Distant relations: Iran and Lebanon in the last 500 years. By H. E. Chehabi, with contributions by Rula Jurdi Abisaab et al. Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies; London: I. B. Tauris; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006. Pp. xiv, 322, with bibliographical references and index. ISBN: 1860645615.
H. E. Chehabi, Professor of International Relations and History at the University of Boston, is the editor of this book, and author or co-author of six of the twelve papers. Six other scholars also contributed papers, while a paper by the late scholar Albert Hourani is reprinted, a fact not noted in the pertinent chapter itself, and only incompletely cited in the preface.
The premise of the book is that while the media make much of the current relations between Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah, this relationship did not spring out of nowhere. The book therefore proceeds to study the history of religious, cultural, and political relations between Iranians and Lebanese.
The first paper, written by Chehabi and Hassan I. Mneimneh, is an introductory paper which lays the groundwork for the rest of the book and summarizes what is to be discussed. It is here that the full citation to the Hourani paper is finally found, buried in a footnote on p. 6. The remaining eleven papers are arranged essentially chronologically, and divided among three parts.
Part I, Iran and Pre-Independence Lebanon, discusses the early centuries, starting with Hourani’s paper, “From Jabal `Amil to Persia.” This describes the emigration of Shi`ite scholars from Jabal `Amil in southern Lebanon to what is now Iran. A paper by Rula Jurdi Abisaab continues the discussion about the `Amili `ulamā’ in Syria and Iran. This is followed by a paper by Richard Hollinger on the Baha’i students at the American University of Beirut from 1906–1948, a paper which seems somewhat out of place in a book whose main goal is to trace the development of relations between Iranian and Lebanese Shi`ites. The final paper in this part, written by Chehabi, discusses the memoirs of the prominent Iranian scholar and diplomat Qasem Ghani (1893–1952), covering the time he spent in Beirut during World War I. It includes lengthy quotes from Ghani’s memoirs, translated into English.
Part II, Pahlavi Iran and the First Republic, starts with a paper by Chehabi and Majid Tafreshi entitled “Musa Sadr and Iran.” While much has been written about Sadr’s leadership of Lebanese Shi`ites in the 1970s and his disappearance in 1978, this paper covers his earlier years. After a brief discussion of Sadr’s ancestry and his family’s complex ties to both Iran and Lebanon, the paper describes how Sadr came to emigrate from Iran to Lebanon in 1959, and discusses his continuing political and religious relations with the Iranian Shi`ites and the Shah’s government. The next paper, by A. W. Samii, describes Iran’s foreign policy towards Lebanon during the period from 1957 to 1976, its attempts to influence events in Lebanon, and the role of SAVAK. The final paper in this part, by Chehabi, describes the activities of Iranian anti-Shah opposition groups located in Lebanon, and their relations with Lebanese groups.
Part III, The Islamic Republic and Hizballah, starts with a paper by Chehabi, “Iran and Lebanon in the revolutionary decade,” which describes relations of the Islamic Republic in Iran with groups in Lebanon, which by then was in the throes of its civil war, as well as its backing of groups, including the nascent Hizballah, which opposed Israel and its occupation of Lebanese territory. The next paper, by Rula Jurdi Abisaab, discusses revolutionary Shi`ism in Lebanese hawzas, a hawza being “a new type of religious seminary that differs from the traditional Lebanese madrasa in that it is more institutionalized and bureaucratized” (p. 231). She discusses the role of the clerics and the influence of the hawzas on the political and social lives of Lebanese Shi`ites. In the next paper, Judith Harik describes Hizballah’s public and social services in Lebanon, the role of such services as an agent of political mobilization, and the support provided by Iran. The book concludes with a paper by Chehabi which describes relations between Iran and Lebanon, including Hizballah, after 1989, the year which marked the death of Khomeini and the signing of the Ta’if agreement which eventually led to the end of the Lebanese civil war.
Each paper includes copious footnotes located at the bottom of the page where they are cited, a convenience which spares the reader from having to constantly flip back and forth to a notes section. Bibliographical references are included in the footnotes, but unfortunately there are no comprehensive bibliographies, neither at the end of each paper nor for the book as a whole. The book includes an adequate index.
All papers are scholarly and informative, and often shed new light on the events described. The book would be of interest to scholars in the areas mentioned above as well as to educated members of the public interested in Middle Eastern affairs. It would be an important addition to academic libraries which support Middle East studies programs.
University of Utah Marriott Library