The Shia/Sunni Divide. Want to know more?

As Foreign Policy readers know, at the end of each feature essay, we have a “Want to Know More?” section that points the reader to books, articles, films, etc. that they may want to check out if they are interested.   That same spirit comes to Passport. Last week I asked for suggestions for further reading ...

608893_shiarevivalcover5.gif
608893_shiarevivalcover5.gif

As Foreign Policy readers know, at the end of each feature essay, we have a "Want to Know More?" section that points the reader to books, articles, films, etc. that they may want to check out if they are interested.  

That same spirit comes to Passport. Last week I asked for suggestions for further reading on the Shia/Sunni divide. I'd like to hive a hearty endorsement to The Shia Revival a book coming out in August (W.W. Norton), written by Vali Nasr of the Naval Postgraduate School. I've started reading a review copy and it's very good. I received permission to quote from the book's intro. It's an anecdote that captures the way we got to where we are. It revolves around a friend of the author's who is a Pakistani Shiite: 

My friend had been a senior government official in the 1980s, the liaison with the Pentagon in managing the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He reminisced that back in the those days, when Iran and Hezbollah were waging and active terror war against the U.S. and the Afghan Mujahedin were the "good guys," his American counterpart, a senior official at the Pentagon, would often tease him that Shias were "blood thirsty, baby-eating monsters." My friend would retort that the Americans had got it wrong. "Just wait and see," he would tell his colleagues from the States, "the real problem will be the Sunnis; they are the bullies; the Shias are the underdogs."

As Foreign Policy readers know, at the end of each feature essay, we have a “Want to Know More?” section that points the reader to books, articles, films, etc. that they may want to check out if they are interested.  

That same spirit comes to Passport. Last week I asked for suggestions for further reading on the Shia/Sunni divide. I’d like to hive a hearty endorsement to The Shia Revival a book coming out in August (W.W. Norton), written by Vali Nasr of the Naval Postgraduate School. I’ve started reading a review copy and it’s very good. I received permission to quote from the book’s intro. It’s an anecdote that captures the way we got to where we are. It revolves around a friend of the author’s who is a Pakistani Shiite: 

My friend had been a senior government official in the 1980s, the liaison with the Pentagon in managing the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He reminisced that back in the those days, when Iran and Hezbollah were waging and active terror war against the U.S. and the Afghan Mujahedin were the “good guys,” his American counterpart, a senior official at the Pentagon, would often tease him that Shias were “blood thirsty, baby-eating monsters.” My friend would retort that the Americans had got it wrong. “Just wait and see,” he would tell his colleagues from the States, “the real problem will be the Sunnis; they are the bullies; the Shias are the underdogs.”

Time passed and my friend retired from government service. One sleepy afternoon in the fall of 2001, after 9/11, his slumber was disturbed by the noise of sirens as a caravan of black SUVs descended on his house in Islamabad. His old American friend, now an important man in Washington, had come back to Pakistan to manage another war in Afghanistan, and he had decided to drop by. The American asked my friend, “Do you remember our discussions all those years ago about Shias and Sunnis? I want you to explain to me what you meant when you said that the Sunnis would be ‘the real problem.'” 

There are of course many other books and articles to be read on this issue, but I highlight Nasr’s because it’s for a general audience and is prompted by current events, which makes the book feel particularly timely and relevant. 

An article that comes to mind is “Don’t Fear the Shiites” by Ruel Marc Gerecht. Hampton Stevens wrote in with some good recommendations, which he has has posted on his blog.

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