Via TPMMuckraker, an interview with Silvestre Reyes, the new chair of the House Intelligence Committee:
"Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?
“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”
“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.
That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up a l Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics.
Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots account for its very existence. Osama bin Laden and his followers believe the Saudi Royal family besmirched the true faith through their corruption and alliance with the United States, particularly allowing U.S. troops on Saudi soil. (...)
And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?
“Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah...”
He laughed again, shifting in his seat.
“Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?” (...)
I apologized for putting him “on the spot a little.” But I reminded him that the people who have killed thousands of Americans on U.S. soil and in the Middle East have been front page news for a long time now.
It’s been 23 years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed over 200 U.S. military personnel in Beirut, mostly Marines.
Hezbollah, a creature of Iran, is close to taking over in Lebanon. Reports say they are helping train Iraqi Shiites to kill Sunnis in the spiralling civil war.
“Yeah,” Reyes said, rightly observing, “but . . . it’s not like the Hatfields and the McCoys. It’s a heck of a lot more complex.
“And I agree with you — we ought to expend some effort into understanding them. But speaking only for myself, it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.”"
Actually, it's not more complicated than the Hatfields and McCoys -- at least if you're talking about keeping Shi'a and Sunni groups straight, rather than figuring out all the various subgroups into which each can be divided. Moreover, even the most minimal knowledge of the Middle East would help. For instance, could anyone who knows that Osama bin Laden is Saudi and that Saudi Arabia is Sunni -- not exactly arcane facts -- possibly be in doubt as to whether al Qaeda is Sunni or Shi'a? If it comes to that, could anyone who knows that Saudi Arabia is the guardian of the holiest places in Islam not figure out that it must be Sunni, given that Sunni Islam is the mainstream orthodoxy from which Shi'a Islam split off? I mean, this is like wondering whether the Vatican City is Protestant or Catholic: its structural features tell you what you need to know, given any understanding at all of the history of the religion in question.
The only way one could possibly be confused on this question would be if one had no background whatsoever in the history of Islam or the Middle East, and were instead trying to memorize various people's religious allegiances using flash cards. If all you had were unfamiliar names, it might be difficult. If you had any sense at all of the underlying story -- even in its broadest outlines -- it wouldn't be.
I suppose I should say: well, at least he's not corrupt. But I think that's way too low a bar.