[Every] Muslim is a brother to [his fellow] Muslim. He must not oppress him or hand him over [to the enemy] or abandon him," said the Prophet Mohammed. Such texts help to explain the solidarity many Islamic leaders adhere to, even for renegade troublemakers like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda that make life difficult for Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
Eight months after 9/11 a leading Shiite cleric in Beirut explained to me, "Osama bin Laden is not Islam and Islam is not Osama bin Laden." So did that mean Islamic nations would bring terrorists to heel? "No!" he cried vehemently. "We cannot because these are our brothers."
But blind loyalty is fraying after a month's fighting between Hezbollah and Israel. Lebanese Shiites noted that Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani failed to issue full-fledged support for Hezbollah's latest jihad. The leader of Lebanon's Maronite Christians, Bishop Nasrollah Safir, spoke out last week for the full disarmament of Hezbollah and said, "All Lebanese should realize that the greatest danger of all today comes from the regime in Tehran." And An-Nahar, a leading Lebanon newspaper, has in recent weeks published a series of anti-Hezbollah essays by key Shiite intellectuals, including the paper's own opinion-page editor, to popular response.
Lebanese University professor Mona Fayad wrote that to be a Shiite is "to block your mind" and allow Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "to command you, drive you, decide for you what he wants from the weapons of Hezbollah, and force on you a victory that is no different from suicide." Editor Jihad al-Zein, also Shiite, wrote an open letter to Khamenei, challenging Iran's use of proxies like Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to advance its own agenda.
Such expression carries risk: Two prominent An-Nahar journalists already have been assassinated. Popular columnist Samir Kassir and Gebran Ghassan, grandson of the paper's founder and its editor when he was elected to parliament a year ago, were killed in separate car-bomb explosions last year.
Such boldness marks a gathering storm for Nasrallah in these days of uneasy ceasefire. Remember, it was Nasrallah who only months ago presided over more than half a million demonstrators in Beirut's now-bombed southern suburbs to blame Western leaders for the publication of Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed. When the rioting turned violent and demonstrators torched the Danish embassy, he blamed the Lebanese government. If the victory he is claiming doesn't materialize, who will he blame? And who will support him?