December 20, 2004

Not All Shi'a Are the Same

Tom Friedman reminds us that Iraqi Shi'a are Arabs and Iranian Shi'a, well, not. That's important. I suspect, deep down, that most Iraqis are well acquainted with that basic fact. Which is why some of this hyperbolic scare-mongering re: "Black Horde(s)" of nefarious Iranian interlopers looking for more Persian Shi'a lebensraum probably won't give Allawi and Co. any real legs as an electoral tactic. Martin Indyk has made this point in a different context as B.D. has previously blogged.

Posted by Gregory at December 20, 2004 04:56 AM

A friend of mine who has traveled extensively in Iran says that the Persian/Arab distinction carries a lot more weight there than the Shia/Sunni one. The Persians have as great an ingrained sense of superiority over the Arabs as the Iraqi Sunnis do over their Shia countrymen.

Posted by: William McElgin at December 20, 2004 10:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's good to see that the fact that Arabs and Iranians are different -- especially the Shi'a. It's a distinction the old media has been glossing over. I did considerable business in Iran before the dictators took over and one other fact pushed aside is Iranians are reasonably well educated. Especially the older generation -- they went through the schools of pre-dictatorship.

Iranians are not Arabs and Islam is just another religion to a lot of them. It's the Saudis and the Pakistanis who are the real terror pawns of today's middle east dictators.

Posted by: tarpon at December 20, 2004 07:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If anyone wanted a sense of how deep the Arab-Persian lines can cut, they should follow the brouhaha in Iran over National Geographic's seemingly innocuous labelling of the Persian Gulf with a notation that it is also known by the name "Arabian Gulf."

It's not just at the level of government officials taking umbrage. I recall a post a while back by the Brooding Persian (archives unfortunately not accessible) in which he indicated that among Arab friends, in order to avoid squabbles, they finesse the issue by not using either designation for the body of water.

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