You say Sunnis, and I say Shiites

Print More

Shiites.jpgOK, politicians are busy folks who can’t always be expected to know who’s who in the world without a scorecard. Still, it’s unsettling that John McCain, on his latest swing through the Middle East, should have on several occasions asserted that al-Qaeda is receiving training in Iran. An elementary knowledge of the religious order in the region ought to prevent you from imagining that the Iranian Shiite establishment would want to do anything to help the Sunni extremists who constitute al-Qaeda. An elementary awareness of recent American military activities means knowing that the Iranians helped us bring down the Taliban and their al-Qaeda associates in Afghanistan by sealing their border. But McCain said that it was “common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran; that’s well known.” Nope.
To be sure, McCain is not alone. Silvestre Reyes, the Texas congressman hand-picked by Nancy Pelosi to head the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, couldn’t tell Sunni from Shiite either when he was named to the post. But McCain really seems to possess a profound lack of interest in religion and how religious differences matter. Last year he seemed to want to be an Episcopalian and a Baptist at the same time. More recently, he seemed flummoxed by having to deal with San Antonio evangelical panjandrum John Hagee’s anti-Catholicism. It may come as a relief to many to have a GOP candidate who doesn’t pretend to religious expertise. But it might be a good idea for him to do a little boning up.