Brothers at war
FOR two sects united by their belief in one Maker, one Book and one Prophet, the amount of blood spilt in the name of their respective faiths by Shias and Sunnis is truly staggering. This is specially so when one considers the tiny differences that define and divide them. Since the earliest days of Islam in the 7th century when the schism first tore the young Muslim community apart, the two sects have been warring incessantly. Untold thousands have been killed over the years, and this internecine war continues to devastate communities and nations. I am not qualified to go into the rights and wrongs of this old conflict. However, as a student of history, I can think of no other single cause of disunity among Muslims as this corrosive, centuries-old struggle. Other religions have gone through periods of sectarian violence: witness the bloody religious wars that Catholics and Protestants fought in Europe. But while these tensions have mostly died down with the slaking of religious passions among most Christians, Muslims continue to fight over whose version is the true Islam. Indeed, much of Islamic history is written in the bloodshed either over succession, or in sectarian wars. First, Ottoman rule across large parts of the Arab world held Shia-Sunni violence in check, even though in many provinces, Shias were subjected to discrimination. But as this vast area was controlled from Constantinople, open warfare was rare. Then, in the post-Ottoman, colonial era in the last century, European powers largely prevented Shia-Sunni tensions from breaking into hostility. In the last half of the 20th century, after the departure of colonial forces, many Muslim countries were ruled by secular dictators who, for all their many faults, kept the lid on these ancient sectarian tensions. From Saddam Hussein of Iraq, to Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, to the Assads of Syria, and to Hosni...