I have been warning you about the impact of a Trump presidency for Iran, Saudi Arabia, and...ALL OF US...since waaaaaaaay before the election.
.@7awliet makes an excellent point here.

The Saudi Arabia - Iran proxy war transcends US presidential administrations, and has increasingly escalated post-2011 (case in point: Bahrain’s protests and the KSA response).

I’ve been vocal about Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy war here since 2010.

Trump’s presidency worries more for 4 reasons:

1) financial corruption & conflicts of interest
2) ignorance
3) susceptibility to those around him (hi, Bolton)
4) obsession with reversing anything Obama did
I also find Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict extremely worrying at the present moment as a professor of Middle Eastern Studies.

Keep in mind - my students are generally 17-23.

This matters.
Students already view the Middle East as a singular region of eternal religious violence — erased of any historical, political, economic, or other contingencies.

Given media sensationalism, rampant xenophobia, and ISIS’ massive success in capturing our minds — this matters.
My students are mired in a media and political climate that reinforces this theory of eternal sectarian and religious bloodshed at every turn.

It is very difficult to challenge, because they’ve inherited these thought paradigms (hello, Edward Said).

And it is getting worse.
Prior to the onset of “modernity” (whatever the hell that even means), and the contemporary nation-state, Shia-Sunni relations looked very, very different.

The same holds true before Arab Spring in 2011.

And the same before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
So let me give you a very concise historical challenging the “eternal sectarian bloody Middle East because religion” myth — and explain how this raises the stakes of Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict exponentially in the era of Trump.
Before that, allow me to address this concerned commenter’s very insightful point.

That’s all. That’s my response.

Moving along.
As I was saying...

Let me give you a very concise historical challenging the “eternal sectarian bloody Middle East because religion” myth — and explain how this raises the stakes of Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict exponentially in the era of Trump.
Most Americans — who are implicated in the outcome of these wars, given that we fund them through taxes and claim to have a representative democratic systems — do not know the difference between Sunni and Shia.

Let alone how that difference arose, where, when, or why.
Here’s a VERY basic explanation of who the Shia are versus who the Sunni are (and let’s not forget — there are numerous sub-denominations within each umbrella designation).

After the Prophet’s death, the Muslim community sought a successor to lead them.
The group that we — TODAY — call “Sunni” Muslims constitute the vast majority of the global Muslim population.

When the Prophet died, this group believed that Muhammad died without designating a successor.

Through a quasi-democratic process, they selected Abu Bakr.
The group we — TODAY — call “Shia” constitute the Muslim world’s minority denomination.

This group believed Muhammad had already designated a successor: his cousin Ali (and the 1st MALE convert — wife Khadijah was 1st).

“Shia” is short for “Shi’at ‘Ali” - partisans of Ali.
Shia and Sunni are not different ethnicities.

Shia and Sunni are not different religions.

They are different (umbrella) denominations of Islam.
Those are the basics you need to know for now.

Moving along.

The difference between groups we now refer to as “Shia” and “Sunni” arose after the Prophet’s death, and originally (this is KEY INFORMATION) centered on who was the rightful earthly successor — not prophetic — of Muhammad.

This is not a theological claim in any way.
Scholars differ on whether or not — or how long elapsed before — the issue of political succession acquired theological valence as well.

Here’s an interesting source: amazon.com/Succession-Muh…

(Again, not a theological claim. Historical facts and debate.)
Shia faced, at various periods, in various places, for various reasons oppression from Sunni Muslims — the vast majority.

That doesn’t mean “eternal sectarian bloody division endless war etc because religion.”

Here’s how we know that: history. Let me give you examples.
Before that, thought exercise: Presbyterians versus Catholics.

Both consider themselves Christian. Various factors led to Christianity — a religion — splitting into denominations that proliferate.

Would you call Presbyterians vs. Catholics “sectarian hatred?”
No, “but they weren’t killing each other so that’s why not” is not a valid answer.

Presbyterians are a subset of the Christianity’s (umbrella) Protestant denomination.

Um. Catholics and Protestants? Yeah, they killed each other a lot.

“But that ended forever —“

(Yes, we are getting back to Iran and Saudi, Shia and Sunni - but this isn’t a tangent. It’s crucial to understand the thought paradigms at play here.)

So sit right. Almost there.
If you’re lazy, here - the “eternal and inescapable sectarian warfare plaguing Christianity since its origins because religion etc” from Wiki: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_…

Why don’t they kill each other today?

Maybe “RELIGION” isn’t the sole causative factor cause - history N shit.
Christian sectarianism in the (Protestant-founded) US persisted until quite recently.

Catholics were seen as a 5th column loyal to the Pope before the nation.

That’s the whole reason JFK’s election was a HUUUUUUGE deal.
Back to the Middle East, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Shia, Sunni and this whole “eternal sectarian animosity” myth.

And the way it’s increasingly instantiated through geopolitics and shitty foreign policy.

That is... bad.
So, with the creation of modern nation-states came European imperial expansion, and the invention of wholly arbitrary borders.

I seriously hope this is not new info to anyone reading this. Anyway.
Random, artificially imposed borders had the effect of dividing religious, linguistic, ethnic, cultural communities, etc. and demanding that a new sense of national unity subsume those differences and loyalties.
Shia and Sunni Muslims, you see, through what I’d characterize (fairly) as a pretty shitty accident of history ...
wound up, in many cases, residing in the same nation-state — but AND THIS IS A BIG ONE — areas with different resources.

