I’d say at least 99.9% of the people I encounter daily have absolutely zero concept of the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites; and that’s being generous. Iraq once was a nation that was fairly secular and not terribly fundamentalist in any way. The United States brilliantly marches in carrying freedom fries and liberty bells and voilà! The two warring sects of Islam are now at each other’s throats. When fundamentalists feel their religion is being mocked or modified in any way, like the Benghazi mastermind admitted after recently being captured by US Special Ops, they react with extreme fervor. Let’s go back to 2003 when 2008 GOP Presidential Candidate Senator John McCain offered this brilliant prediction of future sectarian violence in Iraq:
“There is not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shi’as so I think they can probably get along”.
Never have a group of people gotten things so wrong on EVERY issue and yet their opinion is sought for “news” programs. It’s astonishing. They invaded a country with no consideration for consequences, cost, loss of human life or a basic understanding of the complex history of the region. Let me try to elucidate the difference between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.
The Sunni branch believes that the first four caliphs–Mohammed’s successors–rightfully took his place as the leaders of Muslims. They recognize the heirs of the four caliphs as legitimate religious leaders. These heirs ruled continuously in the Arab world until the break-up of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the First World War.
…Shiites, in contrast, believe that only the heirs of the fourth caliph, Ali, are the legitimate successors of Mohammed. In 931 the Twelfth Imam disappeared. This was a seminal event in the history of Shiite Muslims. …Shiite Muslims, who are concentrated in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, [believe they] had suffered the loss of divinely guided political leadership” at the time of the Imam’s disappearance. Not “until the ascendancy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1978” did they believe that they had once again begun to live under the authority of a legitimate religious figure. Another difference between Sunnis and Shiites has to do with the Mahdi, “the rightly-guided one” whose role is to bring a just global caliphate into being. The major difference is that for Shi`is he has already been here, and will return from hiding; for Sunnis he has yet to emerge into history: a comeback v. a coming out, if you will.”
They simply disagree with each other like the Scientologists disagree with Jehovah’s Witnesses, like Mormons disagree with Catholics etc. etc. etc. The difference is the American presence in the region made the two sects more extreme in their fundamentalist differences and created the violence that plagues the region. Religions, none proven by science, are beliefs. As the great Christopher Hitchens asserted:
We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.
Perhaps, some day man will understand much of the world’s injustices, abuses and atrocities are carried out because one group believes their god is better than the other group’s deity. Most importantly, one must understand religious differences do exist and potential volatility is inevitable if these differences are not understood.