By Matthew A. McIntosh / 03.20.2016:
This is the type of problem we are dealing with in the Middle East, and it explains why our consistent interventions have always (and will for the foreseeable future) only worsened the problems.
We cannot intervene to “bring democracy” to a region in which “democracy” is antithetical. Shia and Sunni Muslims in the region visit violence upon one another more than terrorists do to the entire world, and terrorists harm and kill “their own” more than they do others as well.
Imagine Baptists, Presbyterians, and Catholics all literally fighting one another here. Imagine Baptist parents instructing their daughter to beat a Catholic boy like this. How does anyone intervene in circumstances so deeply rooted as religion.
The Shia and Sunni emerged in a schism following one simple question and different answers to it – who should succeed Muhammad and how following his death in 632 CE.
The Sunni (from Ahl al-Sunnah, or People of the Tradition), who constitute the majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims today (about 90%), held up Abu Bakr – the father of Muhammad’s wife (Aisha) and his close friend. The Shia (Shiat Ali, or Party of Ali), who constitute about 10% of the world’s Muslim population, felt that the Prophet’s kin should be his rightful heirs and supported his cousin and son-in-law, Ali.
In spite of their majority among the world’s Muslims, the Sunni only constitute a minority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, and likely Yemen.
The Shia are yet further subdivided into three primary branches – the Zaidis, Ismailis and Ithna Asharis (Twelvers or Imamis). It is the latter-most that awaits the return of “the 12th Imam” to restore justice on Earth.
These differences run deep and are often the source of extreme violence. It is also why intervention in the region must be done extremely carefully, letting them take the lead to try to work matters out in a way that can lead to a peaceful resolution.
This peaceful resolution has been absent for over a thousand years and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Competing ideologies held so closely as religion present unique challenges that may simply be insurmountable in a place where people are willing to lay down their lives for those ideologies.
Constant Western intervention has done far more harm than good, but the lesson never seems to take hold.