Like... oil.
“Shia vs. Sunni sectarian hatred” quite often was far more based in new nation-states’ resource allocation and the unhappy historical accident of modernity, imperialism, and oil.

Not. Theology.
This stuff is difficult to conceptualize beyond abstractions. I get it.

Give me a sec, because I’m making a visual aid for you — Saudi Arabia, Shia, Sunnis, and... where the oil is.
Saudi Arabia: 2 maps.

One shows you where most Shia are.

One shows you where most oil is.

Look carefully.
Now, let me make it even clearer for you with the next visual aid.
Saudi Arabia.

Notice that the oppressed Shia minority inhabit precisely the SAME REGIONS where infrastructure for national resources are, like...

Yes, this entire thread unpacking geopolitical history in the interest of non-apocalyptic foreign policy and international security is, like...

Totally just warning you all about a Tweet.


Moving on.
Now, let’s return to consider demographic distribution of Shia and Sunni populations vis-a-vis resources in Saudi Arabia.

Look at the maps again, and then I’ll tell you about Iran.

And now, here is a map of Iran — another regional powerhouse producer of natural gas and oil resources.

Lime green portions of the map indicate predominantly Shia regions of the contemporary nation-state.
(Y’all, just be patient for an hour or so. I’m going out to dinner cause I need to stuff my face with Indian food.

And then we return to Shia & Sunni, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia, how apocalyptic war would be dumb. I’ll also give you recent examples from Iraq & Bahrain.)

Okay, I need to wrap this up and get back to my own work, so let’s get this thread over with.

Step back to Iraq with me, pre-2003.
Iraq: Shia (65% ish) vs. Sunni (30% ish)

Saddam Hussein (Sunni) practiced a familiar divide-and-conquer strategy to maintain control, coupled with power consolidation through cultivating ties of political loyalty, ethno-linguistic ties, patronage, religious identity, etc.
I’m essentializing this a lot, but basically:

(Sunni) Saddam exerted power over a majority Shia society, through various methods that relied on identity-based ties for jobs, etc.

Shias and Sunnis intermarried (common Muslim joke - those kids are called “Sushis”).
George W. Bush invades Iraq in March 2003. In January 2003, he had no idea there was a difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Kinda sorta a litlle super indicative of massive ignorance that, coupled with piss poor planning, is going to fuck shit up.

About that “eternal sectarian animosity and endless bloodshed between Shia and Sunni that has nothing to do with contingencies like geopolitics,” let’s check out...

... resultant religio-ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, post 2003’s American invasion, shall we?
Left: 2005 - yellow indicates mixed Shia-Sunni neighborhoods.

Right: 2007 - damn, sure shrank, didn’t they?
2005’s map shows so much coexistence because...this ain’t as simple as “because Islam.”

Essentially... the idiotic 2003 US invasion helped catalyze what we now popularly call “ancient sectarian hatred.”

We call it that cause we like to ignore history.

Okay, next up — here’s a map of Iran and Iraq.

Check out how close in geographical proximity they are.
The US has hated Iran since 1979’s revolution (long story), which partially happened because we... kinda overthrow a democratically elected Iranian leader and replaced him with a super oppressive “pro-Western” autocrat.

Cause democracy N freedom N shit.

You following?

The US toppled Saddam Hussein (who oppressed the majority of Iraq — Shia), replaced by a Shia leader that consolidated power by oppressing... Sunnis.

Balance of power shifts from Sunni (minority) control to Shia (majority).

Next door? Shia majority Iran.

Iran and Iraq share:

Cultural overlap
Experience of US-imposed “democracy” hurhurhur
Common history
Religious denominational majorities
Oil and natural gas reserves
Lots more

In sum, 2003 was a pretty good way to fuck up “divide and conquer.”

Anyway, “divide and conquer” is what imperial regimes do.

Bush was stupid enough to invade Iraq and didn’t even know Islam had “Sunnis” and “Shias” or WHAT THAT EVEN MEANT.

And regional power balances and geopolitical alliances then shifted, scaring the shit out of...Saudi.
I’m skipping a lot of history (I do have a job, and Twitter ain’t it, boss), but — Saudi Arabia and Iran have both been backing different actors in various global conflicts for their own agenda: regional dominance.

“Divide and conquer” is... pretty damn useful.
Appeals to any aspect of a group’s communitarian identity, well... those work very well when you convince them their way of life faces an existential threat.

It even works when that existential threat is, well... let me just call it “mythological bullshit.”

Divide and conquer.
Abridging tons of geopolitical complexity, but:

Since 2011’s Arab Spring, in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria...

BOTH Saudi Arabia and Iran benefit from inciting “sectarianism” (WAY MORE complex than “religion”) — global proxy war for regional economic, and political dominance.
To conclude:

Escalation of Iran - Saudi Arabia proxy conflict is unbelievably stupid, “eternal sectarianism war” is a geopolitical myth ripe for exploitation, and...

The US sucks very badly at not screwing up the Middle East.

Listen, random Twitter person. I have a great idea.

Click the “unfollow” button. That way I’ll irritate you less. :)

Addendum to #Iran #KSA thread - entitled “damn good point.”
Can someone please take his goddamn Twitter away? #Iran
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