Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sunni and Shia - a map tells it all

There's an astonishing article by Jeff Stein today "Can you tell a Sunni from a Shiite?" (New York Times; free registration required). It's astonishing because he asked a wide selection of Washington D.C. policy-gods if they could give him a brief explanation of the differences between Muslim Shia and Sunni's; few could! Without getting into a lots of details one might hope they would at least know that most Muslims (85%) are Sunni while the remainder are Shia. More importantly, vis-a-vis, the current problems in Iraq, Iran is mostly Shia. The map tells it all. Particularly notice the concentration of Shia in Iraq. This map was produced, and made available online, by the Central Intelligence Agency!
If you think this is interesting you might begin to consider the historical differences between Iran (Persia) and the Arab world. It is not even remotely true to say that all Muslims have a shared hatred of the West.
One reference "Sons of the Conquerors" Hugh Pope takes a look at the changing landscape of the old Ottoman Empire, state by state.
Now if I could find some way to get the policy-gods away from their comic books and on to some serious reading I'd be a happy man.

Jan 2007, more Christian Science Monitor here


Jack Vinson said...

Did the same research ask people if they know the difference between Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians? I'm guessing most people couldn't tell you the differences between these sects of Christianity either.

So, beyond their locational differences, what are the differences between the two sects?

Ed Borasky said...

The differences between Shia and Sunni aren't what's important here. Neither, for that matter, are the differences between Catholic and Protestant that raged over Europe and spilled into the Western Hemisphere. And neither are the differences between Muslims and Christians, Muslims and Jews, Muslims and Hindus or Muslims and Buddhists.

What's important here is the political and economic realities -- religions at war, people at war, the rich struggling to hold on to their wealth and the poor struggling to survive. It is all so terribly terribly sad, really. The United States and Britain started something they don't appear to have the capability of finishing, even if they had the will to do so, which is doubtful.

I would urge the leaders of the so-called "free world" to take a step back and define what the outcome is that they truly want. It all seems to be defined in negative terms -- we don't want Iran to have nuclear weapons, we don't want to see Iraq divided along ethnic and religious lines, we don't want Hezbollah or Hamas to govern the Lebanese or the Palestinians, etc. But what kind of world is it that we *do* want?