Understanding Shiite Leadership: The Art of the Middle Ground in Iran and Lebanon

In This Review

Understanding Shiite Leadership: The Art of the Middle Ground in Iran and Lebanon (Problems of International Politics)
By Shaul Mishal and Ori Goldberg
Cambridge University Press, 2014
166 pp. $85.00
Purchase

Mishal and Goldberg coin a set of terms to describe political leadership in the Islamic Republic of Iran and within Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group and political party based in Lebanon. In the authors’ view, “the middle ground” is where Shiite leadership is most comfortable. It is a gray zone in which absolute truths exist but are seen as unobtainable and where managing “friction” between strategies and values—and allies and adversariesis the essence of leadership. The authors don’t quite explain how this differs from the tensions among pragmatism, dogmatism, and idealism that all political leaders confront. In any event, they see Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as the master of the middle ground; by contrast, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president from 2005 to 2013, sought to rule Iran according to his own black-and-white ideals. Mishal and Goldberg see the liberals of the Green Movement, who protested the alleged vote rigging that led to Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009, as defenders of the Khomeinist status quo. In more provocative passages, they suggest that Sunni-led political systems are inherently centralized, hierarchical, and unaccommodating of the middle ground.