Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sects–But Were Araid to Ask

Thoughts on sects by contributing blogger Linda Hansen

Surge or no surge, Baghdad is burning. And there’s a reason. Sects in the city. Sunnis and Shi’ites are killing each other just for being, well, Sunnis and Shi’ites–and both sides in this civil war are killing Americans.

If Dubyah had been a student of history, he’d have seen it coming. If he’d had the intellectual curiosity or the competence necessary to lead this nation, he’d have taken the time to learn a little something about the culture, the people of Iraq, before he invaded. Maybe if he’d done his job, been a little smarter, thousands of Iraqis and Americans would have been spared. And maybe our troops wouldn’t be caught in the middle of a religious civil war today.

The Sunnis and the Shia have been at each others’ throats for nearly 1400 years. It all started in 632 A.D. when their Prophet, Muhammad, died. They couldn’t agree on a successor.

Shia Muslims believed that, since Muhammad was the Chosen of God, his bloodline was holy. True divinity–by sacred sanction–ran in the family. It’s understandable. For centuries Europeans held similar beliefs about their leaders. The Divine Right of Kings, they called it. You didn’t mess around with inherent righteousness. Seems God was never too busy to pump up the red cell octane in the veins of royalty everywhere. Shi’ites had double indemnity in making their case for succession-by-blood: Muhammad’s daughter married Muhammad’s cousin, Ali. They would produce an infallible line of Imams for Muslims. It was a done deal.

But Sunni Muslims had other ideas. They liked the notion of choosing a successor from among their most trusted religious leaders. No matter whose blood ran in his veins.

Where was the divinity in that? Some irate fundamentalist Shi’ite probably said something like “The only way to heaven is through the Son of the Prophet. Or through the daughter and cousin, in this case.” To which some equally strident Sunni hollered “Who died and left you the sole authority on who gets into heaven?” And the war was on.

Clearly George W. didn’t know all this. His worldview is amazingly narrow–a “Don’t mess with Texas!” sort of thing. If someone on his staff told him the facts, Dubyah must have believed he could Shock and Awe ’em into getting along. We bombed and invaded. Surely we meant well. After all the fires went out, after the bodies were buried and the rubble was swept into a tidy pile, after the Victory Parade where millions of happy Iraqis threw flowers at our feet, we’d get rid of all those nasty WMD. Then we’d give ’em our version of democracy and convert ’em all to Christianity. Who wouldn’t want to embrace the system of government and the religious faith that brought them all that peace, prosperity and freedom? Presto change-o! Everyone would be friends. We’d have permanent military bases in the Middle East and control of Iraqi oil! Hooray for our side! Hooray for Halliburton and Exxon-Mobile! Other nations in the region would be so impressed they’d fall in line like so many born-again dominoes. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. We didn’t learn a thing from Vietnam, where a total failure to grasp the complexities of the culture doomed us to lose the war–even if it had been a just one. History repeats through ignorance. Ignorance breeds haste and hubris. Ignorance tainted U.S. foreign policy in Iraq from day one. And the 1400 year long holy war between Iraqis rages on.

Bush and his rubberstamp Congress lacked the foresight to look before they leaped. We need a president who won’t make that kind of mistake. We need a man who recognized, from the start, that this war was unwinnable; that we’d find ourselves impossibly mired in a debacle with no positve way out.

In 2002 Barack Obama made his position crystal clear: This war was a bad idea. He was against it. He knew the difference between “a necessary war and a dumb war.”

Enough said.

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One Response

  1. It’s too bad, isn’t it, that our John Wayne swaggering administration doesn’t take the time and apparently doesn’t have the inclination to learn ANYTHING about the history of a fight before they want to get involved… Land of the Free, Home of the Brazen.

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