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December 19, 2006

Background on Shia-Sunni Split

TRex at Firedoglake has a great post up that outlines the history that created the schism between the Shia and Sunni Muslims.  He brought in Jebediah from Foreign Policy Watch and Juan Cole of Informed Comment to help educate the readers.  Nice job.

Several things jumped out at me:

  1. There are such seemingly small differences that separate these two groups of Muslims.  That is so much easier to see from the outside than it is with distinctions that we grew up with, say between Protestants and Catholics or between Conservative and Reform Jews. 
  2. There is a clear divide between the majority Sunni nations of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Eqypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, the Emirates and Turkey and the majority Shiite nations, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon.  Most Muslim nations outside the Middle East are also Sunni, i.e. Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan and India.  Eighty-five percent of the world's Muslims are Sunni.  I have read in other places that the real issues in the Middle East, the places where the most violence will occur, is between these two sects, not between Islam and the West. 
  3. For the Shiites, descendants of the prophets are revered, a category which includes the clerics Ayatollah Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr.  Oops!  That second one is proving to be a real problem for the U.S. and several of the proposed scenarios for us to extricate ourselves from this quagmire include trying to isolate him in the current Iraqi government.  Hm, wonder how that's going to work, given his status?
  4. It's been 500 years or so since the conflict between the Sunni and Shia peoples has been inflamed to the extent it is today.  This ferocity of violence has occurred since we invaded Iraq.  Sure, it has been fanned by politicians in Iraq to further their power, much as occurred in post-Tito Yugoslavia, but our invasion and occupation set up the conditions.  Says Cole on an NPR interview:  "For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, Sunnis and Shiites have lived in Iraq largely free of conflict.  It was our invasion of that country that inflamed the sectarian tensions and created an environment of chaos that has given birth to a Medieval bloodbath".
  5. Boy, we can make a mess when neither we nor our leaders know much about history.  I am reminded that King Abdullah II of Jordan said on This Week a few weeks ago:  he believes we are on the verge of three civil wars in the Middle East - in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq.  Our actions or inactions have increased the likelihood that each of these conflicts go violent.

Please, please, please, let us have people with foreign policy experience, people like Wes Clark and Richard Clarke and Richard Holbrook and Rand Beers, running our foreign policy again.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 19, 2006 at 07:22 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

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