How A Quiet Revolution in Shiism Could Resolve the Crisis in Iran

Mohamad Bazzi in Foreign Affairs:

ScreenHunter_02 Jun. 24 10.00 For many Shiite Muslims, whose religion was born of rebellion, last year's popular uprising in Iran was just the latest in a centuries-long struggle against injustice and tyranny. Now, as the clerical regime consolidates its grip on power a year after the tainted reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran remains torn by what seems to be a hopeless conflict between Islam and democracy. But the 2009 unrest and violent crackdown in Iran were actually battles in a larger war that has been raging for centuries within Shiism — a war over who should rule the faithful, and how. There is a more moderate, democratic vision of Shiism — one that has been stifled ever since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution — that could ultimately resolve the current conflict.

Shiite clerics have long debated their role in politics. The “quietist” school — rooted in the sect's tradition of seeking to avoid confrontation with powerful rulers — argues against direct engagement in political matters. The more activist school emphasizes the martyrdom of Shiism's founding figure, Imam Hussein, who advocated rebellion and confrontation. But even within the activist school, there is a debate over the extent of clerical power.

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