The Sunni-Shia Conflict: Understanding Sectarian Violence in the Middle East

From the ancient struggles between Zoroastrian Iran and Christian Rome, to those between Sunni and Shia empires in the Muslim era, geopolitical contests in the Middle East have always been framed in overtly religious terms. While most Sunni and Shia Muslims around the world seek religious coexistence, vacuums of power, such as those that occurred during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) and in post-war Iraq, have forced believers to retreat into their respective ethnic, sectarian, tribal and political camps. It is exactly during times of crisis that regional leaders can exploit sectarian identities and force civil strife upon an entire country. Today, with the rise of a pro-Iranian government in Iraq, the Middle East finds itself once again in the midst of a regional power struggle: one between Iranian-allied Shias and the Sunni-Arab governments that oppose them. It is only by understanding the political dynamics of sectarian conflict that the United States and the international community will have a chance to help Iraq achieve a lasting peace. Moving beyond tired descriptions of the Middle East as an exotic land of ideological purists, Nathan Gonzalez provides a realist account of the history of the Sunni-Shia conflict--a schism of political interests that now threatens to escalate into a regional war.