Arts, Culture & Media

Giving Lebanon's Shia a political voice

If Moussa al Sadr had been an athlete, he might've made a great basketball player. He's 6 feet tall and charismatic, and came from a long line of Shia clerics. Sadr moved to Lebanon in 1959 and he found his fellow Shia there were poor, illiterate and powerless. So he launched a program to give them health care, education, and a new spirit of political activism. This analyst says Moussa al Sadr was the Nelson Mandela of the Shia community in Lebanon and he came at a time when the system in Lebanon was discriminatory. At the time, Lebanon's Christians and Sunni Muslims dominated Lebanon's religious based political system. Sadr changed that in 1967 by helping shape a Shia council, and the council's creation helped cement the Shia's new political power, says the analyst. Sadr went on to found Lebanon's first true Shiite political party. He also created the movement's military wing at the start of Lebanon's civil war. the offshoot of the group later became Hezbollah. Despite that link, Sadr was a moderate and was opposed to Syria's rule by clergy and was active in dialogues. In 1978, Libya's dictator, Gaddafi, invited Sadr on a visit and Sadr never returned. Gaddafi says Sadr left Libya and flew to Italy, but the Italians say Sadr never arrived. This official says there's no doubt that Libya is responsible for Sadr's disappearance and formal charges at Libya have since been filed. It's unlikely much will come of the case and it's not clear what Gaddafi's motives would've been. There are other theories as well: Sadr was a vocal opponent of Israel but he also criticized the PLO. Whatever the reason for his disappearance, he's still a hero for Lebanon's Shia community.

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