Americans may be paying more attention to Muslim conflicts now. They had better. In The Shia Revival, a fast-moving, engaging and ultimately unnerving book, Vali Nasr writes that wars within Islam “will shape the future.” A professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and an occasional adviser to the American government, Nasr argues that Operation Iraqi Freedom has tilled the soil for a “new” Middle East — one fueled less by the ideal of democracy than by an age-old animosity between Islam’s two major sects, the majority Sunnis and minority Shiites.
The New York Times
One of the least remarked upon aspects of the war in Iraq, at least in the American press, has been how conflict and instability in that country have shaken the delicate balance of power between Sunni and Shia throughout the wider region. Nasr, professor of Middle East and South Asia politics at the Naval Postgraduate School, tackles this question head-on for a Western audience. His account begins with a cogent, engrossing introduction to the history and theology of Shia Islam, encapsulating the intellectual and political trends that have shaped the faith and its relations with the dominant Sunni strain. Nasr argues that the Shia Crescent-stretching from Lebanon and Syria through the Gulf to Iraq and Iran, finally terminating in Pakistan and India-is gathering strength in the aftermath of Saddam's fall, cementing linkages that transcend political and linguistic borders and could lead to a new map of the Middle East. While Nasr's enthusiasm for Iraq's Shiite leader Ayatollah Sistani sometimes borders on the hagiographic, and he makes a number of uncharacteristic errors, such as conflating the Syrian Alawi community with the Turkish Alevis, his book is worthwhile reading for those seeking a primer on the second-largest Muslim sect. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The war in Iraq has by now made it abundantly clear that the struggle for the soul of that country goes beyond good vs. evil or democracy vs. authoritarianism. What matters in the Middle East and what determines the region's future may well have more to do with Shia vs. Sunni, Arab vs. Persian, Kurd vs. Arab, and other such internal cleavages. More specifically, as the subtitle of this book indicates, conflicts within Islam will likely play a significantly larger role in determining the Middle East's future than what happens between the countries of the region and the outside world. This timely and important book sheds light on an enduring conflict within Islam-the historic divide between its Shia and Sunni branches. Although Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims, the Shia, suppressed by Saddam Hussein, make up over 60 percent of Iraq's population. Nasr (Middle East & South Asia politics, Dept. of National Security, Naval Postgraduate Sch.), who has published extensively on politics and religion in South Asia and the Middle East, explains the genesis and specific development of Shia Islam and the making of Shia politics in the contemporary Middle East. The entrenched historical, theological, and political disputes within Islam are analyzed here in an eminently readable and informative book that should be read by both policymakers and informed Western readers. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/06.]-Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A conflict of civilizations may be raging between Islam and the West, but a sectarian battle within Islam itself could turn out to be the main event. When American politicos boasted not so long ago of bringing the light of freedom to the Arab world, writes political scientist Nasr, "it was in effect the old Sunni-dominated Middle East that they were talking about democratizing." The question of whether those Sunnis want democracy in the first place notwithstanding, Sunnis do control the most powerful nations in the Arab world, particularly ultraconservative Saudi Arabia. Nasr likens the Sunnis to Protestants (perhaps hardshell Baptists), with their faith in documents and direct experience, whereas the Shia, like Catholics, place more value on the authority of clerics and textual interpreters. Sunnis outnumber Shias ten to one in the Islamic world generally but are roughly even in number in some parts of the Middle East, while Shias predominate around the Persian Gulf-and have now attained power, if tenuously, in Iraq, where they were formerly excluded. Much of the violence now taking place in that country, writes Nasr, is directed against Shias, and the anti-American insurgency there is predicated on what its leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, calls "a difficult, fierce battle with a crafty enemy who wears the garb of a friend." Interestingly, Nasr shows, other political events in the Muslim world can be explained in sectarian terms: In 1977, for instance, a coup to overthrow Bhutto-a Shia-was led by Sunni fundamentalists whose draconian campaigns inspired the fledgling Taliban in next-door Afghanistan. Much blood has been spilled over the doctrinal dispute between the two factions, a gap thatcontinues to widen. Nasr's book is a helpful footnote to the headlines, now that "war on America is war on Shi'ism, and war on Shi'ism is war on America."
New York Times
Provocative. Thomas L. Friedman
Brilliant and very readable. Trudy Rubin
Dallas Morning News
A must-read. Robert Hunt
New York Times - Thomas L. Friedman
Philadelphia Inquirer - Trudy Rubin
“Brilliant and very readable.”
Dallas Morning News - Robert Hunt
Thomas L. Friedman - New York Times
Trudy Rubin - Philadelphia Inquirer
“Brilliant and very readable.”
Robert Hunt - Dallas Morning News
“[A] must-read for those who find themselves perplexed about the sectarian violence in Iraq, the unpredictable politics of Iran, and the suddenly resurgent Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Warren Bass - Washington Post
“Smart, clear and timely.”
Irshad Manji - New York Times Book Review
“Fast moving, engaging and ultimately unnerving.... The Shia Revival is at its most provocative when exposing how the Sunni-Shiite power imbalance seeps out of classrooms and infects life on the ground.”
L. Carl Brown - Foreign Affairs
“This book offers compelling corrective reading.... Broad-ranging and detailed, but still eminently readable.”