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Let's play who's the Sunni
October 17, 2006 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite? Should the FBI's counter-terrorism chief know the difference? How about the head of the FBI national security branch? How about a vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence?
posted by caddis (125 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
“Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.” - Congressman Terry Everett, vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.
posted by caddis at 7:07 AM on October 17, 2006 [2 favorites]


One is peace-loving and filled with forgiveness . And the other, agressive, contemptuous of all others not of their belief; angry, suicidal, killers. Undrline the correct one.
posted by Postroad at 7:13 AM on October 17, 2006


That quote is in my clipboard as well. Jesus Mohammed Christ, people.
posted by sohcahtoa at 7:13 AM on October 17, 2006


And I thought I was cynical before.
posted by wires at 7:16 AM on October 17, 2006


It's pretty amazing that people in those positions wouldn't know the difference over three years into the Iraq conflict, where the schism increasingly influences daily events.

It certainly explains a few things.
posted by clevershark at 7:18 AM on October 17, 2006


Reminds me of Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans.
posted by srboisvert at 7:21 AM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


deserves a commentary...
posted by parmanparman at 7:36 AM on October 17, 2006


“Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”

For Fuck's Sake!

Everyone knows all the world's problems can be solved by a bunch of willful idiots blundering around with bombs and guns.

Or maybe that's what causes the world's problems. I forget...

*wraps ignorance around self like a flag*
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:38 AM on October 17, 2006


Good post. Sad, sad, sad, sad to know.
posted by blacklite at 7:39 AM on October 17, 2006


Unless he was asking about their different ways of dressing or something based on visual cues, the headline should read something like "Can You Tell Sunni Islam from the Shia Kind?" I suppose Iraqis do have subtle ways of telling "Us" from "Them" (kinda like how I usually can tell a straight heavy metal type from a gay leather man) but a question so important must be phrased more precisely.

So any way, since we're playing Smarter Than Thou, how many Mefites know the difference between Sunni and Shia? Bonus points if you're not Muslim yourself and gained your knowledge by your own efforts.
posted by davy at 7:41 AM on October 17, 2006


Sunni women can't drive.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 7:45 AM on October 17, 2006


davy, I agree "Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?" is a pointless question, but the author probably didn't writ the headline. Are you saying the question quoted in the article, “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”, is also not precisely enough phrased?
posted by sohcahtoa at 7:49 AM on October 17, 2006


Unless he was asking about their different ways of dressing or something based on visual cues, the headline should read something like "Can You Tell Sunni Islam from the Shia Kind?

The question he's asking isn't even that difficult. It's really just "Do you know if group X is mainly Sunni or mainly Shiite?", and doesn't require knowing anything about Sunni or Shiite beliefs.

To paraphrase the article, it's as if officials at MI5 couldn't remember whether it was the Catholics or the Protestants who wanted the British out.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:51 AM on October 17, 2006


In all honesty, I confess to not knowing the distinguishing characteristics of the beliefs of Sunnis and Shiites. But in my defense, I do know not to go blundering about in situations I don't fully understand.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:52 AM on October 17, 2006


I have often suspected that Americans demand far less competence in their elected leaders than in their sports coaches. Can you imagine the scandal and waves of derision that would erupt if it turned out that a MLB manager not only didn't know the difference between the AL and NL, but never bothered to find out? Or if a division I-A head coach (in any sport) couldn't name their conference rival? They'd be ridden out of town on a rail.
posted by mhum at 7:52 AM on October 17, 2006


If you'd like to learn more about Islam and the Shiite - Sunni rift Karen Armstrong's book Islam: A Short History is very good.
posted by bshort at 7:52 AM on October 17, 2006


So any way, since we're playing Smarter Than Thou, how many Mefites know the difference between Sunni and Shia?

davy, I live in the Midwest, work as a telecommuter from my basement, and lead a generally sheltered life. And I absolutely know the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam. I learned what I know not from doing any directed research, but from just paying some freaking attention. This does not make me Smarter Than Thou, but it does make me Smarter Than KEY FBI COUNTERTERRORISM PERSONNEL. That is frightening.

And all they would have had to do is go to Wiki and look up Shia and Sunni. 10 minutes of reading and they're done. But honestly, all you have to do is pay even marginal attention to the news and you should know the difference. And our counter-terrorism experts aren't doing it. good cripes.

key quote from the NYT article: "Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don’t care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we’re fighting. And that’s enough to keep anybody up at night."
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:53 AM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


So any way, since we're playing Smarter Than Thou, how many Mefites know the difference between Sunni and Shia?

Um, most of us are not in charge of things that would require that. The FBI's counter-terrorism chief is and should know it to do his job.
posted by octothorpe at 7:53 AM on October 17, 2006


The short version is that the differences come from two main sources:

1)who were the proper successors to Muhammed's teachings, and
2)what place do non-Quranic texts have in the religion?

Addressing #2 first, The Quran states it is the whole and complete Word of God. But there are still questions left unanswered. (some Muslims, especially from European and American branches, dispute this and say ALL questions can be answered with enough study of the Quran) There were some books written after the Prophet's death, the Haddith, which claim to carry on the tradition. Sunnis generally adhere to these texts and embrace them as part of the faith, Shi'as generally do not.

#1 is a bit more complex and involve a lot of names I'm never going to remember. Short version: In the wake of Muhammed, the Caliphate was established as (IIRC) an elected position, much like the Pope. The Sunnis follow this tradition of succession. The Shi'a, conversely, believe that the Prophet's own family should have carried on the tradition, and reject the Caliphate.

Do I win?
posted by InnocentBystander at 7:53 AM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


If you don't ride a camel, you ain't Shiite.

sorry, had to be done.
posted by tadellin at 7:55 AM on October 17, 2006


octothorpe

As a presumably franchised member of the American public, YOU are ultimately in charge of those who get appointed to those positions of power.

If you (and the rest of the population) don't know these things, then how are you ever going to elect people who aren't, as the kids say, just blowing smoke up your ass?

Hell, if enough people had known the difference before the Iraq war, maybe we wouldn't have gone in at all. Believe it or not, there were a lot of people, educated about these matters, warning of EXACTLY the quagmire we're now in - but they got shouted down by the ignorant.
posted by InnocentBystander at 7:56 AM on October 17, 2006


And while we're at it, DO today's Sunni and Shia dress differently in Iraq or wear different heair/beard styles or something? I've read up on the doctrinal and historical differences and even different ways of praying, but I don't know this.

"Are you saying the question quoted in the article, 'Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?', is also not precisely enough phrased?"

That too. It's not specific enough about what kind of difference you're asking about.

And yes, I understand the point of the Op-Ed piece and this thread, but that's not MY point.
posted by davy at 7:57 AM on October 17, 2006


["heair/beard"? Yikes, maybe I should ask for a retroactive spellcheck feature.]
posted by davy at 8:00 AM on October 17, 2006



So any way, since we're playing Smarter Than Thou, how many Mefites know the difference between Sunni and Shia?


We don't need to know. We aren't fighting a war over there. They are, apparently on our behalf. So I'd like to hope they know what they are doing and have researched their enemy.

