Friday, October 07, 2005

Who Should Have Won the Nobel Peace Prize

So the word is in -- Mohammed el-Baradei and the Internaional Atomic Energy Agency have won this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Too bad a big opportunity was missed, an opportunity to reward a man and a community that have consistently held to peace and rule of law in the face of the most horrific and extreme provocations. Awarding the peace prize to him would have also demoralized the forces of religious fanaticism and encouraged beleaguered proponents of majority rule, constitutionalism, and unity. And in so doing it would have encouraged an early withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

Unfortunately to think of this man, one would have to look beyond the headlines and the group think.

The one who should have gotten the Peace Prize is Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the leading Shi'ite religious figure in Iraq (official web-site here, BBC bio here). During the initial invasion, his decision to not support the Saddam Hussein regime was crucial in speeding the advance on Baghdad. When radical clerics like Muqtada al-Sadr were demanding that he back down and sanction his pathetic Mahdi army, he refused. And when the Paul Bremer pushed a policy of simply handing over power to an unelected government, he insisted on elections. If you were inspired by the Iraqi election last January, you have Ayatullah Sistani to thank.

And in spite of the most ghastly suicide bombings, directed against Shi'ites in their mosques, against Shi'ite day laborers seeking work, and against children on the streets, and in spite of massacres of Shi'ite school teachers, and the open declaration of "merciless war" on the Shi'ites by the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, Sistani and the Shi'ites have resolutely refused to advocate vigilante retaliation. This, even though Shi'ites, the majority in their own county, were denied rule for centuries in Iraq and were massacred in the scores of thousands by Saddam Hussein's willing Sunni Arab executioners, who even now visibly hanker after a return to their previous rule of blood. Instead Sistani has kept his eyes on the prize, which is a stable Iraq with majority rule and minority rights. And the Shi'ite people, with very few exceptions, have lived up magnificently to the ideal he set for them. "Embittered Shi'ite militiamen massacred Sunni Arabs in a mosque yesterday"; "Sunnis in Baghdad flee Shi'ite rioters enraged by the latest suicide car bombing"--these are the headlines you don't see because of his leadership. (You can see 'em all the time in the short squibs in the back pages about the latest riot in Pakistan, where the lack of such leadership is fueling a cycle of killings and revenge killings.)

Sistani is not a "moderate Muslim" if by moderate one means someone who guts the Sharia in the name of advancing into the twentieth century. He has kept the American forces at arms length, refusing to meet with any of our military commanders. Precisely for these reasons, his strong support of constitutional government in Iraq and his position that the US is not the enemy has won respect among his people.

Iraq is never going to be like America, and all reasonable people in America and Iraq recognize that. At best we can be only "business partners" who agree to disagree about much of our "private life." American soldiers, even though they we can and should finish the job, would certainly like to come home as soon as possible. But they are there now to prevent death-squadders openly pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda from taking over and imposing their rule on the "infidels" (by which they mean Iraq's Shi'ite majority, not to mention the more secular Kurds). The sooner the world decides that al-Qaeda terrorism really is a bad thing (I mean, bad enough to be worth fighting, not just denouncing), that majority rule really is a good thing -- even when Sunni Arabs are the ones losing their position as ruling race -- the sooner Iraq will see a decent peace and the Americans can come home.

So I say, Ali Sistani for the Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe due to his restraint and patience, the Sunni Arabs will finally give up their mad ambition to restore minority rule. And when they do, the "world community" will, of course, once the fight is over, rush in to take credit. And maybe then, they'll recognize his courageous stand and that of his people -- tested in the fire, blood, and chaos of terrorism -- for peace, majority rule, and reconciliation.