It’s politics, not piety, stupid

Seeing the Middle East as Sunni v Shia is too simple, writes Alex Spillius

The World Today Published 6 April 2017 Updated 24 November 2020 3 minute READ

Alex Spillius

Freelance journalist

Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East
Edited by Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel
Hurst, £20.00

The former US president Barack Obama and Republican Senator Ted Cruz don’t agree on much. On the causes of violence in the Middle East, however, they do concur. In his final State of the Union address last year, Obama stated that instability in the region was ‘rooted in conflicts that date back millennia’. Cruz, an arch conservative from Texas, had previously declared that ‘Sunnis and Shiites have been engaged in a sectarian civil war since 632’.

The views of Jon Stewart, the liberal TV comedian, and Bill O’Reilly, a right-wing pundit on Fox News, also rarely overlap. But Stewart told his Daily Show audience that the last time Sunnis and Shia co-existed was in AD 950. O’Reilly, more crudely, observed that the ‘Sunni and Shia want to kill each other. They have fun … they like this.’

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