Since day one though, I've suspected they're a bunch of fat rich fuckers who just don't care enough about what they are doing.

I suspect I'm right.
posted by twistedonion at 8:00 AM on October 17, 2006


how many Mefites know the difference between Sunni and Shia?

That's easy: the Sunni want to kill the Shia; whereas the Shia want to kill the Sunni.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:02 AM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


davy, Yes, and had anyone asked actually known enough to point that out, I'd agree.

But instead, all he got was "durr... I dunno."
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:02 AM on October 17, 2006


telling "Us" from "Them" (kinda like how I usually can tell a straight heavy metal type from a gay leather man)

And when you look at your elected rep....which type are they? And can THEY tell who's the Sunni?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:02 AM on October 17, 2006


Sunnis are more likely to shave their beards and adopt western dress. That, however, is by no means absolute.

Even Sikhs I have known differ in shaving, clothing and the wearing of a turban, and those are supposed to be fairly important cultural traits for that particular religion.
posted by clevershark at 8:03 AM on October 17, 2006


Actually the more disturbing part of this article was the insistence on the part of most of those who didn't know that it didn't matter if they knew.
posted by clevershark at 8:04 AM on October 17, 2006


clevershark: I think I've been working in Corporate America too long when the first thing that goes through my mind when reading the lede was just that, "But are they good managers?".

On further reflection, of course, good managers would learn the subject matter they're freakin managing.
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:07 AM on October 17, 2006


One would expect that people in such positions would have at least understood that there was a split, that it went back to the earliest times in the religion, and that it was a very deep split. You would further expect them to know who's Shia and who's Sunni. Anything beyond that earns them bonus points, but with at least this basic knowledge they can start to form intelligent judgments about the situation. Frankly, I would guess that most mefites know at least this basic stuff. It's embarrassing and a bit frightening that some of these people in such important positions do not.
posted by caddis at 8:15 AM on October 17, 2006


It doesn't matter if they can't tell the difference between them visually, or aren't up on the details of the schism and whatnot. But goddamnit, to not know the geopolitical implications of Iran's shiite majority next door, and the sunni majority everywhere else - that's simply unforgiveable.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:19 AM on October 17, 2006


As a presumably franchised member of the American public, YOU are ultimately in charge of those who get appointed to those positions of power.

Well, exactly. But being in charge of elected and appointed officials doesn't mean that I should have to know everything that they know. It means that I should hold them accountable for not knowing what they should know to do their job effectively.
posted by octothorpe at 8:21 AM on October 17, 2006


I've found it hard to fathom why its all going so staggeringly wrong - the mistakes, nepotism, incompetance and naivity, but this simple article makes it all so clear. Key people literally haven't got the first fucking clue.

This is so absurdy, incredibly, improbably inexcusable, I've been chuckling quietly for about 30 minutes, trying to think up words to describe the incredulity. You could learn enough to answer this question idley watching CNN for a couple of days.

I'd pay money to see dubya asked this question.
posted by MetaMonkey at 8:22 AM on October 17, 2006


I know next to nothing about the difference between Shiite and Sunni.

Furthermore, I don't know the difference between a Baptist and an Anabaptist. I have little idea of what Jehovah's Witnesses do when they aren't milling around on my porch. What (if anything) do Methodists believe in? Aren't there different sects of Lutherans? My ignorance when it comes to different religions is huge.

Having said that, in my defense, were I involved in a war between, say, the Church of Christ and the Church of England, I'd damn sure try to find out what each religion stood for. Since I'm not, I don't much care.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:22 AM on October 17, 2006


One difference I think noteworthy is that the Shia (specifically the Lebanese Hizbullah) pioneered suicide bombing in 1983, but now it's mainly a Sunni thing. I doubt this has much to do with the differences between Sunnism and Shiism though.

And IMHO, clevershark's comment, "Actually the more disturbing part of this article was the insistence on the part of most of those who didn't know that it didn't matter if they knew", is very well-put -- and very cogent.

And twistedonion, I think InnocentBystander is right. If we mean to support (or disallow) a particular governmental action we should know the most basic facts about it. Especially when it concerns warfare. But (to answer rough_ashlar), I'm afraid I don't expect the elected puppets reps in D.C. to know more than the voters, and articles like this don't help that. I see this as a big problem with "representative democracy" on a U.S.-sized scale, as well as a telling point on what we taxpayers let the Powers That Be spend our money on; I'd favor education over the military for example, and for reasons like the topic of this thread.
posted by davy at 8:23 AM on October 17, 2006


You'd think these fuckers would've remembered at least something from the Balkan War... remember when everyone was freaking out that the Iranian Shia would end up in Bosnia? Oh, wait, maybe they weren't paying attention then, either.
posted by DenOfSizer at 8:24 AM on October 17, 2006


davy, I agree "Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?" is a pointless question

Jesus Christ on a cracker! How is this a pointless question? Anybody with a common sense understanding of military strategy needs a basic grasp of the concept of "divide and conquer." (Hell, anybody with a basic understanding of most board games could grasp this concept.) If Islam is divided among opposing sects (which it is), then you can use these sectarian divisions to your advantage. You don't need to be von Clausewitz to understand that. Instead, by treating the Islamic world as an undifferentiated mass, we have united it against us.

Just a thought: I wonder if the influence of fundamentalist Christianity within the Bush Administration has anything to do with this willful ignorance on the subject of Islam. If you think Islam is inherently theologically wrong simply because it is un-Christian, you are not going to care much about making distinctions within Islam, even when the distinction is as important as Sunni vs. Shia.
posted by jonp72 at 8:25 AM on October 17, 2006


The Sunni usually make better moonshine.
posted by peeedro at 8:25 AM on October 17, 2006


There were some books written after the Prophet's death, the Haddith, which claim to carry on the tradition.

Kind of. The Hadith are meant to be collections of things the prophet said or did, passed down through known sources, that address situations not mentioned in the Qur'an. Along the lines of "X said Y said Z saw the prophet saying 'if a sheep looks at you squarely, give it a kick.'" Which is then used to justify and recommend the kicking of all staring sheep.

Also, the Shi'ites have Imams. Which is pretty huge.
posted by renraw at 8:28 AM on October 17, 2006


jonp72: I wasn't clear. The question itself is not pointless, I was just agreeing with Davy that "a question so important must be phrased more precisely". Or that the headline didn't accurately reflect the question being posed to officials.
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:34 AM on October 17, 2006


Oh, and even on this large scale, K-12 teachers should be paid more than Congressmembers, and college instructors more than Senators.

And DenOfSizer, I don't recall much worry over which brand of "Muslim extremist" volunteered for Bosnia; what I find "ironic" about your comment is that as it turns out the Sunni "Al Qaeda-types" were thicker on the Bosnian ground.

And on preview, I didn't say "Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?" was a pointless question, but an imprecise one.

(And peeedro, I thought booze was what the Christians and Jews were for.)
posted by davy at 8:34 AM on October 17, 2006


The North were the ones who wanted to keep slaves, right? And the Southy grew hemp? Something like that. Doesn't matter. Long time ago.
posted by Hogshead at 8:34 AM on October 17, 2006


An interesting corrollary to this is that Iraq in the Saddam days was perhaps the most secular of Islamic nations. A lot of the rhetoric from W's administration is that they are fighting "Islamo-fascism" or whatever they want to call this brand of terrorists. If that's the case, they invaded the wrong country.

