This is among the scarier things I’ve read recently. It’s by Jeff Stein, the National Security editor at Congressional Quarterly:
FOR the past several months, Iâ€™ve been wrapping up lengthy interviews with Washington counterterrorism officials with a fundamental question: â€œDo you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?â€
A â€œgotchaâ€ question? Perhaps. But if knowing your enemy is the most basic rule of war, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s out of bounds. And as I quickly explain to my subjects, Iâ€™m not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Whoâ€™s on what side today, and what does each want?
A few weeks ago, I took the F.B.I.â€™s temperature again. At the end of a long interview, I asked Willie Hulon, chief of the bureauâ€™s new national security branch, whether he thought that it was important for a man in his position to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. â€œYes, sure, itâ€™s right to know the difference,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s important to know who your targets are.â€
That was a big advance over 2005. So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed. â€œThe basics goes back to their beliefs and who they were following,â€ he said. â€œAnd the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following.â€
O.K., I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran â€” Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. â€œIran and Hezbollah,â€ I prompted. â€œWhich are they?â€
He took a stab: â€œSunni.â€