NEWS > Interviews > Sayyed Fadlullah : We Don’t Trust America


Sayyed Fadlullah : We Don’t Trust America

 Interview with  the Religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad  Hussein Fadlullah   before the fall of Baghdad about the war on Iraq and its consequences on the Arab and Muslim world in general and  Iraq and Najaf  in particular (Newsweek April  7, 2003).

A top Shiite religious leader says the war in Iraq has united the Arab world against the United States and could lead to an uncontrollable wave of terrorism


 April 7 2003 A.D. —  For more than 20 years, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, one of Shiia Islam’s most respected scholars, has been caught up in political struggle—both within his own dissident branch of Islam and with outsiders. That has never been more true than today, as Washington angles for the support of Iraqi Shiites—who make up about 60 percent of the country’s population—to back the bid to overthrow Saddam Hussein, a member of the dominant minority Sunnis.   

EDUCATED AT SHIISM’S leading seminary, Hawza, in the holy city of Najaf , Fadlallah returned to Lebanon and rose within the religious ranks during the country’s civil war and Israeli invasion. In 1983, U.S. officials accused him of issuing a religious edict, or fatwa, that condoned the devastating truck bombing of the Marine headquarters in Beirut . In 1985, the CIA allegedly retaliated, using a Lebanese team paid by Saudi Arabia to explode a car bomb outside his Beirut mosque as hundreds of faithful were leaving services. More than 80 were killed and 250 wounded, but the ayatollah was unhurt. More recently, Fadlallah has distanced himself from Hizbullah, the militant Shiite movement that led a campaign of suicide bombings against Israel ’s occupation of Lebanon . Hizbullah’s leaders now signal allegiance to Iran ’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

 Fadlallah has long spearheaded opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq . His position helped limit support for the current invasion of Iraq , frustrating the hopes of Pentagon planners who had predicted a repeat of the 1991 uprising that followed Saddam Hussein’s defeat in the first Gulf war. The struggle for influence continues even as the fighting rages around the cities of Najaf and Karbala . (Last week a U.S. commander in southern Iraq claimed to have reached a non-aggression pact with the top religious authority in Najaf, only to have the claim denied a day later.) NEWSWEEK’s Tom Masland met with Ayatollah Fadlallah, 68, last week in his headquarters in Beirut ’s southern suburbs. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What would happen if there were damage to Karbala and other holy places as a result of the war?

Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah: We believe that inflicting any damage in Karbala, Najaf and all the holy religious sites in Iraq that are holy not only to Shias, but to all Muslims as well, will cause a spiritual political turmoil against the Americans and the British together, and may push those who have been neutral in this war to join those resisting the occupation….

While we strongly warn against harming the religious sites, we also strongly warn against the massacres that are taking place as a result of the acts of the occupation forces against the innocent.

Does this war hasten or make less probable the reestablishment of Najaf as the seat of Shia authority?

I believe that Najaf is still the site of Shia authority. Perhaps Qom [ Iran ’s religious center] took many [of its] students because of banning foreign students from going to Najaf because of the lack of freedom in Najaf. However, when Najaf recovers its freedom, it will naturally attract believers from all over the world to return to it, because Najaf has been the first Shia scientific center for over a thousand years.

What about the presence of American military in this area, presuming that the military adventure is successful in ending the authority of Saddam Hussein? 

I believe that the Iraqi people, especially Shia Muslims, reject any occupier. They fought the British occupier in the early 20th Century. We think that the United States will not give freedom or real democracy to any people in the Third World , because the United States understands democracy outside the borders of the United States in line with its own interests. Therefore, it has made alliances with the most dictatorial states and the cruelest states in the Arab, Islamic and third worlds as long as this is in line with its interests. The United States makes the dictator, and when his functions are over, it makes another dictator with democratic features that attract people...

The United States understands the dollar more than it understands human rights. I here mean the U.S. administration, not the U.S. people. The Iraqi people staged an intifada that almost toppled the regime in 1991, and the American leadership intervened and supported Saddam to crush the intifada of the Iraqi people then. The United States did not condemn it when Saddam bombarded [the city of] Halabja with chemical weapons [that killed thousands of Kurds in the 1980s], because it wanted him to be successful in his war against Iran .

We don’t believe that the United States has come to free Iraq , but to install a new dictator with democratic features, one who can protect its interests more than Saddam did.

