikipedia bio that has been quickly put together.

1982 - 2009

Seen this yet? Horrified? I'm sick to my stomach just looking at the still image of the video embed when I preview this post. Say a prayer that these people may be delivered from bondage.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ave Maria

Greetings to you all. To my priestly readers (probably few in number...), happy Year of the Priest to you.

There seems to be much going on of late, but little of it interests me enough to mount an effort at posting. There are plenty of sources out there with more in-depth coverage.

But I have found one thing that has developed further that always interests: Ave Maria and Tom Monaghan.

Check out this headline from AveWatch: Monaghan Legal Claim: Ave Maria School of Law is a “Religious Institution” with “Ministerial” Professors.

In a stunning legal maneuver that could trigger unintended negative consequences involving a host of sources (Catholic legal academics, the American Bar Association, Ave Maria students/employees/alumni/recruits, official Church authorities) — Tom Monaghan’s lawyers argued in court on Wednesday that Ave Maria School of Law is a “religious institution” claiming “ministerial exception” such that any inquires into their “underlying motivation for a contested employment situation” should be barred from government courts. They also argued that AMSL’s law professors are “ministerial employees”, claiming that the “legal doctrine of ‘ecclesiastical abstention‘ is pertinent to the court’s lack of subject matter jurisdiction of AMSL’s employment decision and the allegations concerning AMSL’s governance”.

Nice, huh. AveWatch has all kinds of analysis in that post, go check it out if you're so inclined. The crew at Fumare took a look at the development from a civil standpoint and Doctor Ed Peters from a canon law standpoint.

Mr. Monaghan's latest legal maneuver comes on the heels of a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that upholds a lower court's order for Monaghan to turn over his notes regarding Ave Maria School of Law, formerly of Ann Arbor, MI and soon to be of Naples, FL, for the lawsuit of former three professors.

The saga of Monaghan and the various incarnations of Ave Maria (the college, the university, the law school, the town, etc.) is covered with great attention by AveWatch and Fumare, but despite Monaghan's tendrils throughout the more traditional wing of American Catholicism, his allegedly less-than-ethical affairs don't receive much attention from more mainstream Catholic blogs. Hopefully this latest clain will draw some attention given just how ludicrous it is.