- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
The graphic above is a screenshot of a real, live poll conducted on Al Jazeera Arabic. It asks readers to give their opinion on who is responsible for turning the Syrian revolution into a sectarian conflict. And it offers two choices: Sunnis or Shiites.
In what may be an indication of the audience of Al Jazeera, which has been accused of favoring the predominantly Sunni opposition against Bashar al-Assad, an overwhelming 95.7 percent of readers as of this morning said the Shiites were to blame.
The poll itself, of course, is a painfully ham-handed effort — the assumption that either the Shiite or Sunni communities as a whole are responsible for the gruesome turn of events itself endorses a sectarian view of the conflict. But it also suggests a broader, sadder truth: While Syrians may not have harbored religious hatreds two years ago, they are increasingly being forced to choose sides in a sectarian conflict.
As the radicalization of both sides continues, it’s not just Al Jazeera readers who are being asked to look at the Syrian revolt as a struggle between rival faiths — regular Syrians are being forced to think this way as well. It’s a view that boils the war down to a simple choice: Who do you hate, the Sunnis or the Shiites? Check a box.