Friday, May 30, 2003

He's "a potential ally for America in stabilizing postwar Iraq." He "has advised his cooperate with the Americans in rebuilding Iraq", and "wants to avoid a violent confrontation, which he believes would benefit only Iranians and other outsiders." His "relatively moderate tone reflects positions he has taken in recent years", and he "has been seen as a voice of reason and restraint in the Islamic world." So writes David Ignatius in what has to be one of the strangest op-eds ever to appear in the Washington Post. Sounds like a great guy, doesn't he? Well, there's a tiny catch: The man in question is Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the longtime spiritual leader of Hezbollah, who "encouraged the suicide bombers who destroyed the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983." (He also continues to support suicide bombings in Israel, "spearheaded opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq", and now urges Iraqis to cooperate with US forces "even as they resist military occupation", whatever that means. During the war in Iraq, he accused the US of committing massacres in several cities.)

Now, far be it from me to suggest that people can't change, and apparently something is prompting Fadlallah to show the Americans a little leg, by repeatedly inviting American journalists to his Southern Beirut digs for vaguely conciliatory interviews. (That something would appear to be a simmering rivalry with the Iranian mullahs over Shia clerical supremacy. It has caused something of an estrangement between Fadlallah and Iran-allied Hezbollah, and it seems to be heating up over the contest to win influence among the rejuvenated Shia clergy of Iraq.)

But murderous fanatics generally live or die by their murderous fanaticism, and see the light of moderation far more rarely than their romanticizers would have the public believe. (Think Yasser Arafat, for instance.) Fadlallah's overtures to the US more likely indicate that either (1) he's such damaged goods, having been stripped of his power base in Hezbollah, that he'll even court the hated Americans, just to get back in the game, or (2) The US position in the Shia world is so powerful right now that even a legendary America-hater, the inspiration for the Beirut truck-bomber, feels the need to play (American) ball. In either case, it's highly unlikely that any kind of American reconciliation with him would be worth the price in enhanced prestige lent to a legendary terrorist leader.

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