Syed Mohamed Husayn Fadlallah is on Ahmed Mansour's No Limits program on al-Jazeera live from Beirut right now. Fadlallah, of course, is often described as the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, and is one of the most prominent Shia figures in the Arab world (you can check out his website here). It never used to be seen as unusual for someone like Fadlallah to be featured on al-Jazeera, but in the current state of Sunni-Shia hysteria I guess it's worth noting.
It's also an absolutely fascinating encounter, one of the most interesting I've seen since this whole Shia-Sunni business got going (note: all that follows is liveblogging, not from transcript, so apologies if some of the wording isn't exactly right). Mansour sympathizes with the Sunni insurgency - he was the reporter whose reporting from Falluja in 2004 caused such problems for the American campaign there. He pushed Fadlallah hard, in his polite but dogged way, on the position of the Shia in Arab politics. A lot of major tropes in current Sunni-Shia tensions were raised openly, with no screaming. This chance for a major Shia personality to directly address a vast Sunni audience, and to air sensitive issues openly in a calm setting, was a good example of what a platform like al-Jazeera can offer - sure, some people will complain about some of the points which were made being inflammatory or offensive, but the point is that all of those points are already very much out there anyway, and at least here they could be rebutted or debated.
After briefly touching on Palestine, about which they could easily agree, Mansour and Fadlallah moved to Lebanon and then to Iraq and the wider Sunni-Shia tensions in the region. Fadlallah insisted that the Shia of Lebanon had no distinctly Shia
position, and that their demands were national; he refused to take
Mansour's bait about the Prime Minister being Sunni. When Fadlallah complained of an American project to create a "Greater Middle East," Mansour said
that "some say" that there is also a Greater Iran project. Mansour raised fears of a Shia crescent and Iranian expansionism, which Fadlallah dismissed as "fantasies" manufactured by hostile powers. And when Mansour brought up the "Shiaziation of Sunnis" allegation, Fadlallah denied it categorically - while complaining in his turn about the thousands of Sunni books declaring Shia to be kufr (apostates). He criticized Yusuf al-Qaradawi for raising unwarranted allegations in public rather than discussing them in private first to discover the facts: dialogue in the media full of accusations and rabble-rousing will only divide the Islamic umma and help the enemies of Islam, according to Fadlullah.
Things got most heated over Iraq, where Fadlallah doggedly tried to focus on common Sunni-Shia opposition to American occupation while Mansour equally doggedly tried to highlight Shia official cooperation with the United States. When Fadlallah said that the Shia of Lebanon were Lebanese first, but of course has relationships with outside powers (meaning Iran) just like everyone has relationships with outside powers, Mansour pounced: the Shia of Iraq have positive relations as well, but with the United States. Fadlallah responded by trying to focus all attention on the United States, the greatest problem for the region in his view. When Mansour quoted Abd al-Aziz Hakim saying that "America's vision for Iraq is closest to ours", Fadlallah looked pained. Fadlallah responded by announcing that he had private information that there was widespread armed Shia opposition to the US occupation of Iraq. (Mansour: can you show me this information? Fadlallah: no, it's secret.) He boasted of his own fatwas forbidding any Muslim from assisting the Americans in controlling Iraq and calling on Muslims to resist the US occupation and American strategy in the region. Fadlallah firmly denounced Sunni-Shia bloodshed of any kind, and called on all intra-Muslim killing to stop. But he also aired complaints about the "takfiris" (his word) who openly called for the killing of Shia Muslims. Fadlallah's bottom line: the Muslim umma needs to understand that the problems are not between Sunni and Shia but between Islam and the American administration.
Overall, a simply fascinating exchange. No time to analyze it any further, but well worth everyone's attention.
UPDATE: transcript here.