That’s why the Iraqi people, especially the Shias, do not trust the United States .

 Does the war in Iraq represent an opportunity for Islam and those who favor an Islamic state?

I believe that the Muslim’s strong voice in the world calls for fighting the occupation and confronting American hegemony on the Islamic world that aims to seize all its causes. As for the Islamic state, which represents a goal for all Muslims, it is subject to the objective circumstances that may or may not allow [its creation].

Nevertheless, there’s a point that we need to make understood. This war has united the Islamic world from border to border against the United States . If more massacres take place and if more occupation is seen, I fear that we are to witness a wave of terrorism that no one will be able to control in the Islamic world, because this psychological tension may create a state of irrationality in which individuals will act by nature to carry out a terrorist act here or there without the presence of any organizations that push them to do so.

That’s why we said in the beginning, after [the attacks of] Sept. 11, that if the United States wants to fight terrorism, it has to do so in a civilized fashion through improving its policy with the peoples of the Arab and Islamic world, because violence begets violence.

 Do you feel that the war itself and the warnings that the United States continues to give to Iran and Syria have the potential to consolidate a bloc of these three countries?

 I believe that such a bloc already exists, politically and strategically. But we believe that the American warnings leveled at Iran and Syria are part of a psychological warfare and pre-emptive pressure in order to prevent Iran and Syria from directly taking part in the war. The Arab and Islamic world accuses the Americans of being subordinate to Israel and the Zionist lobby in the whole issue of the war against Iraq and in instigating problems between the United States, Syria and Iran because Israel does not want the U.S. to have any friends left in the Arab and Islamic world….

 I believe that there is no democracy whatsoever among the American people when it comes to criticizing Israel . The American people do not possess the freedom to criticize Israel , because the charge of anti-Semitism awaits those who do. There is an impression, and I’m not talking about right or wrong, in the Arab and Islamic world, that the U.S. administration observes Israel ’s interest before that of the United States. Because the members of this administration are loyal to Israel more than they are so to their American citizenship. This is the impression, at least, and I don’t want to evaluate that impression.

Do you see a parallel between the current American invasion of Iraq and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982?

We believe that the conduct adopted by Israel against the Palestinian people is the same taken by the United States against Iraq and against those who disagree with Washington . The invasion of Iraq resembles the invasion of Lebanon , and the ideas proposed by the American administration officials are similar to those proposed by the Israeli officials during their invasion of Lebanon . Even when they [the Israelis] bombard civilians, they talk about errors, and now we see the Americans talk about errors when they hit civilian targets, although they commend their weapons for being smart.

For Iran , and for Muslims, do you feel that the need to resist a foreign occupation has overridden the hatred for Saddam Hussein and what he did to Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war?

Iraqis and Muslims consider Saddam Hussein as one of the details of the United States ’ crimes, because the United States is the one who made him dominate the Arab and Islamic world. They even have documents stating that the United States is the one that pushed Saddam to occupy Kuwait , in order to legitimize the U.S. presence in the Gulf so as the Gulf people will have to make an alliance with the United States in this regard. Therefore, they believe that the U.S. occupation will bring a new Saddam with a democratic outlook and an Uncle Sam essence.

President George W. Bush says he’s a born-again Christian, and he once described the fight against terrorism as a “crusade.” Do you consider this a slip of the tongue?

President Bush’s stupid understanding of Christianity has made him unconsciously set out of his crusader complex. I mean the aggressive sense of crusade, not that of Christian values. The Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, has stated—addressing Bush—that this war is treason for God and history. So how can he be called a Christian, the one whom the head of Christianity has accused of treason?

 From the onset, we have said that the war is not between Christianity and Islam. That is why Christians of various confessions have stood against this war. As we did. It is the war of the interests of the monopolizing companies that confront the American administration.

 So you don’t see the war as another crusade?

 …We stress the importance of the Islamic Christian dialogue and rapprochement in the common values. …I’d like to conclude the interview with a comment on something that was published in your magazine: “Why do they hate us?” [NEWSWEEK, Oct. 15, 2002 ] We say we don’t hate the American people, on the contrary, we love them. If some people have harmed the American people, there are many American political figures who have harmed us, and we don’t hold the American people responsible for what their administration, or some of its members, did to us. So why are they holding all the Muslims accountable for what some Muslims do? We ask the Congress, all the U.S. politicians: “Why do you hate us?”