Sunni-Shia Conflict

It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's time for an update on the inseparably braided political and religious goings-on in two key Muslim nations; Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, and Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace and site of the recently concluded hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

As you may expect, it’s not good news.

Moreover, it’s news that’s in danger of going under-appreciated because of the undeniably more alluring headlines -- for American news junkies, at least -- related to the Catholic Church’s sexual corruption cover up, and the Trump administration’s equally crumbling cover up of sexual, financial and all-around political corruption.

Let’s start with Indonesia, which once enjoyed, and capitalized on, a reputation for being one of the most politically moderate and religiously open-minded of Muslim nations.

These two pieces provide a refresher, should you require it. The first is a news report from Reuterswhile the second is a previous GetReligion analysis by editor Terry Mattingly ("That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?"

Now, it seems, the situation in the Southeast Asian archipelago nation has gone from bad to worse, and perhaps to the absurd.

Here’s what The Washington Post reported last week.

A Buddhist woman’s conviction this week on blasphemy charges has alarmed many in Indonesia who were already worried about the erosion of religious pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.


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New York Times covers efforts to counter Islamic terrorism in Dagestan; skips key Muslim differences

New York Times covers efforts to counter Islamic terrorism in Dagestan; skips key Muslim differences

As parents, we try to steer our children toward activities we think will help them become better adults. Those activities are generally meant to instill in them beliefs and values similar, if not identical, to our own.

So, for example, we enroll our kids in church, synagogue, mosque or other religion-sponsored social, educational or physical activities that seek to mold their minds and bodies in accordance with our hopes and their gifts.

This happens across the board, including in the Caucasus region Russian republic -- akin to an American state, not an independent nation -- of Dagestan, about which I'll say much more in a bit.

As a Religion News Service national correspondent, in the early 1990s I stayed a few days at a pioneering atheist summer summer camp north of Cincinnati. The Camp Quest network has since grown considerable; it’s now international.

Its purpose, of course, is to imbue the children of atheists with atheist values -- though Camp Quest prefers to call its supporters non-theists, humanists or free-thinkers rather than atheists, the latter having a more negative connotation in Christian (certainly culturally and politically) America.

My point here is that atheists -- the Camp Quest marketing pitch was “beyond belief” -- seek to turn their offspring into like-minded adults just like Christians and others.

In Dagestan, a mostly Muslim region once labeled by the BBC “the most dangerous place in Europe” because of its rampant Islamic-inspired violence, parents also strive to keep their young from straying ideologically.

For Dagestani parents, the preferred activity for achieving this (at least for boys) is wrestling.

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Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Is there any region of the world more confounding and irritating, no matter what your worldview, than the Middle East -- ground zero for some of the world's nastiest, religion-steeped political conflicts?

Well, yeah. There's also Washington, D.C.

But let's put that latter mess aside for a moment -- though political decisions made there undoubtedly impact capitals from North Africa to the Persian/Arab Gulf, and beyond.

We should never minimize the tragic and ongoing death and destruction in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel-Palestine, Libya, Lebanon and now even Iran following the successful ISIS attack there. They're a terrible indictment of humanity's penchant for cruelty and the pain that unfortunate folks are forced to endure by others.

For now, however, let's focus on Qatar, the natural gas-rich Gulf monarchy that until recent days managed to steer a middle -- if duplicitous -- course between the United States and its Sunni Arab quasi-allies on the one-hand, and Shiite Muslim Iran and its proxy militias, such as the Palestinian terror group cum Gaza government Hamas.

(Let's not forget that Qatar is also a major international media player, thanks to its financial backing of Al-Jazeera.)

You're probably aware that Qatar burst anew into the American political conscious when several of its Sunni Arab neighbors cut diplomatic ties and closed their borders with Qatar in retribution for its ties to Islamist terrorist groups and their supporters.

