Terrorism: June 3, 2003


Al Qaeda, and Islamic radicals in general, have several shortcomings. But none is more debilitating than their hatred of other Islamic sects. While the many Christian sects have consistently moved away from armed conflict over the last few centuries, such is not the case with Moslems. The biggest split is between the mainstream Sunni sect (which controls the holy places in Saudi Arabia, and most of the Moslem population) and the Shia sect (the largest minority, a majority in Iran and Iraq and a large minority in other Gulf states, Syria, Afghanistan and Lebanon.) Al Qaeda is a Sunni operation, propelled by the very conservative Wahabi brand of Sunni religious practice. In Saudi Arabia, Wahabi religious leaders, against government wishes, preach that Shia are heretics who should dealt with savagely. But Saudi Arabia still allows Shia, and most smaller Islamic sects, to make the pilgrimage to the holy places. For this, and other perceived sins, al Qaeda hates those who rule Saudi Arabia. This has an impact on al Qaeda operations. Non-Sunni Moslems are often hostile to al Qaeda. Although most Moslems take pleasure in al Qaeda attacks against Western targets, a large number of Shia were appalled by the September 11, 2001 attacks, and publicly showed their disapproval. This was noted by al Qaeda. But Shia are also taking notes. Iran, which is controlled by Shia clergy, were waging a low level war against the Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan because of the active persecution of Shia Afghans. Iranian Shia religious radicals are giving refuge to some al Qaeda, but not with a lot of enthusiasm, and apparently causing disputes among religious leaders in Iran. Tension between Shia Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon and Lebanese Sunni groups continues. In Pakistan, armed Shia and Sunni groups regularly kill each other. While Shia and Sunni will say publicly, to the Western media anyway, that they are united against a common enemy, within the Moslem world, the reality is quite different. These differences have been exploited by Western anti-terrorist organizations, but quietly. On the ground, Shias will provide information against Sunni terrorist organizations, and vice versa. Whatever hatred there may be against the West, Moslems know that a more immediate danger to them comes from other Moslems who practice a different flavor of Islam.


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