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Dear Mr. O’Malley, or may I call you Peter?

Thank you for your letter and your highly perspicacious questions. You write:

“Harper has now decided that Canada must play an important role in the centuries-long Shia-Sunni war within Islam. Well okay, but I’m unclear which side we’re on. I think we’re now Shias, right? 

“Fact is, Canadians need to know the answer here, because under the new laws, if we promote support for the wrong warring Islamic sect, we could be subject to life in prison. 

“Perhaps you could explain exactly why the sect we support is terrific, and why the sect we oppose should die.” 

I’ve been pondering this very question myself, Peter, and I think I can help.  I’d also add that besides the reasonable fear of imprisonment and perhaps solitary confinement if you (or I) make an honest mistake, there’s another reason we need to know whose side we’re on. The Canadian mission to Iraq is being extended. Canada’s amusingly called “non-risk”, “non-combat” mission is going to be there for the long term, perhaps 12 years as in Afghanistan, and with the same tragic results. The Conservatives in Parliament will ratify this blunder next month.

(A caution, Peter. It may be subversive to say “blunder”.)

Okay, on to your question. Islam, like all religions, is divided. As you observed, there are two main denominations, Sunni and Shia. There are way more Sunni in the world than Shia but lots of the Shia are in the wrong place, like Iran. The western world generally doesn’t like the Shia, often seen as more extreme, so you could say we are pro-Sunni. But both ISIS and al-Qaeda are Sunni, so we must be anti-Sunni. But Sunni ISIS kills other Sunnis by the tens of thousands (plus anyone else they can get their mitts on, especially Shia).  As well, Saudi Arabia is Sunni and anti-ISIS, but so is despicable Iran, which is hugely Shia. This really complicates things. Sunni ISIS and Sunni al-Qaeda also loathe reach other, and both of course hate Shia Iran, and (possibly) vice versa.

Are you with me so far, Peter? No worry. You can rest assured Stephen Harper and his ministers have all this down pat.

Oh yeah, you know who else was Sunni? The late evil Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein! Until the U.S. found it absolutely necessary to invade and kill him and totally screw up Iraq, Saddam, though evil, was actually a friend of the west. Iraq is majority Shia and Saddam, a good Sunni (well, a bad Sunni, I guess), kept the Shia in their place. In fact he waged a terrible eight-year war against the hated Khomeini Shia regime in Iran, in which the U.S. aided their Sunni buddy Saddam except when it also aided despised Shia Iran.  

So now thanks to the United States the Shia again rule Iraq, which led some pissed-off Sunni to form ISIS. Iraq’s Shia militias are killing Iraqi Sunnis in huge numbers, which is making Iraq’s disempowered Sunnis look more favourably on ISIS even though ISIS kills lots of Sunni. Shia Iran strongly supports Shia Iraq, which makes Iran even more dangerous except that it’s really vital to our side in battling ISIS.  Am I going too fast?

SO really, Peter, you were kind of right that we are pro-Shia because Shia Iran and Shia Iraq are fighting ISIS, which we hate most these days. But of course we’re anti-Shia because we also hate Shia Iran most because Iran “is the world’s most dangerous country” (See the former J. Baird.). Israel and its BFF, Canada, also hate Iran and demand that Israel remain the only country in the Middle East to have nuclear weapons. Or else. But of course Israel and Canada are also quietly thrilled that Iran is fighting ISIS.

By the way, Peter, did I mention that Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are bitter enemies, each determined to be the Big Macher (an Arab term, I believe) in the Middle East. (Iranians aren’t Arabs, by the way; they’re Persians. And lots of Arabs are Christians. Just saying.) But both countries loathe and fear ISIS so we’re all on the same side, ISIS-wise.  

And don’t forget our sometimes allies the Kurds, who are majority Sunni but hate Sunni ISIS and also hate our NATO allies the Turks who are Sunni and also war against ISIS. But Turkey hates the Kurds….Well, that’s another story.

We mustn’t forget tormented Syria, of course, where the murderous President is actually part of a small sect within the Shia, ruling a largely Sunni country. We hate him badly and want to kill him. But now that he’s also fighting Sunni ISIS, we still hate him but hope he sticks around. Now here’s the thing, Peter. We’re staying completely out of Syria even though ISIS is very powerful there. This completely bamboozles me. I haven’t a clue why we’re in Iraq but not Syria. Sorry I can’t help here.

Let’s now turn to Libya and the anarchy and violence that western countries left behind after we helped overthrew their former dictator, Gadhafi, whom we once shunned, then embraced, then killed. Now he was a Bedouin…


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Gerry Caplan

Gerald Caplan has an MA in Canadian history and a Ph.D. in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He is an author, teacher, media commentator,...