Wednesday, July 30, 2014

1,300 Years of Sunni-Shiite Conflict According to US Pundits

Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting one another since the seventh century, we’ve been told, and now the Middle East could be on the verge of a decades-long religious war like the one that tore Protestant and Catholic Europe apart in the 1600s. But we seldom actually hear examples of specific Sunni-Shiite conflicts from the past 1,300 years. This GIF shows every instance of Sunni-Shiite violence, from the Battle of Karbala in 680 and the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, that I’ve seen specifically mentioned in a major U.S. media outlet over the past few years. This is not to say there aren’t other examples, only that there are a lot fewer than you might expect for a conflict supposedly going strong for thirteen centuries. The series of Ottoman-Safavid wars in the 16th century, to name the most prominent conflict depicted here, were, despite their political origins, certainly couched in religious terms, and led to some undeniable brutality. But a major difference between the Middle East today and Europe on the eve of the Thirty Years’ War is that Sunnis and Shiites currently have a millennium more of relatively peaceful coexistence under their belts than Protestants and Catholics ever did. This also doesn’t mean that sectarian conflict can’t arise, especially when provoked by political instability and violent demagoguery, but from a historical perspective it is hardly inevitable. Of all the things people in the Middle East have fought over during the past 13 centuries, Sunni and Shiite identities have seldom been chief among them.