There is no doubt that Saddam was a mass-murderer, but consider that he maniacally wiped out any group that opposed him. This would have included "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and any of the other fundamentalist terrorist groups that have sprung up/migrated into Iraq in the days following his ouster.

Which makes our entry into Iraq entirely unjustified based on what the focus of the War on "Terror" is supposed to be.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:37 AM on October 17, 2006


Obviously, we need a new comedian, whose schtick is:

You know you're a Shiite when . . .

"You have huge Imams"

"The phrase 'holy Shiite Moslem city' doesn't make you laugh"
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:40 AM on October 17, 2006


I don't know the difference between the two, and to be honest I don't really care.

Now now, put your flamethrowers away.

I've had a growing list of friends die over there fighting for a lie, a lie that most of us here didn't buy to begin with - so all I REALLY care about is bringing the troops home and getting out of there.

Let the two S's continue their 1400 year old war without us. Oh, and let them be thankful we gave them the freedom to resume the fight amongst themselves! /self-snark
posted by matty at 8:41 AM on October 17, 2006


mcstayinskool, don't forget (although most have) that in the last couple weeks before we launched our new Iraq war, OBL issued a fatwa on Saddam Hussein calling for his death.

Yet people still try to claim there was a "link" there.

But anyway, I personally find it stunning that more people DIDN'T look this stuff up. Let me ask you (the generalized YOU, not you in particular) - if you found out that there was an assassin after you, would you not try to find out every single goddammed thing there was to know about the guy gunning for you?

Name, birthdate, address, married, number of kids, etc etc.

Right?

You certainly wouldn't sit on your ass and make generalized claims about "assassins" as a whole.

So why is it that people expressed no interest whatsoever in a GROUP of people (supposedly) out to kill them?

I'm baffled.
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:41 AM on October 17, 2006


While "can you tell a Shiite from a Sunni" was the hook of the article, there was later a direct question to the FBI's cheif of security branch on whether Iran was a Sunni or Shiite nation. He got it wrong. That's absolutely critical knowledge for someone in that position, and just pathetic that he didn't know the answer.

Not that anyone's going to ever get the chance to do this, but do you think W knows the difference?
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:41 AM on October 17, 2006


renraw, the Shia have their own hadith including the sayings of the Imams. Of which, to an orthodox Shi'ite, there are 50. (Apologies where needed, I'm being pointedly pedantic.)
posted by davy at 8:45 AM on October 17, 2006


This bears repeating: “Instead, by treating the Islamic world as an undifferentiated mass, we have united it against us.”
posted by ijoshua at 8:47 AM on October 17, 2006


davy, I agree "Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?" is a pointless question

It's a meaningful question in Iraq. I remember reading about these Shiite groups who would set up roadblocks and check peoples' ID cards. If you had a typically Sunni name like "Omar," they'd put a bullet in your head.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:53 AM on October 17, 2006


What Is the Difference Between Sunni and Shiite Muslims--and Why Does It Matter?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:57 AM on October 17, 2006


"CHARGE!" cried Clueless. Over the top into the morass of no man's land roared the Clucks. Faintly over the din was heard Crank's desperate, "wtf?" Full of Clucks, the morass expanded, engulfing Crank. Clueless plotted another Grand Attack in the staff room.

From what I've read, for the most part Iraqis rely on a person's name or the form of their name to tell the difference between Sunni and Shiite. They can't tell just by looking. Many Iraqis carry 2 ID cards -- one showing them as Sunni, the other Shiite -- in hope they can survive the various factions' roadblocks.
posted by taosbat at 9:01 AM on October 17, 2006


jonp72: I wasn't clear. The question itself is not pointless, I was just agreeing with Davy that "a question so important must be phrased more precisely". Or that the headline didn't accurately reflect the question being posed to officials.

Thanks for clarifying. I definitely agree that the question can be more fruitful if phrased more precisely. On the other hand, these counterterrorism officials were so clueless about things that any Middle East area studies bottom-rung adjunct professor would know like the back of his hand that I don't think rephrasing the question would have done any good. Even the simple "no-brainer" tactic of a "divide and conquer" approach to Islamist terrorism seems to be beyond these guys. Heck, haven't any of these guys seen good cop/bad cop, as played on a movie or TV show? It's not rocket science.
posted by jonp72 at 9:03 AM on October 17, 2006


Well, Shiites drive like this, while Sunnis drive like this.
posted by UKnowForKids at 9:06 AM on October 17, 2006


Jo Ann Davis cleared it all up: "It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa."

Seriously, though: in a sense the differences in doctrine and practice (davy, did you know that Sunnis and Shi'is pray differently and have different calls to prayer?) don't matter. In some times and places, the two branches have gotten along with no problems. The thing is, when people (for whatever reasons, usually economic at base) decide to start killing each other, they'll seize on whatever differences are available as an excuse, and religious divisions are always a popular choice.

And of course the main point is that the people in charge of fighting the war and making decisions about the country have not the faintest clue about even the most basic facts about it. Not a good sign.

By the way, there are different kinds of Shi'a: "Twelvers" (who acknowledge twelve Imams) are the largest group and the ones in the news, but there are also Ismaili or "Seveners" (the Aga Khan is their leader) and Zaidis (who only accept the first four Twelver Imams and are based mainly in Yemen). That's for extra credit in case the reporter comes calling on you.
posted by languagehat at 9:07 AM on October 17, 2006


I just want to say that i love bshort's comment because it sounded like one of the little plugs for "your local library" at the end of Reading Rainbow.
posted by papakwanz at 9:08 AM on October 17, 2006


So taosbat, it'd stand to reason that Sunni "militants" carry Shia ID for when they run into the other side's roadblocks, eh? Here I have a blue bandana and a red one, though since I'm in neither gang I usually wear a neutral-colored one (like "tie-dye"). I'm also reminded of a story a friend of a friend tells about his visit to Belfast when he was glad to be Jewish.
posted by davy at 9:13 AM on October 17, 2006


I think the militants on all sides carry guns and explosives and don't much care about the ID cards, davy. It's the non-combats that risk their lives on such a gambit.
posted by taosbat at 9:16 AM on October 17, 2006


non-combatants who
posted by taosbat at 9:20 AM on October 17, 2006


I'm also reminded of a story a friend of a friend tells about his visit to Belfast when he was glad to be Jewish.

I bet he was asked - are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?

I'm sure it's similar in Iraq. It's more than religion. It's history, culture, dominance and politics. That is the case in Northern Ireland at any rate (though it's never been as mental here as a day in Iraq seems to be)

Religion is the excuse, not the reason.
posted by twistedonion at 9:21 AM on October 17, 2006


"(davy, did you know that Sunnis and Shi'is pray differently and have different calls to prayer?)"

