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The Shi’ah problem is probably the most formidable in this country. We were discussing it last night at an extremely interesting dinner party in my house… ‘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 … 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 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. For that reason as ‘Abdul Majid wisely said, you can never have 3 completely autonomous provinces. Sunni Mosul must be retained as a part of the Mesopotamian state in order to adjust the balance. But to my mind it’s one of the main arguments for giving Mesopotamia responsible govt. We as outsiders can’t differentiate between Sunni and Shi’ah, but leave it to them and they’ll get over the difficulty by some kind of hanky panky, just as the Turks did, and for the present it’s the only way of getting over it.
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.
–Gertrude Bell, letter to her father, Oct. 3, 1920.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”