BEIRUT -- Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah is a prominent Lebanese Muslim scholar and author, and a spiritual guide to millions of Shiites around the world. In an exclusive interview with Sana Abdallah of the Middle East Times at his residence in Beirut's southern suburbs, Fadlallah, 72, spoke about his relationship with Lebanon's Islamic group Hezbollah, the Iranian-U.S. face-off in the region, the Lebanese political crisis, and sectarian struggles in Lebanon and Iraq. Following are excerpts from the interview, translated from Arabic.
Abdallah: How dangerous is the Lebanese crisis?
Fadlallah: The Lebanese crisis is linked to American strategy and the [Mideast] regional crisis, in which America looks at Lebanon from two angles. The first angle is Lebanon's situation with Israel, the state that is integrated with America and for which the Americans are ready to enter a third world war. We notice this from statements issued by the presidential candidates, who have expressed this view one way or another, and as previous presidents have expressed.
America is also looking at the presence of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon, which managed, one way or another, to defeat the American-allied Israeli army in the war [Second Lebanon War, 2006], which was an Israeli-American aggression. It seeks to pressure the resistance in order to remove the future danger to Israel. Also, it [United States] tried to employ Lebanese groups that have political differences with some Arabs and Muslims, namely Iran and Syria, in addition to the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance.
Thus, America regards Lebanon as an arena to manage its struggle against the parties that oppose American policy. This is what [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice expressed when she said Lebanon is the best arena for the Greater Middle East project, and [U.S. President George W.] Bush stated that Lebanon is linked to American national security. Therefore, the Lebanese crisis is jointly linked to the regional crisis, because America wants to pressure Syria and Iran.
Doesn't this mean that Iran and Syria also have a role in this crisis?
As America tries to pressure Syria and Iran, the natural reaction is for Iran and Syria to try to resist American policy in the region. It is important to point out that the Lebanese opposition is not completely submissive to Syria and Iran in their internal political actions.
What are the possible solutions to the Lebanon crisis?
I don't think there is a chance to resolve the crisis, which is in deadlock. Many Arab and Lebanese politicians succumb to the strategy of American policy; therefore, the issue follows American policy for movement in the Lebanese crisis and finding balanced relations between America, Syria and Iran.
Do you mean the solution depends on America's relationship with Syria and Iran?
Is there a danger of civil war erupting in Lebanon?
In my view, there are no conditions for what is called a civil war, or sectarian sedition, whether Sunni-Shiite or inter-Christian, because international, regional and internal Lebanese interests will be affected. There is no possibility of an internal Lebanese war, because it will destroy the temple on the heads of everyone, whether America, Israel or Arab countries, despite what the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State [David] Welch said; that the Lebanese will face a hot summer. I believe what he said is an exaggeration to intimidate the Lebanese, and doesn't represent reality.
Are there any solutions to the deep-rooted sectarian problems?
If the Lebanese were fair to themselves and believed in their nation and were loyal to the Lebanese people, they could resolve this crisis in half an hour. The details of their differences are not substantial or vital, they stem from external motivations. Thus, I think the problem is that there is no trust between the Lebanese. There are two Lebanons: an opposition Lebanon and a majority Lebanon, and neither party is willing to take one step toward the other.
Since Lebanon's independence, the country has faced a series of crises. The presidential crisis may be resolved today, but tomorrow a new crisis may arise. Is the sectarian system in this country the problem and what can be done to prevent repeated crises?
This is the fundamental strategic problem in all of Lebanon's problems. The sectarian system turned Lebanon into a disunited state, because each sect seeks to take power, and that's why there are those who speak in a sectarian language. There are those talking about Sunni rights, Shiite rights, Christian rights, and even the rights of the Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians, and so on. We find no one speaking of Lebanon as the homeland, of citizenry and identity of the Lebanese human being.
Why do you think a Sunni-Shiite struggle has recently emerged?
