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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sunnis vs. Shi'ites: Differing Historical Views

Today in his absolutely essential weblog on all matters having to do with Iraq and the Middle East, Informed Comment, Juan Cole makes this interesting statement:

I see a lot of pundits and politicians saying that Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq have been fighting for a millennium. We need better history than that. The Shiite tribes of the south probably only converted to Shiism in the past 200 years. And, Sunni-Shiite riots per se were rare in 20th century Iraq. Sunnis and Shiites cooperated in the 1920 rebellion against the British. If you read the newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s, you don't see anything about Sunni-Shiite riots. There were peasant/landlord struggles or communists versus Baathists. The kind of sectarian fighting we're seeing now in Iraq is new in its scale and ferocity, and it was the Americans who unleashed it.

This hits directly on something that I've been "laying off" to post here for several weeks.

Lately I've been reading books on the Crusades. This ought to be required reading for every American these days, in light of the crimes being committed daily overseas in their name. And of course, as if unconsciously sensing this, the Crusades are the last subject that any of them want to hear discussed. Not one sensible movie has even been made of that 200-year-deep pit of misery and history, now or, as far as I know, at any other time.

Before Cole jumped in there, I wanted to post a quote from one of those books, The Crusades, by Antony Bridge, published in 1982. On page 141 he said>

But perhaps the worst cause of disunity in the Moslem camp was the religious dissension betweeen the Sunni Moslems and the Shi'ites. There is no need to describe their doctrinal differences, but they tore the Moslem world apart in much the same way as doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants were later to ravage western Christendom; and as in the West, so in Islam, the religious disagreement between the two embattled sects was used by those who played at power politics to further their own ends.

Sound familiar? Every bit of this is right on for today, yet Bridge wrote this 24 years ago, about the situation in the Middle East in the 12th century, 900 years ago!

The distinction should be made that Cole is speaking of modern Iraq, while Bridge was referring to events that occurred mainly in what is now Syria, but the sameness of the principle is what matters, and Syria is plenty close enough, as is the difference between nine centuries and a millennium.


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