The US targeted assassination, via drone strike, of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, apart from a torrent of crucial geopolitical ramifications, once again propels to center stage a quite inconvenient truth: the congenital incapacity of so-called US elites to even attempt to understand Shi’ism – thus 24/7 demonization, demeaning not only Shi’as by also Shi’a-led governments.
Washington had been deploying a Long War even before the concept was popularized by the Pentagon in 2001, immediately after 9/11: it’s a Long War against Iran. It started via the coup against the democratically elected government of Mosaddegh in 1953, replaced by the Shah’s dictatorship. The whole process was turbo-charged over 40 years ago when the Islamic Revolution smashed those good old Cold War days when the Shah reigned as the privileged American “gendarme of the (Persian) Gulf”.
Yet this extends far beyond geopolitics. There is absolutely no way whatsoever for anyone to be capable of grasping the complexities and popular appeal of Shi’ism without some serious academic research, complemented with visits to selected sacred sites across Southwest Asia: Najaf, Karbala, Mashhad, Qom and the Sayyida Zeinab shrine near Damascus. Personally, I have traveled this road of knowledge since the late 1990s – and I still remain just a humble student.
In the spirit of a first approach – to start an informed East-West debate on a crucial cultural issue totally sidelined in the West or drowned by tsunamis of propaganda, I initially asked three outstanding scholars for their first impressions.
They are: Prof. Mohammad Marandi, of the University of Tehran, expert on Orientalism; Arash Najaf-Zadeh, who writes under the nom de guerre Blake Archer Williams and who is an expert on Shi’a theology; and the extraordinary Princess Vittoria Alliata from Sicily, top Italian Islamologist and author, among others, of books such as the mesmerizing Harem – which details her travels across Arab lands.
Two weeks ago, I was a guest of Princess Vittoria at Villa Valguarnera in Sicily. We were immersed in a long, engrossing geopolitical discussion – of which one of the key themes was US-Iran – only a few hours before a drone strike at Baghdad airport killed the two foremost Shi’a fighters in the real war on terror against ISIS/Daesh and al-Qaeda/al-Nusra: Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi second-in-command Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Martyrdom vs. cultural relativism
Time Magazine, 1979