Yes, but I can't keep those "everyday" differences straight in my head; I have to keep looking them up. To quote a Wikipedia article again:

"On a practical daily level, Shias have a different call to prayer i.e. Adhan (Azan), they perform wudu (wuzu) and salat (namaz) differently including placing the forehead onto a piece of hardened clay from Karbala, not directly onto the prayer mat when prostrating, as the majority Sunni do. They also tend to combine prayers, sometimes worshipping three times per day instead of five."

Etc. Is that enough, or did you want a "graduate-school" answer requiring more reading and typing? And (to anyone who knows) how accurate is that quoted excerpt above anyway? And is there, say, big business in producing and shipping clay from Karbala?

(I can't remember which Protestant sects disallow instrumental music during church services either, though I can explain why "paedobaptism" is an important term; generally my knowledge tends to be on the theory end of things and is often good for nothing.)
posted by davy at 9:34 AM on October 17, 2006


Talked to a guy about this a bit back, he said “Why do you need to know your enemy? We don’t need precision, we have bombs.”
I said, well how do you know who to bomb. He said, just bomb them all.
Yeah.
Say, did I ever tell you guys the story about Ollie North bringing a thick frosted chocolate cake out to the (appalingly hot) Iranian desert as a gift? And a bible? To a Shi`i Muslim cleric? During Ramadan?
He’s got his own show now, don’t he?
Why is anyone surprised when so many people in power positions are ignorant (willfully or otherwise) when it’s so often rewarded?

Apparently some folks in the (new) intelligence community believe satellite imagery can reveal human motivations better than human intelligence agents can.
Say, didn’t a lot of agents resign recently?
Really, why do you need to know what people are when you can watch what they do?
Musashi who?
posted by Smedleyman at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2006


One is peace-loving and filled with forgiveness . And the other, agressive, contemptuous of all others not of their belief; angry, suicidal, killers.

So what you're saying is, the disposition of one lot is sunny, and the attitude of the other group is shite?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:58 AM on October 17, 2006


You can't wash your hands in a Shia.
posted by patricio at 10:00 AM on October 17, 2006


So know that we know who's Shiite and who's Sunni, how can we use this knowledge to our advantage and get them to slit each others' throats (again)?

Ah, life with Saddam sure was much easier, wasn't it? When I grew up, the "Gulf War" was when Iraq kicked Iran's butt (1980-1988) and the rest of the world was rubbernecking on the sidelines. There was also the Stalingrad effect, meaning that as you watched you really were hoping for both sides to lose.
posted by sour cream at 10:04 AM on October 17, 2006


Why would we care? Won't God sort them out, after we kill them all?

By the way, since we're exporting democracy over there, which ones, the Shuunites or the Siinnis, include Ackmed Washington, Mohammed Adams, and Ali Jefferson?
posted by orthogonality at 10:19 AM on October 17, 2006


Sunni, Shiite, whatever,. The dead have more in common with each other than they have differences, and I presume this is what drives our public policy.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:27 AM on October 17, 2006


Oh my God, orthogonality, we're totally on the same page!
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:28 AM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


"In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.

Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam--to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”
posted by william_boot at 10:59 AM on October 17, 2006


What did Bush know and when did he know it?

There is a story out there, attributed to ambassdor Peter Galbraith, that in Jan '03 at a Superbowl party, Bush revealed to some Iraqi guests he didn't know there was such a difference, much less what it was.
posted by jamjam at 11:00 AM on October 17, 2006


Is that enough, or did you want a "graduate-school" answer requiring more reading and typing?

Oh, I wasn't trying to test you—sorry if it came off that way. It was half a rhetorical question ("Hey, did you know...") and half genuine curiosity: I know you've read up on the doctrinal differences, and I wondered if you'd also investigated the "everyday" stuff. And I have to keep looking up the details too. The stuff you quoted looks accurate; the differences in the call to prayer are made clear here.

the rest of the world was rubbernecking on the sidelines.

Well, except for the U.S., which was busily giving Saddam WMDs.
posted by languagehat at 11:00 AM on October 17, 2006


Oops!
posted by jamjam at 11:04 AM on October 17, 2006


There was a movie two years ago. Hotel Rwanda. About the african genocidal civil war between Tutsis and Hutus. At one point in the story we witness a caucasian reporter talking to two women, one Tutsi and one Hutu. "They could be twins!" he said about them. There are of course philosophical and historical differences, and perhaps there are minute physical differences that can be measured or quantifed, but there is no legitimate difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, any more than there is a legitimate difference between black and white, jew or muslim, man or woman, gay or straight, asian or european, blonde or brunette, blue eyed or brown eyed. These are descriptors. This is not shirts versus skins. These changes do not define us, and yet some use them to target others as the enemy. Why? To take the blame off themselves.

In the same film, there's a point where a white man turns to a native of Rwanda and says even if they have footage of the slayings and showed the American people, "they will say, 'Oh, my God, that's horrible. And then they'll go on eating their TV dinners'."

I am so ashamed to be a civilized human in today's society. So long as there are any atrocities of needless death and cruelty on this planet between human beings, none of us are civilized. None of us are safe. None of us are free. I am culpable in my inactivity, but I've no power or influence to make a difference, and neither does anyone else, and even if I did, to truly act in some way that could actually make a difference would mean to risk death and cruelty.

What more can we do? We say 'Oh, my God, that's horrible. Pass the salt.' What more can we do? Make MeFi posts about it? Respond to said posts? What more can we do? How much more helpless do you want me to feel?
posted by ZachsMind at 11:08 AM on October 17, 2006


Can you tell a catholic from a protestant?
posted by dflemingdotorg at 11:20 AM on October 17, 2006


except for the U.S., which was busily giving Saddam WMDs

And selling weapons to Iran.

What more can we do? We say 'Oh, my God, that's horrible. Pass the salt.'
The scrawl on the wall says what about the workers
And the voice of the people says more salt please

Mother shakes her head and reads aloud from the newspaper
As Father puts another lock on the door
And reflects upon the violent times that we are living in
While chatting with the wife beater next door
Billy Bragg, "The Home Front"
posted by kirkaracha at 11:21 AM on October 17, 2006


ZachsMind: "they will say, 'Oh, my God, that's horrible. And then they'll go on eating their TV dinners'."

And I don't blame them. Refusing to eat on account of all that's bad in the world is bad for your health. And doesn't really change anything either.

So long as there are any atrocities of needless death and cruelty on this planet between human beings, none of us are civilized.

Maybe your concept of civilization is a bit more idealistic than mine, but death and cruelty have always been part of the human condition. I suspect they'll stick around for some while. I also think that we are not doing all that bad right now. Not too long ago slavery was quite accepted in many parts of the world that we now consider more or less "civilized".
posted by sour cream at 11:30 AM on October 17, 2006


"Sunni, Shiite, whatever. The dead have more in common with each other than they have differences, and I presume this is what drives our public policy."

Not quite. What drives our public policy is "the greatest benefit to the greatest corporations"; fine differences in other peoples' doctrines are means not ends.

And anyway, a point I want to reoveremphasize is that issues like this are important enough for "ordinary people" to at least try to understand, and that our government officials, whether elected or not, should know more about matters under their purview than random bloggites like us. That we don't bother means they might not either: if we don't make them they'll think they don't have to.

