Way back in 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan told Chris Matthews, for some reason, that Sunni governments in the Middle East were askeert about the growing power of Iranian-backed Shiʿa movements in the region, despite the fact that Sunnis constitute about 60% of all Muslims in the Middle East and 90% of all Muslims around the world. This was right after Saddam had been ousted by the Iraq invasion, and while all the Sunni monarchies hated Saddam and his anti-monarchy Baʿathist ideology, he at least represented revolutionary Sunnism, unlike Tehran and its revolutionary Shiʿism which threatened to now spread into Iraq. So it’s long been a basic doctrine of Sunni autocrats and their right-wing bros in the West that there’s some kind of creeping Shiʿa bogeyman coming to get them while they’re sleeping, or whatever. They sometimes refer to the menace as the “Shiʿa Crescent,” for its vaguely crescent shape from Lebanon (Hezbollah), through Syria (the Assad regime), Iraq (majority Shiʿa), and Iran, and winding up in Bahrain (also majority Shiʿa) and even eastern Saudi Arabia (which has a large local Shiʿa population). Bahrain is, of course, governed by Sunnis, so maybe you’re already noticing a problem here, but now that Yemen is nominally controlled by a group of Zaydis, who are nominally Shiʿa and have some nominal ties to Iran, there’s a lot of concern, founded or not, about the crescent turning into a circle, which would obviously be bad for, uh, certain reasons.
The thing is, if you take a little stroll around the “Shiʿa Crescent,” and the region at large, who’s really the aggressor here? Sunni militias now control most of Syria (ISIS alone controls an estimated 50% of the country territorially) and are building momentum toward defeating and removing the Assad regime (part of the crescent!) entirely. ISIS just captured another major Iraqi city, consolidating its control over one entire Iraqi province. The real winners of the battle to dislodge the Houthis in Yemen have been Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, two Sunni extremist organizations. And, let’s remember, Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni monarch who likes to violate his Shiʿa subjects’ human rights as frequently as possible. Is it just me, or are Sunnis actually the ones in control of all of these situations right now? And it’s not just at the macro-level that you see this; yes, you see Shiʿa militias in Iraq committing atrocities against Iraqi Sunnis and the Alawite Assad regime dropping barrel bombs on Sunni civilians in Syria, but these days it’s far more common to find ISIS blowing up Shiʿa mosques, like in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and crowds of Shiʿa pilgrims, like in Baghdad, or to find Pakistani Sunnis, either affiliated with or inspired by ISIS, shooting up busloads of Shiʿa in Karachi.
Now, stipulating that the vast majority of Sunnis are peaceful folks who historically have co-existed quite peacefully with their Shiʿa neighbors, of the two largest branches of Islam, which one has more to fear from the other these days?