Vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence:
“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”
(He) responded with a low chuckle. “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”
To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni.
“Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”
Chief of FBI national Security Branch:
I asked him 'Which one is Iran — Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. “Iran and Hezbollah,” I prompted. “Which are they?”
He took a stab: “Sunni.”
Head of House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information:
'Do you know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites?#
“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa."
I wonder if the lack of knowledge is because better understanding challenges the link they want to make between Iraq and 9/11. Al Quaida is Sunni, and most Iraqis are Shia. Both Saddam and Osama are Sunni of course, but at opposite ends of the secular/religious spectrum, and hate each other. The Ayatollahs and Imams are Shia, the Taliban are Sunni.
Or, I wonder if the ignorance is for religious reasons. If you think all non-evangelical religions are devil worship, then subtle distinctions don't matter.
Or, I wonder if it is because of misplaced faith in military technology, which underpins the neoconservative project. Impose order by force, because such is the natural order. The dispositions of the losers are a matter of indifference.