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The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Futureby Vali Nasr
Synopses & Reviews
The critical struggle between Shia and Sunni for the future of the Middle East.
To most Western eyes, all Islamic movements look alike, and the central conflict in the Middle East is one between religion and secularism. Shockingly little has been written about the bitter divide between Shia and Sunni. Yet without understanding their ancient conflict — and its modern embodiment in the power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for political and spiritual leadership of the Muslim world — it is impossible to comprehend events across the so-called Shia Crescent, from East Africa through Iraq and Pakistan to India.
The provocative rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Saudi pressure on the United States not to unseat Saddam Hussein in 1991, the critical role of the Ayatollah Sistani and the religious establishment in Najaf (Iraq), the volatility of Pakistan today, and the consequences of the shift toward Shia power through American intervention — all this and more is explained in the light of the Shia/Sunni divide.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"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 Muslim life on the ground." New York Times
"[As] an historical and cultural narrative of Shia experience, Nasr's book offers a crucial overview of the sectarian forces dividing the Muslim world." Miami Herald
"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." Library Journal
"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.'" Kirkus Reviews
Book News Annotation:
The resurgence of Shia Moslem power that began with the 1979 Iranian revolution and has become even more visible in the wake of the American invasion of Iraq is likely to spread across the Muslim world, according to Nasr (Middle East and South Asia politics, Naval Postgraduate School). Avoiding the twin traps of either essentializing the conflict between the Sunnis and the Shia, noting that conflict between the two is often more about political power and economic resources than religious differences, or painting either group as monolithic, without numerous internal conflicts and differences, Nasr describes the factors that have led to the Shia revival and explores its likely political consequences within the Moslem world from the Middle East to South Asia and in relations between the Moslem world and the West. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Vali Nasr is professor of Middle East and South Asia politics and associate chair of research at the Department of National Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. He lives in La Jolla, California.
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History and Social Science » Middle East » General History