Of course the real answer is to make the U.S. Government quit being a neocapitalist empire, but I don't think enough Americans really want THAT, like I don't think enough Americans care enough to pay attention to things like this.

So what we can do is learn enough to know how to hold whose feet to the fire. That said, we're doomed -- because most Americans (even hipster liberals) would rather feel helpless. And leave the Hard Stuff, the thinking and deciding, to the Experts. To quote one of which, Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning: "I watch Fox News to get my information."
posted by davy at 11:35 AM on October 17, 2006


While this thread has admirably demonstrated that there are numerous differences between the Sunni and the Shiite, it does little to discuss one of the key factors they have in common: they both really don't like us.

That may not have been true at the beginning of this war, but I'm pretty sure it's an accurate statement now.
posted by quin at 11:56 AM on October 17, 2006


Iraq’s Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens

...In the northern city of Mosul, a priest from the Syriac Orthodox Church was kidnapped last week. His church complied with his captors’ demands and put up posters denouncing recent comments made by the pope about Islam, but he was killed anyway. The police found his beheaded body on Wednesday.

Muslim fury over Pope Benedict XVI’s public reflections on Islam in Germany a month ago — when he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as calling Islam “evil and inhuman” — has subsided elsewhere, but repercussions continue to reverberate in Iraq, bringing a new level of threat to an already shrinking Christian population.

Several extremist groups threatened to kill all Christians unless the pope apologized. Sunni and Shiite clerics united in the condemnation, calling the comments an insult to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. In Baghdad, many churches canceled services after receiving threats. Some have not met since.

“After the pope’s statement, people began to fear much more than before,” said the Rev. Zayya Edward Khossaba, the pastor of the Church of the Virgin Mary. “The actions by fanatics have increased against Christians.”

Christianity took root here near the dawn of the faith 2,000 years ago, making Iraq home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities...

Fighting in Iraqi Town Killed Over 60, U.S. Says

The American military said today that more than 60 people were killed in four days of sectarian fighting in Balad, a rural town north of the capital, that left some residents wondering why American troops did not intervene...

...In the aftermath of the reprisals, some residents of Balad asked why American troops did not intervene on Saturday when the killings began in earnest. One of the largest American military bases in Iraq — Camp Anaconda, which includes a sprawling air base that serves as the logistical hub of the war — is nearby.

“People are bewildered because of the weak response by the Americans,” said one Balad resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. “They used to patrol the city every day, but when the violence started, we didn’t see any sign of them.”

Troops 'roll the dice' with push into Triangle of Death

...Sgt. Joshua Bartlett, 24 and on his second tour here, hacks through weeds with his machete. A few yards away, two other soldiers with sweat pouring down their faces dig away dirt with their knives.

"It's like an Easter egg hunt, only you roll the dice every time you do it," 24-year-old Sgt. Frankie Parra says. He's half-joking as he stands over a pile of 60 mm mortar rounds freshly dug from underneath weeds in the fields and farmlands just south of Baghdad.

His deployments aren't getting any easier. On his third tour in Iraq, he's operating -- along with the men of Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division -- in an area known as the "Triangle of Death."

Four soldiers from this battalion have been killed on this volatile patch of land, just outside Yusifiya and 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Baghdad, in the two weeks since Operation Commando Hunter began, and another 20 have been wounded.

The troops are pushing into fields and farmlands where there had been no regular U.S. presence for the better part of the last three years. In this same area, two American soldiers were kidnapped in a checkpoint attack in June and then murdered.

The insurgency here has literally dug itself in. The soldiers are finding a gold mine of weapons caches 3 to 6 inches below ground. Intertwining canals lined with tall reeds offer insurgents plenty of cover ideal for snipers and ambushes...

Confessions of a 'Defeatocrat' [via]

By John P. Murtha
Sunday, October 15, 2006

...Our troops who are putting their lives on the line deserve a plan that matches our military prowess with diplomatic and political skill. They deserve a clear and achievable mission and they deserve to know precisely what it will take to accomplish it. They deserve answers, not spin.

Our military has done all it can do in Iraq, and the Iraqis want their occupation to end. I support bringing our troops home at the earliest practicable date, at a rate that will keep those remaining there safe on the ground. It's time that the White House and the GOP start working with Democrats in Congress to come up with a reasonable timetable for withdrawal and for handing the Iraqi government over to the Iraqis.

The administration's use of Rovian catchphrases is nothing but propaganda designed to stifle the loyal opposition...

Iraq reality check: Fighting the insurgency

(CNN) -- "The past weekend, U.S. and Iraqi forces engaged militias, or members of an illegal militia, during a mission to capture a high-value target," President Bush said last week. "The reason I bring this up is that we're on the move; we're taking action; we're helping this young democracy succeed."

He added, "Our troops have increased their presence on the streets of Baghdad."

"What I worry about is we're playing a game of whack-a-mole," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said in August. "We move troops -- it flares up, we move troops there. ... It's very disturbing..."

Iraq reality check: Future of the fledgling democracy

...Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told CNN, "Obviously, we want the Iraqis to deal with their political problems, to quell the sectarian violence and to establish peace so we can bring our troops home as soon as possible. But it won't happen by dictating to the Iraqis how they should run their affairs. It won't happen if we set arbitrary timetables for bringing our troops home that will only embolden those who right now seem to have the upper hand."

Putting all these assertions into context is a U.S. soldier's letter to friends and family, published this month in Time magazine [like CNN, a division of Time Warner].

In it, the soldier describes daily horrors -- and names "high-profile visitors" as the biggest hassle. He writes, "Our briefs and commentary seem to have no effect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in Iraq."
posted by taosbat at 11:57 AM on October 17, 2006


Un-fucking-believable.

And yet, somehow, totally unsurpising.

Seems to be a common condition among today's American leaders. On the one hand you can scarely believe that a nation which is on top of the world in terms of most quantifiable measures could have such dumbfucks running things, but on the other hand you've lived through (at least) 6 years of this and can't be surprised anymore.
posted by cell divide at 12:11 PM on October 17, 2006


Anybody with a common sense understanding of military strategy needs a basic grasp of the concept of "divide and conquer."

Seems like we've got the "divide" part taken care of pretty well, with all the threats of civil war. Conquer, on the other hand, ehhh... not so much.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:27 PM on October 17, 2006


davy writes "And anyway, a point I want to reoveremphasize is that issues like this are important enough for 'ordinary people' to at least try to understand, and that our government officials, whether elected or not, should know more about matters under their purview than random bloggites like us."

More? I'd settle for "as much".
posted by clevershark at 12:28 PM on October 17, 2006


Didn’t Ackmed Washington play for the Knicks? Or was that Mohammed Franklin?

*reads taosbat’s post*
*enjoys TV dinner*
posted by Smedleyman at 12:49 PM on October 17, 2006


ZachsMind: [re Hotel Rwanda] "At one point in the story we witness a caucasian reporter talking to two women, one Tutsi and one Hutu. "They could be twins!" he said..."

