The Sunni and the Shia Urban Myths and the Challenge of Coexistence

The Sunnis and the Shia: Adventures in Medieval Thought in the age of SMS

After the misadventure of May 7, the question being asked is how can the tension between the Shia and the Sunnis be reduced in Lebanon and in the Arab and Muslim world.

It is going to be a very difficult job. Take Lebanon for example.

In Lebanon they embrace modernity- they love Western toys of all kinds.
In a nation of about 4 million people, there are more than one million cell phone lines. It seems that almost everyone has a cell phone and a satellite television access.

The internet is widely used with no censorship.
But education and modernity do not change medieval outlooks.

The Amal and Hizbullah supporters, for example, had to place their flags on the light poles in majority Sunni areas. The sight of these men gave their tribe members feelings of power over the Sunnis while the other tribe felt that the Shia are out to humiliate them.

That sight, to me, reminded me of Neil Armstrong's moon moment.

When Neil Armstrong placed the American flag on the moon and made his one small step, one giant leap statement it was a moment of triumph for science, technology, humankind and rationality.

On the other hand, the flags on Lebanese poles stand for the opposite of everything that that American flag placed on the moon by Mr. Armstrong stood for.

It's a big problem we have in the Arab world.

I remember a wealthy engineer - a Shia- saying in the 1995 that PM Rafiq Hariri wants to kick the Shia out of Beirut! That simple. That successful millionaire with an engineering degree believed that his tribe in threatened by the Sunnis. No explanation and logic was needed.

Iraq is worse.

A highly educated Sunni Iraqi who lived in the West for years and dealt with scientific issues relayed to me, in all seriousness, what is obviously to me, not him, is an urban myth.

He told me, in all seriousness, that a Sunni woman told him that she was going through a Shia area in Baghdad when she saw a baby on a grill. She asked what's going on and she was told that this is a Sunni baby being cooked for the feast of Imam Hussein. I had to muster all my self control not to burst laughing at the idiocy of this anecdote.

What’s interesting is that both the Sunni and the Shia who shared urban myths of the threat against their communities are highly educated people. One only wonders what kind of myths the less educated classes are hearing and sharing.

The issue then is not an education and ignorance issue where the lesser educated and worse off have their grievances directed at the other group.

The issue is a lot deeper and scarier.

Super modern toys, medieval times.


Marion said…
Those who put the flags in Beirut were, whether young and immature Amal or Hezbollah supporters, or members were wrong to do so.

Technology, money, or even Ph d's, do not of themselves make a person(s) wise. While people may receive the proper education in some fields, doesn't mean they have received it in all areas of life. We have numerous examples of this kind of lack of proper education right here in the U.S. the richest, most technology advanced, and powerful country in the world.

For example, there is Debbie Schlussel, who you have wrote about here, a local lawyer who writes a biased blog about local Arabs and look how many people read it and believe every word of it.

Look at the millions of people who follow and believe all of the words of someone like Christian Zionist so-called Pastor John Hagee as another example.

How about Robert Spencer of "Jihad Watch" or Daniel Pipes, so-called experts on Islam?

We have numerous examples of educated people, whether they personally truly believe what they claim or not, disseminating and spreading what are basically Urban Myths to others, even educated others, who swallow them up with no questions asked.

It is a worldwide problem that does not only exist in the Middle East although in the Middle East it may appear more primitive.

There will always be Urban Myth concocters for whatever reasons, even in todays' so-called civilized and modern world, spreading false rumors or knowledge about others. Urban Myths are believed due to a lack of proper education of other belief systems, or a lack of communication and contact with others of different beliefs or backgrounds.

In the end, we are all responsible for ourselves and if we choose to be wise, we should not concoct Urban Myths nor buy into the concocted Urban Myths of others.

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