Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thoughts for the day

A couple more pertinent thoughts from Gertrude Bell, grappling in 1920 with the task of setting up a representative secular government in Iraq and on the conflict of loyalties among the Shia.

"The Shi'ah problem is probably the most formidable in this country. ...'Abdul Majid said "What are you going to do if the chief mujtahid, whose voice is the voice of God, issues a fatwah that no Shi'ah is to sit in the Legislative Assembly" - while the govt was under the British Mandate, he meant - "or when a law is being debated, suppose the mujtahid* cuts in with a fatwah that it's against canon law and must be rejected, irrespective of other considerations?" Imagine the Pope excercising [sic] real temporal authority in Italy and obstructing the Govt at every turn, and you have the position. The remedy is, over time, that which has been found in Italy. Pope and mujtahid end by being regarded merely as silly old men; but we haven't reached that stage here yet. But if you're going to have anything like really representative institutions - always remember that the Turks hadn't; there wasn't a single Shi'ah deputy - you would have a majority of Shi'ahs. ...I don't for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority; otherwise you will have a mujtahid-run, theocratic state, which is the very devil."

3 October 1920
"One of the difficulties is that all or nearly all the leading men of the Shi'ah towns are Persian subjects and must be made to adopt Mesopotamian nationality before they had take official positions in the Mesopotamian state."

1 November 1920
*Mujtahid: a Shi'ite qualified to give opinions on the interpretation of Islamic, Sharia, law.

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