7 Jan '16      home | previous

Intensified Hostilities between Sunnis and Shia

Conflict in the Mid-East has intensified and negotiations regarding Syria scheduled for late January are already being viewed as destined for failure. The Saudi decision to start the new year with mass executions are viewed by some as a calculated move. The Saudis, it is said, were prepared to cut diplomatic relations, and ensure that other Arab states followed suit. Saudi Arabia and Iran have cut diplomatic relations. Today, Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of an aerial attack on its embassy in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition yesterday carried out its heaviest airstrikes in months over Yemen's capital, Sana.

The Saudi ruling family in said to be responding to a heightened fear for its security for its own position and its influence in the region. It has a large Shia minority that dislikes the Sunni monarchy. A growing population of young people faces unemployment. The price of oil has declined. There is ISIS and other Sunni militants who dislike the monarchy and are a threat to it. There is fear of losing a commitment from the United States as a reliable ally as the Obama administration seeks peace and better relations with Iran.

What has been needed in the Mid-East is a dampening of hostilities, with Iran wanting to protect the Shia in the region. It sees itself as protector of the Shia. And the Saud family sees itself as representing Sunnis but all Muslims as the caretaker of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, to which where Muslims journey for their Hajj.

Today's conflict between the Sunni and Shia stems from a succession conflict back in the seventh century, with the assassination by a band of religiously intense warriors who disliked the rule of the caliph Uthman. Settling politically differences peacefully had not developed – as in today's democracies. Civil war ensued, and on the losing side was the leader Husayn who thought his family tie made him the rightful caliph. Put into a theological context, Husayn became a martyr at the Battle of Karbala, and the Shia-Sunni divide was born.

Too bad that today they can't ignore the theological divisions, dampen their fears and hostilities and give time for the impulse of integration (including interfaith marriage) and modernization do its thing.

Reading on the Succession Conflict that created the Sunni-Shia Divide

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