Expert hashes out Iraq issues
Author discusses Mideast Shia, Sunni sects at seminar
July 20, 2007
Steamboat Springs — Vali Nasr’s book, “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future and Democracy in Iran,” has sat on President George Bush’s nightstand.
Nasr “told me that President Bush has read it and that the book is serving as a background for discussions in the Middle East,” said Jim Goodrich as he introduced Nasr to a full audience at the Strings in the Mountains tent Thursday night.
Nasr, a professor and expert on Middle East and South Asia politics, presented his speech “The United States and the Middle East After Iraq: Taking Stock of Iran and the Shia Revival” as part of the second Seminars at Steamboat lecture of the summer.
Nasr spent about 45 minutes exploring the complex conflict between the Shia and Sunni sects living in the Middle East, discussing how the U.S. has influenced that conflict, and his views on how the Middle East will develop in the future – with or without a U.S. presence.
“This is a topic that has found a life of its own,” he said. “When I was trying to get the book published about a year ago, I had a great deal of difficulty getting people to understand who Shiites are and why it’s important. Now, you can’t open a newspaper without continuous references to Shia or Sunni. It has crept into the political culture and our conception of what the Middle East is, though it doesn’t seem our policymakers have a grasp of what it means or why it matters.”
Although Shiites represent a small demographic in the Middle East only – about 10 percent of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world are Shiite, about 90 percent of them live between India and Lebanon, he said.
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With help from the U.S. presence in Iraq, Shiites have experienced a so-called revival in obtaining political power that they historically have not possessed. And that revival has created increased tension and conflict between the two groups, which Nasr likened to the Protestant/Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland.
“It’s about identity,” he said. “It’s about power. In Iraq, it’s the same. They’re fighting over a fallen government to obtain power, politics that imploded after Saddam fell.”
Several members of the audience questioned Nasr about what he thinks the U.S. should do about Iraq.
Prioritize, he answered.
“I think the goal should be to not overreach, to not get involved in more conflicts without having full visibility,” he said. “We must decide which countries matter most to us and fundamentally what our capabilities are.”
Nasr is the third guest speaker that Seminars has hosted since 2004 to touch on issues surrounding Iraq and the Middle East.
Goodrich described Nasr’s speech as “fascinating, enlightening and informative.”
“It was a wonderful experience for all of us,” he said.
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