Monday, July 24, 2006

The differing sects of Islam

In talking about Islam and the political situation it's easy to forget that "Islam" has multiple sects. I just got reminded by this news article in which a Saudi cleric has declared it unlawful for Muslims to support Hezbollah. Unfortunately it may not be because they see anything wrong with violence, but because the Sunni fanatics don't like being upstaged by the Shi'ite fanatics.

To get it clear in my own head: Iran and Hezbollah are predominantly Shi'ite, Iraq has a Shi'ite majority, and has a Sunni minority which enjoyed a privileged position of some kind under Saddam Hussein's rule. Saudi Arabia is Sunni, and is the home of Wahhabism, the ultra-fundamentalist brand of Islam to which Osama Bin Laden belongs.

Syria's government is Ba'athist aka Pan-Arab Socialist, and secular in outlook, but I don't know the people's religious make-up. The government of Syria has been trying to paint themselves as an effective break on the religious fanaticism in the region which their enemies would do well to keep in place. Hussein's government was also Ba'athist.

Lebanon is a complex mix, and the exact make-up is a very touchy subject after their civil war in the 1980's: even trying to conduct a referendum might make things blow up again. Shi'ites are well-represented, but probably not a majority.

So, overall, not only is there an Isreal flexing its muscles, A Lebanon trying to get past its civil war even as it contains an organisation like Hezbollah which has more firepower than the official government, an Iran interested in setting up a Shi'ite power-bloc beyond Iran into Lebanon and Iraq, there's also some Sunnis running around who don't like what the Shi'ites are doing. What are they going to do about it? Interfere with the Shi'ites? Or trying and upstage them with something?

Gods, what a mess. Welcome to the New Middle East, courtesy of Condoleezza Rice and the people at the US government. Looks a lot like the old Middle East to me, only it's starting to deteriorate now.

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