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Today is the anniversary of the death of Mohammed in 632 CE. The schism that opened in the Muslim world after his death continues to play out in the contemporary political tensions between Sunni Muslims who believe that the first four caliphs where the rightful successors to Mohammed and Shi’ite Muslims who believe that the heirs of the fourth caliph, Mohammed’s cousin, Ali, are the only legitimate successors to Mohammed.

On this anniversary of Mohammed’s death, three stories suggest the shifting ground of global politics in the Middle East and beyond:

  1. Hezbollah, a Shi’ite group backed by Iran and Syria, lost the election in Lebannon this weekend.  This an important defeat because it eases the tensions between Lebannon and Isreal and opens the possibility of talks between the US and Syria, which were put off until after the elections in Lebannon. Some are even crediting an “Obama effect” for the election results.
  2. Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to make a major policy speech about the principles of peace and security for Israel. It seems that he is feeling the pressure from Obama’s strategy to hold the Israeli government accountable for continuing settlements.
  3. All over Europe, there seems to be a political shifting to the right in the face of the global economic crisis. This unfortunate development, which could have easily been predicted insofar as tacking rightward is a standard, and disturbing, european response to uncertainty. Happily, the American response to such uncertainties seems, if FDR and Obama are any indication, to be precise opposite.

All of these stories suggest that the ground of global politics is shifting in a remarkable and decisive way, a way that opens new possibilities for peace and, of course, violence. It will be interesting to see how the elections in Iran to take place at the end of the week will turn out. That too could prove decisive for the ultimate success of Obama’s foreign policy initiatives.

Let us hope that on this anniversary of the death of the prophet Mohammed, something of the schism between Sunni and Shi’a, between Israel and Palestine, between West and East, can be healed.

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  • Just a follow-up here to the posts on the power of words and the shifting ground of global politics: the developments in Iran reported here by the New York Times are remarkable. This paragraph captures the core of it:

    Chants of “Death to America” at rallies for Mr. Ahmadinejad this week were answered by chants of “Death to the Taliban — in Kabul and Tehran” at a rally for Mr. Moussavi. The candidate’s articulate and engaged wife has even been compared with America’s first lady (though, when asked this week about her role in her husband’s campaign, she stated simply: “I am not Michelle Obama”). On the streets of Tehran, and on Flickr, the opposition leader’s green-clad supporters have been seen waving posters of him bearing the promise, in English, of “a new greeting to the world.”

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