Hutu and Tutsi are (arguably) two different ethnic groups. Just because a caucasian reporter can't tell the difference, doesn't mean that Hutus and Tutsis can't make an excellent educated guess, just by appearances. Our brains are able to distinguish subtle differences in ethnicity if we are familiar with those characteristics. Though there is some dispute about whether Hutu and Tutsi can be distinguished just by looks, there are stereotypical Hutu and Tutsi features: "The stereotype is that Tutsis tend to be taller, with relatively thin or "lanky" frames, and have pointed noses and sometimes lighter skin and more "European" facial features; whereas, Hutus are more average in height and stout in body frame.... Another difference is supposed to be that Tutsis have dark oral mucosa (gums) while Hutu have lighter coloured oral mucosa."

My point? Don't forget even the unconscious filters of our reporters. With regards to the Sunni/Shia question, I've also have heard about Sunnis passing for Shia and vice versa. What I remember hearing about what that they would memorize religious doctrine and have fake IDs. So it sounds like in Iraq Sunni and Shia look similarly enough that they could pass for each other. But our reporters might be getting it wrong, or missing important details.
posted by Amizu at 1:01 PM on October 17, 2006


So who are the Orcs and who are the Elves?
posted by homunculus at 1:05 PM on October 17, 2006


Amizu: So it sounds like in Iraq Sunni and Shia look similarly enough that they could pass for each other.

Huh? Of course they could. They are both ethnically Arabs (save for the Kurds in the North). Sunni and Shia are religious labels and the respective populations are as visually distinct as Catholics and Protestants. In other words, take a sample from the same country and you won't be able to tell them apart.

Perhaps there are non-genetically predicated distinguishing features, such as clothing or facial hair, but that's easy to fake.
posted by sour cream at 1:18 PM on October 17, 2006


In other news: Iraqi Judge Sentences U.S. Citizen To Death After U.S. Military “Demanded” the Man Be Executed
posted by homunculus at 1:25 PM on October 17, 2006


Rwanda was particularly surreal in that there had been a fair deal of intermarriage between the two groups, giving rise to situations like a man being seen as Hutu while his own mother was considered a Tutsi. It is said that a lot of people were killed just because they had "Tutsi hair".
posted by clevershark at 1:26 PM on October 17, 2006


A friend of mine a couple of months asked me what led to the schism between Shia's and Sunnis. Here is what I wrote, which is what I, brought up more Shia than Muslim and effectively secular, heard around me and read growing up (pls forgive punctuational/grammatical errors):

The dispute begins with the succession of the Caliphate. Ali was
the trusted confidante of the prophet, his son-in-law (Fatima's
husband); he protected Mohamed, was by his side always, and allegedly
perceived by the prophet to be a spiritually appropriate man to
succeed him as caliph. However, the small Muslim community in Medina
decided, while Ali and the rest of the prophet's household were keeping
busy with the burial, to select another leader: Abu-bakr, who was
quite old and garnered the respect of the people.

Ali later (the 2 in between were Umer/Omar and Uthman/Osman) became the 4th caliph upon the murder of Usman. Ali was opposed
immediately by Ayesha (the prophet's wife, whom he married when she
was 9) on the accusation that Ali had not zealously investigated who
had killed Usman, his predecessor and she waged a battle against Ali.
She was defeated, but allowed to return to Medina and withdrew from
public life. Then Osman's cousin Muawiya who was the governor of
Damascus for the same reason went to war with Ali. Ali's army did not
fight Muawiya b/c Muawiya's forces speared their arrows with Quranic
sayings, or something to that effect. Ali was then killed by one of his
own people b/c he failed to battle Muawiya. Ali had two sons Hassan
and Hussain. Hassan did not challenge Muawiya's claim to becoming Caliph, but
Hussain challenged Muawiya's son's (Yazid's) successive claim. By this time,
Hussain led mainly his family members in battle against Yazid. The
people of Kufa in today's Iraq had told Hussain that they would
support him, but upon seeing Yazid's advancing army on the plains near
Karbala, they panicked and fled. So it was mainly the Prophet's family
(72 men) and women and children who fought Yazid's army of several
thousand. On the 10th day of battle Hussain was killed in Karbala and
that is where the whole cult of martyrdom for Shias emerges. 72
family members of the Prophet fought against Yazid, a man of military might and who had an unsavoury reputation.

That is the story of Karbala, but it is also evocative of a philosophical debate
on the birth of the religion of Islam. Muawiya and Yazid were far more effective
at spreading the religion by the sword, but that conflicted with the
message of the faith (or at least that is how Shia's see it) and they were also perceived as morally unsavoury men themselves ... Might
trampled right in the early years of the faith and Shia's believe they
are more interested in the true message of the faith and its
spirituality: those who did not side with Ali and his kin supported
the stronger rivals for expediency's sake.

So after Muawiya, the Shia's followed their own succession of caliphs
called the Imams but the last one is said to have gone into occultation
sometime in the 8th century in Samarra (and that was the all-important shrine that
was blown up Iraq ... hence the post-bomb violence) ... and will
return to herald the day of judgment.

The Shias then further divided along their line of Imams: the Zaydi,
the bohris, the Ismailis all descend from later schisms ... when
people say Shia they usually mean the Twelver Shia's who believe in 12
imams with the last imam having gone into occultation.

Today, Shias tend to be more progressive, because they have not
suspended reasoning through analogy (ijtehad) ... whereas in the
Sunni schools of legal thought (the four schools are hanafi, maliki, shafi and hanbali), Quranic exegesis and analysis through ijtehad ended about a
millenium or so ago ... also, Shia's are way more pro-women because
women form part of the Shia 'pantheon': Fatima who was the prophet's
daughter and Ali's wife, and Zainab who was Ali's daughter ... and so
forth ... who were supposed to be strong women. [As was Ayesha in the
Sunni tradition]. E.g., after the massacre at Karbala, Yazid took the
women back to Damascus and paraded through the city with Hussain's
head on a stake. Zainab is said to have made the following speech
confronting Yazid:

In short, from my perspective to be a Shia is to be true to the
essence of a peaceful and loving social message and not sacrifice that
message for political expediency.
posted by Azaadistani at 2:08 PM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


Truly horrifying. And just so unbelievably Catch-22.

To add another layer to this shit-ball of an onion -- Iran is a predominantly Shia nation, as is Iran, demographically. However, Shias have been running Iran since 1979. Under Saddam, a small cadre of Sunnis ran the place. News robots are lately floating the Republican meme that we have to win in Iraq to prevent Iranian meddling. Well, kinda. Iran as a nation has to do exactly nothing to ensure that a radical Shiite theocracy masquerading as a US puppet government will take charge (think Moqtada al-Sadr, except with even more US sanctioned power, not cordoned off in a Baghdad slum). They just have to sit and wait for the US to empower them as the regional hegemon for the next 100 years. The only decent "exit strategy" now for the US involves bringing in Shiite, pro-Iranian theocrats to rule in order to save even a little face.

I can't think of a good historical analogy, because this situation is so incredibly assinine. If, in 1941, America had spent all of its resources setting up a pro-Hitler, pro-Mussolini government in Switzerland, and then complained about how Hitler and Mussolini were (gasp!) sending agents into Switzerland to propogate pro-Hiter, pro-Mussolini power, that would kind of get to the point. But it's kind of stupid to fight a war that directly empowers your other enemies, isn't it? Isn't it?

