Myth of a 1400-year-old Sunni-Shia War

While living in the Middle East, I engaged in an online discussion with a social studies teacher back in the states about the Middle East. He suggested the 1400-year-old Sunni-Shia conflict reflected an ongoing “medieval attitude” on the part of Muslims. “The West got out of the religious war BS about 500 years ago,” he wrote.

First of all, I challenged his smug attitude that the West long ago abandoned religious warfare, citing the Catholic-Protestant war in in Northern Ireland, which ended only in the 1990s; the Orthodox-Catholic-Muslim conflict in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia; the German (Nazi-Lutheran-Pagan) Holocaust against the Jews while the rest of the “civilized” Western world cast a blind eye; and from the Palestinian perspective, the Jewish war of conquest in the 1940s, which kicked hundreds of thousands out of their homes by force.

Not to mention the belief by some Western religious people who believe that there is an ongoing clash of civilizations between Judeo-Christianity and Islam, with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Palestine serving as theaters in a war that will only end with Armageddon and the Second Coming.

Secondly, I encouraged him to read this article by a Muslim author:

“While over a millennium of cohabitation the various religious communities of the region have experienced identifiable ups-and-downs in their relations, the overall narrative between them is vastly more of pluralism, tolerance and accommodation than of hard-wired conflict and animosity.

“For centuries, Sunnis and Shias (as well as Christians, Jews and other religious groups) have lived closely intertwined with one another to a degree without parallel elsewhere in the world. Even where they have exerted power through distinct political structures, the argument that this has equated to conflict does not stand up to even a cursory analysis. While the Sunni Ottoman Empire and Shia Safavid Empire experienced their share of conflict, they also lived peaceably alongside one another for hundreds of years, even considering it shameful to engage in conflict with one another as Muslim powers…

The conflict which some claim exists today between Sunni and Shia Muslims is a product of very recent global events; blowback from the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the petro-dollar fuelled global rise of Wahhabi reactionaries.”


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