I don't believe there is a possibility of a Sunni-Shiite struggle, because when we study the political situation, we notice, for example, that the opposition includes Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Druze. The majority also includes all the sects. The prime minister doesn't represent the Sunni line in the religious form, and the House speaker doesn't represent the Shiite religious line. The issue is political, stemming from political sectarianism, not religious.
Do you see the struggle in Iraq as expanding toward Lebanon?
It's not a sectarian struggle. Iraqi tribes have both Sunnis and Shiites. The Sunnis have entered the government, and it's not a Shiite government; it's a coalition of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Some things might be happening through al-Qaida, who said they are fighting the occupiers and the Shiites; and this will lead to reactions and popular outrage and insanity.
Are you saying there is no sectarian struggle in Iraq or Lebanon?
I'm saying there's no sectarian war in Iraq or in Lebanon. But there are politicians who try to stir these sectarian sensitivities. As an example, Sunni-Shiite marriages in Lebanon constitute 75 percent of [Muslim] marriages.
How do you see the campaign of Nouri al-Maliki's Iraqi government against the Sadrists and al-Mahdi Army?
The issue is very complicated, considering Maliki's point of view and the people's annoyance by the chaos caused by the militias, not just [Moqtada] Sadr's militia. There are other militias as well, but al-Mahdi Army was put at the forefront, and this might have been an American plan.
[The campaign] was proposed on the basis of imposing law and order and because the militias, not just al-Mahdi, were stealing oil, for example, and assaulting the people as if there was no government. We know that in any occupied territory, the occupier cannot give the government the freedom to allow it to move properly to prevent problems. America is creating commotion … and I think it has a big role in what happened.
Are you with the Sadrists and al-Mahdi Army?
I'm with the reconciliation of all the Muslim, Shiite and nationalist Iraqis.
How is your relationship with Hezbollah and what is the level of your influence on them?
The relationship is natural. There is no coordination in the sense that is spoken about. I've had an Islamic-based political line for more than 20 years before the birth of Hezbollah and other parties. Thus, there is no integrated relationship between us, contrary to some Western media reports that described me as Hezbollah's spiritual guide. I have denied that and I've stated that I am not part of any group, but am an independent Islamic religious authority.
Who do you think killed Imad Mughnieh and why?
Some believe it was Israel, and perhaps the statements of some Israeli officials indicate that. He was assassinated because he was the mastermind and thinker in confronting the Israeli aggression in 2000 and 2006.
Have you issued a fatwa [religious decree] against suicide attacks?
We said in war situations, there isn't a difference between a soldier who goes to battle knowing he will kill, be killed or become a martyr, and a martyr operative, because a martyr operation is a method of war. But they should not carry out such operations against civilians at peacetime. In the event of war, it's normal for someone to blow himself up in a war society, or when planes bomb civilians, as Israel does in Gaza.
Is it acceptable for a Palestinian to enter Tel Aviv and blow himself up?
When there is war and this is the only method available to stop Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, he has the right to resort to this method. It is not unusual, and this is not an Islamic method. Buddhists have done it in the past.
Have you issued a fatwa against the Sunni-Shiite, and inter-Shiite fighting?
We forbade inter-Islamic fighting, because Muslims are forbidden from hurting other Muslims, in terms of their blood, possessions and honor.
Do you have a message for the U.S. administration and people?
We say we like the friendship of the American people, and we have no problem with the American people. There are many Muslims in America, to whom we sent a number of messages to not harm the country's security or its regime, and to work with the Americans in economic and social issues. I was the first Islamic figure to condemn 9/11, because this matter is not accepted by any religion.
Our problem is with the American administration, this present administration, which occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and which incites sedition, problems and struggles in the region.
Nevertheless, we don't fight America in this way, but fight it politically by arousing the world against the American politicians, because we want to live in peace with the whole world, whether with the Americans, Europeans, Chinese or Russians.
We read in the Koran that Muslims should use any means to turn their enemies into friends. We'd like to be the world's friends, and we are against terrorism and against extremism. But he who launches a missile at me cannot be presented with a flower, because he doesn't understand the language of flowers.
By SANA ABDALLAH (Middle East Times)
Published: April 24, 2008