And the copypasta for the lazy:
Most in the United States donï¿½??t know much about the Middle East or the people that live there. This lack of knowledge hurts our ability to understand world events and, consequently, our ability to hold intelligent opinions about those events.
For example, frighteningly few know the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and most think the words ï¿½??Arabï¿½?? and ï¿½??Muslimï¿½?? are pretty much interchangeable. They arenï¿½??t. So hereï¿½??s a very brief primer aimed at raising the level of knowledge about the region to an absolute minimum.
Arabs are part of an ethnic group, not a religion. Arabs were around long before Islam, and there have been (and still are) Arab Christians and Arab Jews. In general, youï¿½??re an Arab if you 1) are of Arab descent (blood), or speak the main Arab language (Arabic).
Islam is a religion. A Muslim (roughly pronounced MOOSE-lihm) is someone who follows the religion. So you wouldnï¿½??t say someone follows Muslim or is an Islam, just as you wouldnï¿½??t say someone follows Christian or is a Christianity.
Shia Muslims are similar to Roman Catholics in Christianity. They have a strong clerical presence via Imams and promote the idea of going through them to practice the religion correctly. Sunni Muslims are more like Protestant Christians. They donï¿½??t really focus on Imams and believe in maintaining a more direct line to God than the Shia.
Sunni Muslims make up most of the Muslim world (roughly 90%). 1
The rift between the Shia and Sunni started right after Muhammadï¿½??s death and originally reduced to a power struggle regarding who was going to become the authoritative group for continuing the faith.
The Shia believed Muhammadï¿½??s second cousin Ali should have taken over (the family/cleric model). The Sunni believed that the best person for the job should be chosen by the followers (the merit model) and thatï¿½??s how the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, was appointed.
Although the conflict began as a political struggle it now mostly considered a religious and class conflict, with political conflict emanating from those rifts.
Sunni vs. Shia | Arab vs. Non-Arab
Hereï¿½??s how the various Middle Eastern countries break down in terms of Sunni vs. Shia and whether or not they are predominantly Arab. Keep in mind that these are generalizations; significant diversity exists in many of the countries listed.
Iraq Mostly Shia (roughly 60%), but under Saddam the Shia were oppressed and the Sunni were in power despite being only 20% of the population. Arab.
Iran Shia. NOT Arab.
Palestine Sunni. Arab.
Egypt Sunni. Arab.
Saudi Arabia Sunni. Arab.
Syria Shia. Arab.
Jordan Sunni. Arab.
Gulf States Sunni. Arab.
Whatï¿½??s depressing is the fact that this only took me 20 minutes to write and you 2 minutes to read. Yet most people in the United States, including those in the media, the house of representatives, and probably even the Pentagon, lack even this cursory level of knowledge about the region.:
I knew most of this already, but this is a pretty good cheat sheet. Even if you radically hate all Muslims, you should at least follow Sun Tzu’s advice and know your enemy ;).
If any of this is wrong, I’m assuming Lixy or another Muslim will point it out.