The Lowdown on the Shiite-Sunni Divide

Women_mosque200Sev­er­al 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:

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  • Joe says:

    Real­ly, who cares? 10/20 years ago, sub­jects like this were of mere­ly aca­d­e­m­ic or anthro­po­log­i­cal inter­est: how prim­i­tive tribes live their lives, and hate oth­ers. Whats hap­pened is Islam has assumed cen­tre stage in inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics, with a front­line advo­cate of ter­ror­ism who are a sub­stan­tial minor­i­ty on the same ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum: we have the Truth, the rest of you do not.

    Sun­ni, wahabee shia, shmia: its all Moslem, and I am sick of see­ing it with­in pol­i­tics and cur­rent affairs when just recent­ly it would only have been an anthro­po­log­i­cal inter­est.

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