The situation escalated when President Donald Trump -- there's the D.C. connection -- took credit for the action and piled additional opprobrium on Qatar, which is situated on a thumb-shaped peninsula protruding into the Gulf directly opposite Iran. This, despite efforts by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson -- no doubt mindful that Qatar hosts America's largest Middle East military base -- to lessen the diplomatic confrontation.

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Save this New York Times Sunni-Shiite conflict backgrounder while awaiting Trump's moves

Save this New York Times Sunni-Shiite conflict backgrounder while awaiting Trump's moves

The New York Times -- still outclassing its Americans rivals in Middle East coverage -- has served up a valuable historical overview of the Saudi-Iranian proxy war conflict. It's not only worth reading, it's worth saving for those deadline moments when a quick history check is in order.

I've posted here before about the Saudi-Iranian competition for Middle East domination. I've also posted on the ongoing, multi-angled coverage of Saudi Arabia at the Times.

Why so much attention to this topic? And how might President-elect Donald Trump handle the situation?

 First question first.

Why, because the conflict, at its root a continuation of Islam's historic, internal holy war between the religion's majority Sunnis (read, Saudi Arabia) and minority Shiites (read, Iran) is at the core of today's seemingly endless Middle East bloodshed.

(Yes, it's the Sunni-Shiite contest, inflamed by political maneuvering by a coven of authoritarian dictatorial governments, and Russia, that's at the root of the chaos. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as central as it may be to these two actors, long ago took a backseat to the Islamic sectarian war.)

Here's how the Times historical overview explains it, starting with the lede:

Behind much of the Middle East’s chaos -- the wars in Syria and Yemen, the political upheaval in Iraq and Lebanon and Bahrain -- there is another conflict.

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It's time to add the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen to the journalistic shopping list

It's time to add the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen to the journalistic shopping list

There's very little that unites Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran these days, but here's one thing that does. Both Muslim nations mix austere religion with political repression to the detriment of individual freedoms.

But you knew that, right? So why bring it up again? Because of the worsening situation in Yemen that started as a civil war but has morphed into an increasingly bloody proxy war between the two Middle East powerhouses.

There's much more to say about Yemen, and we'll do so below. But first here's a couple of examples of how far-reaching the heavy theocratic hands extend in Riyadh and Teheran.

I present them as examples of how misdirected the priorities of the two governments are.

The first example is this recent Washington Post story about a Saudi teen who became love struck online. Click here for the details of how he was arrested for flirting online -- "goofy" flirting, according to the Post -- with a California woman barely out of her teens that he asked to marry.

Abu Sin (the teen's nickname that in Arabic means "the toothless one"; referring to his misaligned teeth) was arrested for "violating decency and religious values," says the Post piece. It added:

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There's plenty of global religious freedom news beyond the Kim Davis case

There's plenty of global religious freedom news beyond the Kim Davis case

If you read GetReligion even sporadically, you must know that mainstream news coverage of religious freedom issues receives a great deal of attention on this blog, for many reasons.

Perhaps the prime reason is that they play a leading role in the societal and political conflicts marking this era of rapid social change. That keeps them constantly in the news, and that can't be ignored when you're a blog devoted to media coverage of religion issues. Plus, issues of freedom of conscience are often linked -- globally -- to freedom of the press.

For Americans, the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who cites religious belief for refusing to issue marriage licenses -- containing the endorsement of her name and/or signature -- to same-sex couples, has been the latest U.S. religious freedom headline hog.

What is her church? Here's a link to an interesting Reuters piece about her Apostolic Christian faith, via Yahoo.

 What comes next? Will the Muslim flight attendant for an American airline who says she was suspended from her job for refusing to serve alcoholic drinks be the next religious freedom cause célèbre? It will be interesting to see what sort of religious community support she, a Muslim, receives.

Look, I'm fully aware that Americans are most interested in issues that impact them as Americans.

But the rest of the world has its own melange of religious freedom issues  -- some a matter of life and death, literally.

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