Potential Hot Spots: Religious Strife in Kuwait

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: Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War

October 18, 2005: On the morning October 7th a gang of 70-75 young men attacked a Shia mosque in Kuwait, shortly after morning services. Rocks were thrown, anti-Shia slogans daubed on the walls, cars were torched, and at least one man was badly beaten. Although the Kuwaiti police made several arrests, a high ranking government official attributed the whole business to "a youthful prank." But it was actually another ugly incident in the ancient battle between conservative Sunnis and the Shia minority they believe to be heretics. Shias comprise about 30 percent of the population, and Sunnis a little less than half. There are a lot of other religions being practiced in Kuwait, which is a reflection of the areas long history of international commerce (via the Indian Ocean, and all the lands that touch it). But the same "back to basics" movement that propels al Qaeda, also inspires young men to act out against Moslems who are not Moslem enough. Sunni persecution of Shia is nothing new, but it's hitting a historical peak right now, and the unrest in Kuwait is another example. Kuwait does not want this violence to grow, because Kuwait depends on good relations with Shia Iran for commercial, and diplomatic (as in protection from larger Arab neighbors) reasons.


However, there is some major internal dissent in the Kuwaiti al Sabah family, which has run the country for several generations. While there's no substantial information available about the dispute, it could indicate a rift between more progressive and more conservative members of the ruling family, or it just may be no more than a couple of the cousins jockeying for the succession. This appears to be another reflection of the growing hostility, throughout the Moslem world, between militant conservatives, and more traditional Moslems who just want to get on with life, and not attempt to conquer the world. Kuwait just voted to allow women to vote, and some of the more conservative Sunni Moslems are not happy with this at all. Some blame the Shia, because Shia Iran has allowed women to vote for several generations. This, to Sunni Islamic conservatives, is another example of Shia blasphemy.

There have been a few incidents of deadly violence, by Kuwaitis against foreigners, in the last few years. But police come down hard on the Islamic radicals, and there is little public support for them. But the Islamic conservatives grow more militant and violence, the longer they suffer such lack of respect and support. When you are on a mission from God, numbers matter little.

 

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