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Understanding Shiite Leadership: The Art of the Middle Ground in Iran and Lebanon, Shaul Mishal and Ori Goldberg

Reviewed by Michael M.J. Fischer

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The art of “middle ground” politics—strategic, institutional, philosophical—offers an alternative language for understanding the politics of Iran.

Strategically, middle ground politics is “friction-based, dynamic equilibri­um” (p. 58) management. Opposed to absolute ideas or clear-cut power relations, it rejects victory/defeat claims in favor of engaging and managing all goals, factions, and players. It is pragmatic but involves brinkmanship and active cultivation of “friction” to keep multiple goals and options in play. “The focus [of Iran’s nuclear policy] does not seem to be on acquisition or detona­tion. Rather, Iranian policy seems to leverage the friction caused by nuclear negotiations into diverse global influence” (p. 7). This can be useful for minorities, as in Hezbollah’s growth to a majority in the Lebanese parliament while continuing to jockey between loyalties to Lebanon and Syria, attacks on and understandings with Israel, and always seeking positions from which it can undermine the party it is also supporting. Shiism has always seen itself as a minority. The true Muslims (egoless lovers of God) are always a minority and feel oppressed by the corruptions of the world.

Institutionally (and historically), middle ground politics has a habitus in the split betwe

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