(InnocentBystander, I though your summary of the differences between Sunni and Shia was excellent. So yeah, you win.)

Even shorter take on Sunni vs. Shia divide -- Sunnis are pro-Caliphate, and therefore more comfortable with secular law mixing with religion (the first Caliphate was established in what is now Syria, btw. And Syria remains a Sunni government to this day). Shia tend to be more skeptical of secular law. (But as languagehat points out, there are differrent types of Shia as well.)
posted by bardic at 2:16 PM on October 17, 2006


Sour Cream: Perhaps there are non-genetically predicated distinguishing features, such as clothing or facial hair, but that's easy to fake.

Well, yes, and it probably would not be easy to fake if they keep switching back and forth as they walk around town and encounter different individuals, which is the impression I got. And anyway, my point was partly that Western reporters might be missing subtle differences that any Iraqi Shia/Sunni would pick up on - could be as subtle as a particular way of wearing clothing, or a particular way of styling facial hair.
posted by Amizu at 2:17 PM on October 17, 2006


*Iran is predominantly Shiite, as is Iraq, demographically
posted by bardic at 2:18 PM on October 17, 2006


Tuesday, July 11, 2006: The day before yesterday was catastrophic. The day began with news of the killings in Jihad Quarter. According to people who live there, black-clad militiamen drove in mid-morning and opened fire on people in the streets and even in houses. They began pulling people off the street and checking their ID cards to see if they had Sunni names or Shia names and then the Sunnis were driven away and killed. Some were executed right there in the area. The media is playing it down and claiming 37 dead but the people in the area say the number is nearer 60.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006: There’s an ethnic cleansing in progress and it’s impossible to deny. People are being killed according to their ID card. Extremists on both sides are making life impossible. Some of them work for ‘Zarqawi’, and the others work for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. We hear about Shia being killed in the ‘Sunni triangle’ and corpses of Sunnis named ‘Omar’ (a Sunni name) arriving by the dozen at the Baghdad morgue. I never thought I’d actually miss the car bombs. At least a car bomb is indiscriminate. It doesn’t seek you out because you’re Sunni or Shia.
posted by taosbat at 2:29 PM on October 17, 2006


Responding to Amizu, no, there aren't really any such distinguishing features, unless you are a cleric. People are being killed in Baghdad based on which neighborhood they live in, because otherwise, the two are indistinguishable. Shia's and Sunnis predominantly dress similarly. While it is true that the Marsh Arabs (all Shi'a) dressed different from other Iraqis, it is because they are Marsh Arabs, not b/c they are Shi'a.

Throughout the Muslim world, many people are half-Shi'a, half-Sunni (inter-marriage is common, and was common in Iraq, too). On my maternal grandmother's side, e.g., all the sisters identified as Shi'a, and all the brothers as Sunni. The division is much like the WASP-Catholic division in the US northeast today. And please don't forget that in Saddam's Iraq, most people were secular.

Moreoever, keep in mind that in the minds of the neo-cons who want to divide Iraq into 3 parts: one Shi'a, one Sunni and one Kurd (see David Frumm and PNAC), the Kurds are Sunni Muslim ... but they identify more so with their ethnic group than with their religious affiliation.

In short, there are not too many religious or theological differences. There are some, but there are as many among Sunnis themselves and Shi'as themselves. In fact, to compare them to European Catholics and Protestants in the historic sense is an overstatement, which is why I repeat, the difference between the two is akin to the difference between Catholics and WASPs in the NE US today.
posted by Azaadistani at 2:35 PM on October 17, 2006


Digby on American ignornace.
posted by bardic at 2:41 PM on October 17, 2006


Hutu and Tutsi are (arguably) two different ethnic groups.

Not sure what you mean by the weasel word "arguably," but no, they're not. The Hutu and Tutsi, who share culture, language, and religion, were called different "races" by race-crazed Belgians, and came to so see themselves, leading to the recent bloodbaths. Historically, there was a long, complicated series of immigrations and political changes that led to a situation in which the ruling class was seen as taller, more cultured, etc., but it was the Europeans who created two groups and issued documents with the appropriate IDs. You can read a little about it here.
posted by languagehat at 2:54 PM on October 17, 2006


I read an article back around 2003 that outlined the differences between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurds quite well. It was speaking about the potential for civil war in Iraq and the potential success of a federal government (that could distribute the oil wealth) with three primary states in Iraq. I have tried to find this article again several times without success. Anybody know it?
posted by ajr at 3:30 PM on October 17, 2006


It's a good think America is only fighting the War on Terror and not that 1400 year old war between Sunnis and Shiites.

And for the record, without any verification, this is what I know: Sunni's were the ruling minority in Iraq, Shiites are the majority (not counting Kurds) in Iraq and Iran, but pretty sure they are a minority in the global muslim movement. Saddam was a Sunni, n'est pas?
posted by furtive at 3:35 PM on October 17, 2006


can you tell the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?
posted by Miles Long at 3:44 PM on October 17, 2006


“So who are the Orcs and who are the Elves?”- posted by homunculus

Well, the ‘elves’ (guelphs) were a member of a strong faction in medieval Italy that supported the power of the pope and the city-states in a struggle against the German emperors and the Ghibellines (goblins).
...I don’t know what Santorum is talking about. I suspect from his incoherance he has ingested at least 700 micrograms of very poorly made LSD or has massive dain bamage. I doubt his info on Islam is any better.
But what concerns me about the questions to the non-politicians here is that not even a general situational answer was given.
By analogy: I don’t need to know the entire history of the Crips or the Bloods if I’m the police chief or a tactical level operative. What I should know is that “Tom Brown” is a Blood and he was seen in the vicinity of “Joe White” who was a Crip and very recently murdered killed in a style often used by the Bloods. That they’re rivals. That such and such technique or such and such outlook is common among this group and that translates to this and that and the other thing on the ground. That this group claims this territory and this other group disputes it. Those are the overlaps and points of contention. This group operates and organizes like this and the other group operates and organizes like that. And organizational incest occurs here at ‘x’ and here at ‘y’. Go ask a cop about the local crime areas in town and the desperados on his beat and he can tell you. Ask the chief about gang activity in town and he can give you a general idea. They might not be able to relate the local history, colorful characters, and such, but they’ll know who the local troublemakers are right now and their current brand of troublemaking.
I didn’t see anything anywhere near that response. Not even a situation report. Anyone in counterintelligence, even the upper starry eschelons, should be familiar with the basic trends if only to assign the right people to the right task.
Honestly - what the hell are these people doing with their time?
posted by Smedleyman at 3:59 PM on October 17, 2006


(Plenty of FBI agents know Korans full of truth about this stuff - seems they’re oft ignored for political expediancy)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:01 PM on October 17, 2006


I agree Smedlyman. However, that is like saying plenty of FBI agents who know how to read. If you are part of counter-terrorism and fail to understand that Sunnis and Shia differ, and don't know whom is whom, then you are like a seventh grader who can't read Sally, Dick and Jane. Retire now, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. That these folks have made it into managment is truly pathetic. My middle school kid knows more about the Sunnis and Shia conflict than these so called managers, and by the way he could care less because the baseball playoffs are on. How sick is that? GW fails to protect the country. He has one and only one goal in mind and that is consolidating power. Well, the chickens have finally come home to roost, thank the Lord. There is little doubt that this man will go down in history as a joke, the worst president ever. I just hope he doesn't achieve the status of the man who caused WWIII.
posted by caddis at 4:37 PM on October 17, 2006


At Checkpoints in Baghdad, Disguise Is a Lifesaving Ritual
posted by taosbat at 4:53 PM on October 17, 2006


What I really want to know is how can our brave soldiers distinguish the Al Queada terrorists, from the "good" Iraqis? It must be the funny shaped helmets that are part of their uniform???
posted by GreyFoxVT at 5:03 PM on October 17, 2006


I've heard most of the murders are based on names. I'm no expert, but I guess that there are typically Sunni and Shia ones (I imagine "Ali" would be popular among Shia, and Husayn among Sunni).

