Monday, July 14, 2008

Letter to Channel 4

Dear Sir

Anthony Thomas’ much feted documentary entitled The Qur’an was indeed a refreshing, challenging and welcome piece. However, its provocativeness belied a disappointingly naïve understanding of the chronic Sunni-Shia schism in Islam. Both communities in this country in particular have strived hard to reconcile theological differences and debunk mutual misconceptions. Thomas’ nonchalant dismissal of Shia theology, strangely echoing a Talibanesque position, as having no basis in the Qur’an will unfortunately help to dismantle the fragile bridges built between the sects and consolidate the extremist aspiration to brand the Shia heretics, Islam’s own fifth column, a barely tolerated cultish minority. The brutal consequences of such perpetual misinformation can be witnessed in the Parachahar region of Pakistan as I write.

In his book The Failure of Political Islam, Olivier Roy writes “we find Islam divided into three geographic and cultural tendencies: the Sunni Arab Middle East, the Sunni Indian subcontinent, and Irano-Arab Shiism.” While the Pentagon reconsiders its ‘Neo-Con Shia-philia’ as one commentator puts it, ‘Irano-Arab Shiism’ continues to forge an emerging political presence. The strategic importance of the Shia diaspora has never been reflected in what is generally known of them and their beliefs. Unfortunately Thomas has done little to redress the balance.

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