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‘Know Your Enemy’

‘Know Your Enemy’Tufts graduate Vali Nasr says that the Shia branch of Islam—which includes the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon—is at the center of the Middle East conflict.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.17.06] Proving that even a comedy show can provide a forum for serious discourse on current events, Middle East scholar and Tufts graduate Vali Nasr recently paid a visit to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show to talk to host Jon Stewart about the role of Shia Islam in the ongoing crises in the region.

"Since the Iraq war, Shia has become much more powerful there," Nasr said on program. "Now they’re making a big power play in Lebanon, as well, with Iran and Hezbollah basically hijacking the Palestinian cause for themselves."

Nasr, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, is a widely published author on Islamic and Middle Eastern issues. His recent books include Democracy in Iran and The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future . He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tufts in 1983 and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School in 1984 before going on to get his Ph.D.

Analyzing the violent conflict between Israel and the militant Lebanon-based Shia group Hezbollah, Nasr said, “"I think Israel may at some point decide that this strategy’s not working. You cannot shock Hezbollah out of Beirut, and you have to sort of sit back and think of another way of doing it."

Hezbollah has proven to be both resilient and popular, Nasr explained, and is seeking to expand its influence.

"The radical Sunnis tried really hard to put out a lot of fact wars against Hezbollah saying, ‘These guys are heretics. Don’t follow them.’ But it hasn’t worked," he said on the program. "They’ve become heroes, and I think before the tide changes they’d like to sort of make sure that they enjoy that for a while and get power and use it."

Along with violence, the region has experienced a wave of anti-American rhetoric, stoked in part by the U.S. alliance with Israel and continued involvement in Iraq.

"It’s a way of rallying people, recruiting support, becoming heroes," Nasr explained. "For Hezbollah and Iran, it’s definitely a way of diverting attention from Sunni-Shia violence that is coming out of Iraq."

But despite the anti-American polemic, Nasr believes that the United States cannot abandon the Middle East.

"We can’t leave that region alone," he asserted on The Daily Show. "If we leave it alone you will have terrorism festering in places like in Afghanistan. We have interest in oil. We have interest in stability."

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