It’s sometimes hard for Westerners to understand the ferocity and passion behind sectarianism in the Middle East. I’m not an expert either – but the period of history I studied most exhaustively at Oxford was England and Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The town I grew up in has memorial grave-stones for the Protestants burned alive on the Tudor-era high street, as cheering Catholics gathered around. As an Irish-Catholic in England, I was taught the brutal history of the Protestant-Catholic wars that played out over three centuries – and were still killing people in my lifetime.
America never experienced this – which may explain in part the utopianism that led us into Iraq (and makes my own support of the fiasco even more indefensible in retrospect). I say this to introduce this video. I found it on a terrific new blog which is arguing for intervention in Syria, “Notes On Error“:
This scene is from Egypt, where a great meeting of political, economic, and religious rot is conspiring to sink the country. It is from June 23, was shot on the outskirts of Cairo, and depicts the reaction of Sunni mob – long inculcated in sectarian hate – to the news that a group of around thirty Shiites were praying to the successors of Ali in a private residence.
Here’s what it looks like when people really believe in religious distinction.
You can look at the barbarism and violence and ardent murderousness in this scuffle and see the imperative to stop it, or look at it and see the impossibility of intervening from the outside. I fear the Muslim world may have to go through much more of this before it gets past it. The wise foreigner stays out.