In recent years I have worked deeply on quiet conflict management interventions from Afghanistan to Iran, but mostly in Syria. I have watched the unnecessary suffering of countless people, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, the greatest civilian displacement in Middle Eastern history, and I have watched it up close through the lives of my students and friends.
The 85-year-old Grand Ayatollah did not talk to me as if I'm Sunni or Shia, Muslim or non-Muslim but just as a human being. I left his reception fully confident that Iraq is currently in safe hands so long as it continues to have wise men like him. However, what will happen after Sistani departs a fragile Iraq?
I believe now is the time -- actually, it has been the time for decades now -- to consider new forms of leadership, not only in the Middle East, but around the world. We need to get away from the leaders who demonize the other, who use fear, threat, and actual engagement in war as tools for their own maintenance of power.