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Islam's Divide—and Us

- Abstract

The attacks of 9/11 generated a tide of commentary on the origins and aims of anti-Western jihadism. Lately, however, events have shifted attention to another, more long-standing feature of the Muslim world, raising the question of whether Islamic militancy against the West is now of lesser geopolitical significance than a stark, increasingly salient divide within Islam itself. This is the ancient divide between the numerically dominant Sunnis and a Shiite minority that is finally coming into its own.

In this, as in so much else, the prime exhibit is Iraq. Since the country changed hands from a Sunni dictatorship to a Shiite-controlled government, the conflict there, at first slowly but then with growing intensity, has at least in part taken on the appearance of a war between two sects. Every week brings gruesome suicide attacks on Shiites by Sunni terrorists, attacks answered in kind by Shiite militias or death squads. Iraqis have been dragged from their cars and killed merely for being Sunni or Shiite. Whole neighborhoods of Baghdad have been emptied of one sect or the other. Mortar attacks have been launched from cemeteries and shrines, and the holiest of mosques have been bombed and torched by putative co-religionists.



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