Sistani the Moderate

by Andrew C. McCarthy

Over the last couple of years, we’ve had some spirited debate in these parts about whether Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is an authentic Muslim moderate who is a huge plus for the Bush administration’s democracy project, or, as I have maintained (see, e.g., here and here), an Islamic fundamentalist of the familiar anti-Semitic, anti-infidel, anti-gay variety who embraced “democracy” (i.e., not real democracy but popular elections) because it was the easiest route to Shiite rule … the first step on the road to a Shiite Sharia state.

Now, former Reagan administration official John Agresto is weighing in.  Agresto, who appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s show yesterday, has a new book out, Mugged by Reality, which is a memoir of his recent nine months of service in Iraq as an adviser to the education ministry.  Here is some of what he has to say about Sistani:

We insisted that the Ayatollah Sistani was surely a “moderate” and a friend to civil and religious liberty despite all the hard evidence to the contrary. Let me repeat my previous observations and predictions: The Ayatollah Sistani is an Islamist bent on establishing a theocracy not far removed from that found in Iran. He is an open anti-Semite and a not-too-subtle anti-Christian. He threw his support behind democratic elections because they were the handy vehicles for imposing religious authority all over Iraq. Nor is he the only one, or even the worst, only the most prominent. Yet while I believe the evidence is as clear here as it is in the case of [Ahmad] Chalabi, we only see what we want to see, not what’s visible. In our religious lives, hope may well be a virtue — but in foreign policy it is more often a sin, a temptation to willful blindness.

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