[The Musa Sadr Trilogy. Part 2 of 3. For Part One see When, Where, and How Imam Musa Sadr was Assassinated]
There is no shortage of conspiracy theories about who wanted Musa Sadr eliminated but evidence continues to mount that Musa Sadr was assassinated because he was increasingly seen as a political threat to Khomeini. This observer has tentatively concluded that the 'Vanished Imam" was the victim of intra-Shia competition and paranoia and not, as has been erroneously claimed, because of Gadaffi's spur of the moment wrath during a discussion of religion. Sadr was no threat to Libya but sure he was a potential threat to the Khomeini faction of hardline clerics trying to topple the Shah of Iran.
Some have claimed that the PLO's Yasser Arafat, colluded with Gaddafi with whom he was close at the time, to remove Sadr who was an increasingly outspoken critic of certain Palestinian military activities in southern Lebanon. PLO attacks on Israel automatically drew reprisals and the victims of Israel retaliatory often carpet bombing were mainly Shia villagers. Anti-PLO resentment from Lebanon's Shia community was fairly prevalent and one recalls that at the beginning of Israel's July 2006 invasion of Lebanon, their troops were sometime showered with flowers of gratitude in South Lebanon villages.
[Photo: Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Beshseti. Reputedly the second most powerful figure in the Iranian Revolution after Ayatollah Khomeini. Photo courtesy of Irin news agency.]
Yet, despite their differences, this observer has uncovered no dispositive probative evidence that Arafat was involved in the Imam's disappearance. It is true that this observer's research over the past few years reveals that Musa Sadr's relations with the PLO and weapons suppliers including Libya were indeed at low ebb by 1978 especially after Israel's Operation Litani against the Palestinians had inflicted much damage on the Shia residents of South Lebanon who were innocently stuck in the middle and did not want to be part of the conflict.. By then, Sadr's strong criticisms of the PLO had intensified, and the Libyan-funded press in Beirut attacked him constantly. Consequently, some have suggested, there was a PLO motive to go along the assassination or at least not stop it.
This observer has tentatively concluded that Imam Sadr's disappearance was directly linked to the inter-factional struggle among Iranian revolutionary cadres in the lead-up to the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran a few years later. Sadr was aligned with the faction despised by Khomeini's lieutenants, who were working closely with the PLO in Lebanon and who were responsible for organizing Iran's Hezbollah.
There have been many suggested motives why Musa Sadr was a political threat to Ayatollah Khomeini. They relate to his intellect, moderation, ecumenism, and charisma which attracted many from across sectarian lines to his cause. He was a tall, magnetic cleric born in Iran who moved to Lebanon in the late 1950s and helped mobilize Lebanon's long marginalized and downtrodden Shi'ite community.
Until Musa Sadr arrived and began his human rights work, most Lebanese Shia community was dominated by powerful feudalistic landowners and not represented in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system. Musa Sadr organized vocational centers, orphanages and Islamic institutes and lobbied the government for a more equitable distribution of the state's resources. "It was Imam Sadr that woke up the sleeping giant that is the Shi'ites of Lebanon," says Aql Hamiyah, who in the 1980s was the military commander of the Amal Movement founded by Sadr in 1975.
In 1969, Musa Sadr was elected as the first president of the official Shia Higher Council, which the Lebanese government reluctantly formed in response to his above demands on behalf of Shia. The founding of this council marked the first "separation" between Sunnis and Shia Muslims and the latter became an independent sect like the Druze and Maronites. Moreover, Musa Sadr established Shia schools and clubs and in 1974 he founded the Mahroomeen movement (Movement of the Disinherited) as a political entity in Lebanon.
A year later, Sadr organized "Islamic Resistance "battalions known as Amal, which was the military wing of the Mahroomeen movement. In addition to local Shia, many Iranians arrived and joined the movement, including Mustafa Chamran who was an Iranian activist that moved to Lebanon prior to the Islamic revolution and became Musa al Sadr's "right-hand man". Chamran was in charge of monitoring Amal's military branches before the Lebanese revolution erupted.
Given Musa Sadr's striking physical appearance and brimming energy, he acquired respect and devotees that transcended Lebanon's antiquated sectarian divides. He was comfortable with Sunni's and enjoyed preaching in Christian churches where he was well received. The Imam was a rare gifted advocate for the disposed and 'you are your brother's keeper', across sectarian lines and understood the cause of Jesus of Nazareth who used to visit the very geography of Tyre and environs where the Imam was based.
Abdullah Yazbek, a close adviser to Imam Sadr recalls accompanying him to a Christian village in southern Lebanon where the cleric was invited to speak. When the Christian congregation saw him enter the church, they began chanting, "Allahu akbar," ("God is great") a traditional Muslim invocation. Says Yazbek: "The way people treated him, it was as if he himself was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ the Righteous. Christians loved Imam Sadr and many still do."
Sadr's ecumenism was viewed with alarm and anger among certain conservative Shia clerical circles in Lebanon. And even more so among pro-Khomeini clerics in Iran and specifically by Ayatollah Mohammed Beheshti, who was widely regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran. "Is al-Sadr a Muslim or is he a Christian? Or maybe al-Sadr is a Jew?" Ayatollah Beheshti was reported to have asked a meeting of clerics in Teheran in July of 1978.
Shortly thereafter Beheshti reportedly asked Libya's leader Moammar Gadaffi to invite Musa Sadr to Libya "for consultations."
One of several Sadr-Khomeini religious disagreements related to Khomeini's adoption of a 10th century idea in Shia Islam which called for of a guardianship ruled system. Ayatollah Khomeini, who is much revered in Iran today, explained the concept in a series of lectures in 1970 . And after the successful overthrow of the Shah it became the essence the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Known as the faqih, or Vali-ye faqih (Guardian Jurist), Khomeini planned to serve as the Supreme Leader of the government of Iran until the Shia 12th Imam appears from his claimed current occultation.