Which is all the more fucked considering how inter-marriage between the two branches is common. They just need an excuse, like the Khmer Rouge bayonetting anyone who wore glasses because they were obviously an intellectual.

Difference is, that was genocide. This, according to George Bush, is "progress."
posted by bardic at 5:04 PM on October 17, 2006


I've heard most of the murders are based on names. I'm no expert, but I guess that there are typically Sunni and Shia ones...
posted by bardic


That's certainly a point I've been trying to make.

Smedleyman, did your TV dinner agree with you?
posted by taosbat at 5:21 PM on October 17, 2006


ajr: There was a good background paper on Iraq that the International Crisis Group published back in October 2002, but I doubt that it's the one you're thinking of.

Apparently the Sunni/Shia divisions weren't that bitter prior to the war, as Azaadistani noted. From the 2002 report:
Shiites, who constitute a majority of the Iraqi population, are increasingly assertive in rejecting their traditional marginal status within society. Rifts between Shiites and Sunnis, therefore, will need to be mended as part of an effort at national reconciliation that must include an end to any form of discrimination and intensified endeavours to rebuild the predominantly Shiite south. At the same time, there is far less to this division than generally assumed. Shiites are present at all levels of the Iraqi government, including Saddam Hussein’s inner circle and the ruling Baath Party. While they undeniably suffer from social and political discrimination, it is difficult to speak of a strict Sunni or Shiite identity in Iraq. Among Shiites in particular a wide variety of views about politics and religion, contradicts the stereotypical image of a monolithic, radical and pro-Iranian community. Playing up Shiite discontent with the regime and encouraging a separate Shiite identity in the hope of undermining Saddam Hussein runs the risk of exacerbating religious tensions that, so far, have been kept relatively in check.
posted by russilwvong at 5:34 PM on October 17, 2006


I have it on very good authority that Sunnis live on the Sunni side of the street.
posted by Sparx at 7:23 PM on October 17, 2006


bardic writes "And Syria remains a Sunni government to this day)."

This may seem like nitpicking, but no. The current President (Bashar al-Assad) and his father before him are Alawites, which is a minority Shiite sect. Although there are many Sunnis in the Syrian government Alawites occupy its top ranks.
posted by clevershark at 7:27 PM on October 17, 2006


People who argue about how to recognize on sight a Sunni or Shiite, rather than how their religious and political differences affect mideast policy, have much in common with congressman Everett.
posted by caddis at 7:36 PM on October 17, 2006


"Syria remains a Sunni government to this day"

Not quite. Syria's rulers are Alawi in religion and Baathist in politics. Google for more.
posted by davy at 8:12 PM on October 17, 2006


yeah, but he didn't even know the simple fact of 'there are two factions in conflict, one is conservative and one is more radical.'

intolerable.
posted by Miles Long at 8:14 PM on October 17, 2006


I'd expect "Husayn" to be more favored by the Shia. (I don't know what "Saddam" means; languagehat?)
posted by davy at 8:17 PM on October 17, 2006


Talabani backs 'Iran-Syria plan'

Violence in Iraq could end "within months" if Iran and Syria joined efforts to stabilise the country, says Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

He told the BBC the move would "be the beginning of the end of terrorism".

The idea for the US to open talks with Iran and Syria over Iraq is said to be under consideration by a panel of experts examining US policy on Iraq...
posted by taosbat at 8:53 PM on October 17, 2006


T.V. dinner got cold while I was reading your posts taosbat.
Meh. Worth it.

"Retire now, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution."
Yeah, I think that's the (inverse) problem caddis. Folks with any competance got shuffled aside, ignored, etc. etc. and said "screw this noise" and headed off into the private sector. Meanwhile those with incestuous political relationships got promoted, put in charge etc. All they really know is kissing ass.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:13 PM on October 17, 2006


Should have asked them the difference between a Shia and a Shiite.
posted by delmoi at 11:44 PM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


delmoi writes "Should have asked them the difference between a Shia and a Shiite."


It's for stuff like this that I love delmoi.
posted by orthogonality at 11:54 PM on October 17, 2006


I'd expect "Husayn" to be more favored by the Shia.

Yeah, it's a very popular Shia name, Husayn being their great martyred hero.

(I don't know what "Saddam" means; languagehat?)

It's uncommon enough that it's not in Annemarie Schimmel's Islamic Names, but it's presumably from the root 7779;-d-m (صدم) 'to bump, strike, bang, run (against), collide; resist, oppose, battle (against); clash,' which seems pretty appropriate. It's got derivatives like 7779;adma 'jolt, shock, blow; commotion; obstacle' and 7779;idām 'collision, clash; breakdown, collapse.' So my guess is that you could interpret it as Battler or Resister, or (if you want to get punk-rock about it) The Clash. (Just in case anyone isn't aware of this, Husayn/Husain/Hussein is not his family name but his father's name; "Saddam Hussein" is the equivalent of the more traditional "Saddam ibn Hussein.")
posted by languagehat at 5:51 AM on October 18, 2006


AAAIGGHHHH! Where the fuck did my s-with-dot-below go? That's what those 7779;s are supposed to be, and they showed up fine in preview. God fucking damn it.
posted by languagehat at 5:53 AM on October 18, 2006


If my name was Clash, I'd want to run my own middle eastern petronation too. And it would be 2072 and I'd have an open topped jeep and a girl with messy red hair and it would be awesome.

/total derail

posted by blacklite at 11:08 AM on October 18, 2006


In October 2004 David Hackworth wrote that if he had his way he would, "make every military leader from buck sergeant to four-star memorize Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and Imperial Hubris, by [Michael Scheuer]."
posted by mlis at 7:21 PM on October 18, 2006


Electricity Levels In Baghdad At Lowest Level Since U.S. Invasion
posted by homunculus at 9:05 PM on October 18, 2006


...I don’t know what Santorum is talking about. I suspect from his incoherance he has ingested at least 700 micrograms of very poorly made LSD or has massive dain bamage.

Colbert explains.
posted by homunculus at 5:58 PM on October 19, 2006


I wonder how well versed your average Islamic-country apparatchik is with Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic vs. various flavors of Protestant Christianity? By comparison, succession of the caliphate is a friggin' snap.
posted by pax digita at 1:54 PM on October 20, 2006


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