Several months ago, The New York Times ran a rather striking piece
detailing how key US leaders
-- ones playing integral roles in the war
on terror and the war in Iraq -- couldn't explain the basic difference between a Shiite and a Sunni. The disclosure, however, wasn't terribly
surprising. We were, after all, already several years into fighting a war that was premised on seeing only rosy scenarios, not inconvenient details or
hard realities on the ground.
Reality is nowadays coming back with a vengeance, talk about
civil war and a Sunni-Shiite divide has entered our
political vocabulary, and we're finally doing the homework that we should
have done years ago. This week, NPR's Morning Edition has put together a helpful five-part series, called “The Partisans of Ali: A History of Shia Faith and Politics,"
that explores the historical divisions between Shia and Sunni Muslims,
giving particular attention to the Shiites themselves. If you haven't
already, you might as well bone up on this material, since it will shape our national experience for years to come, regardless of how
many exit-plans are being drawn up right now. All programs can be
downloaded as mp3's. A general overview of the series (which has a lot
of good supporting materials) can be found here. Meanwhile, you can access the individual daily programs below: