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Friday, March 02, 2007

Political science lesson of the day

From today's Political Science branch of the WSJ's ProfessorJournal-dot-com is a lesson in Muslim politics and tensions:
Following the death of the Prophet Mohammad in 632, a conflict emerged over the selection of his successor. The Sunni choice was his father-in-law with the Shiites supporting Mohammad's son-in-law, resulting in a split that continues. Overlapping this religious conflict is an ethnic and geopolitical one with Persian Iran being Shiite with the ethnically Arab areas dominated by Sunnis. With the rise of Iran's power and concern escalating about their nuclear developments, tensions have intensified. Although Shiites make up only 15% of the Muslim population, Sunnis feel that their influence far out weights their numbers. A senior Saudi Arabian cleric sees Shiites as "more dangerous than Jews and Christians." Former Iraq ruler Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, denounced Shiites as he was being executed. With the execution being carried out on a religious holiday by a Shiite led government, further animosities were kindled. The Muslim schism can be seen in Bahrain, location of a key U.S. military base and command center for the Fifth Fleet. Although Bahrain is 70% Shiite, its ruling family is Sunni, resulting in tensions. Recently, five local Shiites pooled their money to buy a deteriorated house with the intention of knocking it down and building separate homes. Rumors abounded that Iran was seeking to expand its reach into Bahrain. A Sunni preacher, who lives next door to the Shiite purchased house, said that Shiites were worse than Americans, both of which he despises. The local media wrote a series of articles claiming an Iran connection for the Shiites, inflaming the situation. Ultimately, the Ministry of Municipalities and Agriculture ordered the new owners to sell their property, claiming that the ministry was acting to preserve historic buildings. Shiites have protested. Similar Sunni-Shia conflicts can be found throughout the Middle East. The Sunni controlled Lebanese government is seeking to contain the Iranian supported Shiite organization Hezbollah. Other Middle East countries with small Shiite populations are concerned about their and Iran's influence. Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabian are worried about a rise in secular tensions and the growing influence of Iran in the region. Some analysts have expressed concern that the U.S.'s pressure on Iran will escalate Muslim sectarian conflict.
I had to re-read this synopsis a few times to get things correct in my mind. I would wager most people who feel obligated to share their opinions about the battle in Iraq and the Middle East in general, know little about the history, the culture, the people, and the religion of the area.

Seriously. Assuming the story is true, how many people on the street (non-Muslim, let's say) could relate the source of the differences between the two major sects? Granted, many Christians don't know (or care?) who led the Reformation, but we aren't in a conflict with those who supported the Reformation.

Perhaps there should be more of these types of synopses in local newspapers. If so, maybe our population would be a little more educated and the politicians and pundits (of all stripes) wouldn't be able to get away with the obfuscations and misleading statements with which they are able to today?

i dont think shias or iran have the same perception for suni's they are deflecting more to west than their counter sect.
Shia versus Sunni is the /easy/ way to view things... It's often more complex, with tribes being the deciding factor. Saddam was viewed as liberal (in the Western sense of the word) by many for "religious tolerance"; actually, he was extremely tribal, and his native tribe was of mixed religions (strongly Sunni, of course, but enough others to make it hard to persecute the other religions/sects).
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