News Know Your Enemy
posted by October 17 at 12:28 PMon
Congresspersons and Bush counterterrorism officials don’t know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite:
At the end of a long interview, I asked Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau’s new national security branch, whether he thought that it was important for a man in his position to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. “Yes, sure, it’s right to know the difference,β he said. “It’s important to know who your targets are.β
That was a big advance over 2005. So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed. “The basics goes back to their beliefs and who they were following,β he said. “And the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following.β
O.K., I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. “Iran and Hezbollah,β I prompted. “Which are they?β
He took a stab: “Sunni.β
Al Qaeda? “Sunni.β
As author Jeff Stein notes, it would be unimaginable for British counterterrorism officials not to know the difference between Catholics and Protestants. Yet US officials in charge of counterterrorism efforts seem completely unfamiliar with the 1,400-year-old Shiite-Sunni rivalry that threatens to cleave Iraq into two independent, antagonistic states:
Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.
“Do I?β she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.β 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. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.β
Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?
“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,β she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.β